Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs November 28, 2017
from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 292497 Thomas
C. Greenholtz, Judge.
Hamilton County jury convicted the Defendant, Rodney
Jennings, of second degree murder, and the trial court
sentenced him to serve twenty-five years in the Tennessee
Department of Correction. The Defendant appeals, asserting:
(1) the trial court improperly allowed into evidence
testimony concerning the Defendant's gang affiliation and
the Defendant's 2013 domestic assault conviction; (2) the
State improperly impeached the Defendant during
cross-examination; and (3) the evidence is insufficient to
support his conviction. After review, we affirm the trial
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
Jennings (on appeal), pro se, Hartsville, Tennessee; Brandy
Spurgin and Brian Pearce (at trial), Chattanooga, Tennessee,
for the appellant, Rodney Jennings.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee
W. Turner, Senior Counsel; M. Neal Pinkston, District
Attorney General; Cameron Williams and Kristen D. Spires,
Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State
W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and J. Ross Dyer, J., joined.
W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE.
case arises from a domestic dispute over visitation with the
Defendant and Cheslei Thompson's children, which resulted
in the Defendant shooting and killing Ms. Thompson's
cousin, Raphael White. A grand jury indicted the Defendant
for second degree murder and possession of a firearm with a
violent felony conviction. One of the issues the Defendant
raises on appeals is the admission of testimony about a 2013
domestic assault. As such, we separately summarize the
testimony from the 404(b) hearing before providing the
summary of the trial testimony.
State sought to introduce proof of a June 2013 domestic
assault conviction, involving Ms. Thompson and the
Defendant's children. The State submitted that the
evidence was relevant to show the Defendant's intent
related to the second degree murder charge, demonstrating
similarities between the 2013 episode and the 2014 shooting.
The State, through Jean Rogers, a Hamilton County 911 Record
Specialist, introduced two 911 calls made from a
neighbor's residence recorded at 1:11 a.m. on June 5,
2013. The defense, through the same witness, introduced two
911 calls placed from Waffle House on East 23rd
Street. These calls were made by a man who identified himself
as "Rodney" at 4:22 a.m. and 5:02 a.m. on June 5,
Angel, a Chattanooga Police Department officer, testified
that, in June 2013, he was dispatched to a residence on
6th Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at
approximately 1:30 a.m. When he arrived, he observed a
female, Ms. Thompson, outside who appeared "very
hysterical." There was blood "all over her, "
and he noticed a broken window on the front of the apartment.
Ms. Thompson explained to the officer that her
"child's father, " later identified as the
Defendant, had broken the window and there was "some
kind of struggle" during which she was cut on the broken
glass. The Defendant made entry but fled prior to the
officer's arrival. Officer Angel testified that Ms.
Thompson had cuts on her forearms. He also observed two small
children inside the residence.
Angel testified that, within a couple hours of his initial
contact with Ms. Thompson, the Defendant arranged to turn
himself in to the police at a Waffle House parking lot
located on 23rd Street. On cross-examination,
Officer Angel was asked about whether there was "a lot
of gang activity" in the 6th Avenue apartment
complex, and he replied, "Sure."
Thompson testified that she and the Defendant had been in a
relationship and had two children together. The couple had
never married but had lived together intermittently. Ms.
Thompson explained that the Defendant lived with her at the
6thAvenue residence for "a couple of
months" before he moved out due to an argument. In June
2013, after the Defendant had moved out, he returned to
"visit." During the visit, a Chattanooga Housing
Authority employee appeared at the residence and issued the
Defendant a citation for "yelling in [Ms.
Thompson's] face" and banned the Defendant from the
Thompson testified that several days later, on June 5, 2013,
a friend of hers was spending the night. She recalled that
Kionna Glenn and Ms. Thompson's two children were
at the residence that night when the Defendant came to the
door. Ms. Glenn let the Defendant inside and, once inside, he
instigated an argument with Ms. Thompson. The Defendant and
Ms. Thompson were in an upstairs bedroom with their children,
and the Defendant accused Ms. Thompson of engaging in a
sexual relationship with Kionna. The argument escalated to an
assault during which the Defendant hit and pushed Ms.
Thompson. The Defendant and Ms. Thompson moved their
altercation downstairs where the Defendant hit Kionna. The
children began crying, and the Defendant grabbed their older
son, then four years old, and pushed him against the wall.
"[F]inally" the Defendant exited out the front
Thompson testified that the Defendant could not re-enter the
residence because she quickly locked the front and back door
after his departure. Because he was unable to enter through a
door, the Defendant broke the kitchen window. As the
Defendant entered through the window, Ms. Thompson tried to
push him back out, cutting her hands and arms on the broken
glass in the process. The Defendant entered through the
window and hit Ms. Thompson in the kitchen before walking to
the living room area where he paced. According to Ms.
Thompson, the Defendant dropped his phone, told Ms. Thompson
to call the police, and then left. Ms. Thompson used the
Defendant's cell phone to call the police. Ms. Thompson
was transported by ambulance to the hospital where she was
treated for her injuries. The Defendant was later arrested
and served six months in jail for this incident.
Thompson testified that the Defendant was released from jail
in December 2013. He contacted her approximately two weeks
after his release via Facebook to ask if he could see the
children. Ms. Thompson agreed, and the Defendant picked up
the children at Ms. Thompson's mother's residence.
Later that night, Ms. Thompson retrieved the children from
the Defendant. Approximately two weeks before the shooting in
this case, she again allowed the Defendant to take the
children for a few hours. The Defendant picked up the
children from her 6th Avenue residence and
returned them there.
January 28, 2014, the Defendant appeared at her front door
asking to see the children. The older child was at Ms.
Thompson's mother's residence, and the two-year-old
was upstairs sleeping. Ms. Thompson explained this to the
Defendant and told him she would not wake up their younger
child. She told him he should come back another time. The
Defendant continued asking to see the sleeping child. Raphael
White, the victim, told the Defendant "we don't want
any problems, " and the Defendant "said the
same." The Defendant backed out the door, put his hand
into his pocket when he was out in the hall. As the victim
was shutting the door, Ms. Thompson heard a gunshot. Ms.
Thompson testified that the victim did not have a gun and
that she did not see the gun that shot the victim. After
shooting the victim, the Defendant fled.
cross-examination, Ms. Thompson testified that on the night
of the June 2013 assault the Defendant was "out of
control, " but on the night of the January 28, 2014
shooting the Defendant was calm and there was no
hearing this evidence, the trial court granted the
Defendant's motion seeking to exclude any testimony about
the June 2013 domestic assault. In further discussions about
potential testimony, the trial court advised defense counsel
that, if the defense "open[ed] the door to the 
domestic assault, the rest of it comes in."
the trial, the parties presented the following evidence:
Larry Ellis and Matthew Bond,  Chattanooga Police Department
("CPD") officers, were the first responders to a
homicide scene located at East Lake Court housing project on
6th Avenue. As Officer Ellis approached the
entryway to the unit, he saw the victim lying on the floor
near the door, and three females and one male who were
"very emotional and screaming." The officers
separated the witnesses from the victim by moving the
witnesses into the living room area. The officers also
conducted a protective sweep of the unit and other than the
previously mentioned adults and one child, found no one else
present. Officer Ellis testified that the witnesses
identified the shooter and described the truck that he left
in. The victim was transported to the hospital, and the
witnesses were transported to the police station for
Metcalfe, the Hamilton County Chief Medical Examiner and
Forensic Pathologist, testified as an expert witness in the
field of forensic pathology. After examining the victim's
body, Dr. Metcalfe concluded that the victim's manner of
death was homicide and that the cause of death was a gunshot
wound to the chest. Dr. Metcalfe explained that the
"main injury" was caused by a bullet that traveled
through the victim's left ventricle and left lung. He
stated that this type of wound was fatal. Dr. Metcalfe
collected the bullet from the victim's back just under
the skin. The Chattanooga Police Department collected the
bullet as part of the investigation.
Tony testified that she was present in Ms. Thompson's
apartment ("6thAvenue unit") at the time
of the shooting. She said she was in the living room when the
Defendant knocked on the door. Ms. Thompson opened the door
to him, and the two argued in the kitchen about the Defendant
seeing the children. Ms. Tony recalled that the younger child
was asleep in the apartment, but the older child was not
there. According to Ms. Tony, Ms. Thompson told the Defendant
he should leave. The victim came into the kitchen and
reiterated that the Defendant needed to leave, saying "I
don't want no problems." The Defendant responded
that he did not want "no problems" either and
walked out the door. The victim walked to the door to shut
it, and the Defendant shot the victim in the chest. Ms. Tony
testified that she did not see the victim with any weapon
that night and did not hear him threaten the Defendant.
cross-examination, Ms. Tony confirmed that the Defendant was
"aggressive" toward Richard Morris at Ms.
Thompson's residence on the day of the shooting. When
presented with her testimony from the preliminary hearing,
Ms. Tony agreed that at the preliminary hearing she said that
the Defendant showed no signs of aggression but maintained
that her trial testimony was more accurate. Ms. Tony
reiterated that the Defendant and Ms. Thompson were in the
kitchen where he was talking like he was "mad at
her" when the victim entered and told the Defendant to
leave. Ms. Tony said the Defendant was pacing back and forth
at the time and then walked out the door into the
"public hall." Ms. Tony confirmed that she did not
see the gun or the gunfire.
Tony testified that, at the time of the shooting, the victim
had "[h]is flag" in his pocket and his cell phone.
After playing the 911 recording again, Ms. Tony agreed that
she did not tell the 911 operator, when asked, who shot the
victim and that she also denied knowing where the victim was
shot. Ms. Tony, however, maintained that she was certain it
was the Defendant who shot the victim.
redirect examination, Ms. Tony testified that she knew the
Defendant as "Roscoe" and was unaware of his full
name on the day of the shooting. She identified the Defendant
in court as the man who shot the victim on January 28, 2014.
White testified that Ms. Thompson was his sister and that the
victim was his cousin. Mr. White recalled that he had stayed
at his sister's residence the night of January 27, 2014,
and was still there on January 28 when the Defendant came by
asking to see his children. The Defendant knocked on the
door, and Ms. Tony called upstairs to Ms. Thompson, who was
in her bedroom with a "male friend . . . [Richard
Morris]." Ms. Thompson went downstairs and opened the
door to the Defendant. The victim knocked on the door of the
room Mr. White was in and "told him to come down the
steps" with the victim. The victim and Mr. White went
downstairs and into the living room.
White testified that he overheard the Defendant and Ms.
Thompson talking about their children. At some point, Mr.
Morris came downstairs, and the Defendant asked Mr. Morris if
he "was [ ] messing with [Ms. Thompson] now." Mr.
Morris denied "messing with" Ms. Thompson, stating
that she was "[j]ust [his] home girl." The
Defendant told Mr. Morris that he had "no problem"
with him, Mr. Morris left, and the Defendant and Ms. Thompson
resumed their conversation about their children. The
conversation between the two turned "loud, " and
Mr. White urged the Defendant and Ms. Thompson to "calm
down" for the sake of their children.
White testified that the conversation between the Defendant
and Ms. Thompson again escalated, so the victim walked into
the room, opened the door for the Defendant, and said,
"we don't want no problems." The Defendant said
that he did not want "no problems either" and then
the shooting occurred. Mr. White said he was standing behind
the victim and did not see the Defendant fire the gun but
noted that the Defendant was the only person standing in the
doorway. After the gunfire, the victim fell backward toward
Mr. White, and Mr. White "pulled him in." Mr. White
said that the victim grabbed his chest and was shaking. When
Mr. White lifted the victim's shirt, he saw the gunshot
wound and immediately ordered the others to call 911. He said
that everyone was in shock and "flipping out, " so
he grabbed a phone and called 911.
White testified that, before the shooting, the victim did not
threaten the Defendant or make any threatening gestures
toward the Defendant. He said that the victim was closing the
door when the Defendant shot him.
cross-examination, Mr. White said that he used the
victim's cell phone to call 911 and that he retrieved the
cell phone from the counter. Upon review of the transcript
from the preliminary hearing, Mr. White agreed that he had
previously testified that the cell phone had been in the
victim's pocket but that someone had handed it to him to
call 911. Mr. White explained that the circumstances were
very stressful, and he was unsure of whose phone he had used
to place the 911 call. Mr. White stated that the victim's
"child mother" retrieved the victim's phone
several days after the shooting. Mr. White confirmed that in
November 2009, he was convicted of burglary and theft.
Thompson testified that in January 2014 she lived in the
6th Avenue unit with her two children, who were
two and four years old at the time. Ms. Thompson explained
that the victim was her cousin and Mr. White was her brother.
Thompson testified that she and the Defendant had been in a
relationship for six years and, at one point, the Defendant
had lived in the 6th Avenue unit with her but had
moved out in June 2013. In the late afternoon of January 28,
2014, Ronald White, Raphael White, Ms. Tony, Mr. Morris, and
"Lanesha" were present at the apartment. The
Defendant came to the residence to "chill." She
recalled that Ms. Tony heard the knock at the door and yelled
upstairs to Ms. Thompson that the Defendant was at the door.
Ms. Thompson was in her upstairs bedroom with her youngest
son and Mr. Morris.
Thompson testified that she went downstairs and opened the
door for the Defendant. Around that time, Mr. Morris was
leaving. The Defendant and Mr. Morris exchanged a few
pleasantries and then Mr. Morris left. The Defendant asked to
see their youngest child, and Ms. Thompson explained that he
was sleeping. The Defendant urged Ms. Thompson to go and wake
the child so he could see him, but Ms. Thompson declined,
suggesting the Defendant come over to see their children
another time. The Defendant asked Ms. Thompson for a
cigarette, and she told him she did not have any. She
continued to encourage him to leave, acknowledging that as
she did so, she became "kind of loud." The victim
then approached the Defendant saying "we don't want
no problems, " and the Defendant reiterated the same and
began walking toward the door with his "hands up."
As he walked out the door, he put his hand back in his
pocket. The victim took hold of the door to shut it, and then
Ms. Thompson heard gunfire. Ms. Thompson said that she did
not see the gun but that the Defendant was the only person in
the public hallway. After the gunfire, the Defendant took off
running. Initially, she did not realize that the victim had
been shot, but when the victim's shirt was lifted, she
saw a gunshot wound.
Thompson testified that while Mr. White and Ms. Tony called
911, she checked to see if the victim had a pulse. Police
officers arrived first, followed by the ambulance that
transported the victim to the hospital. Everyone else in the
residence was taken to the police station. Ms. Thompson
stated that, before the shooting, she did not hear the victim
threaten the Defendant nor did the victim have a gun on his
Brooks, a CPD crime scene investigator, testified that on
January 28, 2014, he responded to Erlanger Hospital about a
potential homicide. Once he arrived, he learned that the
victim had died. Officer Brooks collected evidence and then
proceeded to the crime scene. At the crime scene, Officer
Brooks took photographs and then placed evidence markers
where there were items to be collected and video-recorded the
scene. Officer Brooks observed what appeared to be a blood
stain on a window seal and on the porch. He collected samples
of both substances and swabbed the door handle for DNA
testing. Officer Brooks stated that he and another officer
searched the residence and found no firearms.
Scott, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI")
forensic scientist, testified as an expert witness in
firearms identification. Special Agent Scott stated that he
had received a bullet for forensic examination. His
examination revealed characteristics consistent with
Winchester brand ammunition and generally associated with a
.38 or .357 caliber bullet. Special Agent Scott stated that
"typically" a .38 Special caliber revolver left
residue within a four to five foot range from the muzzle of
the gun. Nonetheless, he stated that if he did not find any
residue, he could not "really form an opinion."
Stoner, a TBI forensic scientist, testified as an expert
witness in forensic biology, specifically DNA testing.
Special Agent Stoner tested potential blood samples taken
from the front porch of the building and from the window
seal. Both swabs tested negative for the presence of blood.
She also tested a swab for "touch DNA" taken from
the interior door handle of the "main entrance
door." The results did not indicate the presence of
human DNA. The results from a swab of the front exterior door
handle did not reveal a DNA profile.
Pickard, a Chattanooga Police Department officer, testified
that he was assigned to the fugitive unit and became involved
in this case in February 2014 after other officers were
unable to locate the Defendant. Officer Pickard said that
typically, members of the unit will conduct interviews with
relatives, close family members, or other people associated
with a suspect in order to gain information on the
suspect's location. After investigating numerous possible
connections to the Defendant, the fugitive unit obtained
information that the Defendant was no longer in the
Chattanooga area. Information about the Defendant was
provided to the U.S. Marshals and subsequently Officer
Pickard learned that the Defendant was found and arrested in
Memphis, Tennessee on March 17, 2014.
Plumlee, a CPD homicide detective, testified that, on January
28, 2014, he arrived at the crime scene at approximately 8:30
p.m. All potential witnesses had been transported to the
police station for questioning, and the crime scene area had
been "taped off" to protect any potential evidence.
Detective Plumlee conducted the recorded interviews with Ms.
Tony and Ms. Thompson. After officers had interviewed all the
witnesses, they met to share the information learned and
developed the Defendant as a suspect. The police department
issued a "Be On The Lookout" ("BOLO") for
the Defendant. Further, patrol officers were sent to
addresses of some of the Defendant's relatives in an
attempt to locate the Defendant.
Plumlee testified that he went to the Defendant's
father's residence and spoke with the Defendant's
father and searched the residence for the Defendant. The
Defendant's father said that the Defendant had contacted
him from a blocked number and that he had tried to convince
the Defendant to turn himself in and talk with the police.
The Defendant's father also disclosed that the Defendant
"hangs out" with Prentice Barnette. Police followed
this lead but were unable to locate the Defendant. On
February 9, 2014, the police department issued a video about
the homicide on Crime Stoppers. The police received tips
about the Defendant's possible location as a result of
the video but still the Defendant was not located. In
February, the search for the Defendant was transferred to the
fugitive unit. In March, the Defendant was located in
Memphis, Tennessee and transported to the Hamilton County
jail. Detective Plumlee confirmed that the weapon used in the
shooting was not recovered.
Defendant testified that he had two children with Ms.
Thompson. He said that he stood five feet three inches tall
and weighed 138 pounds in January 2014. About visitation with
his children, the Defendant said that, following the end of
his romantic relationship with Ms. Thompson, on the day he
wanted to see the children he would contact Ms. Thompson via
Facebook or call Ms. Thompson's mother,
MarylynThompson. The Defendant stated that he was
"homeless" but, when he had time with his children,
he would go to a family member's or friend's house.
He usually had the children in six or seven hour increments
and would make arrangements for "a ride" to return
the children to Ms. Thompson at East Lake Courts.
Defendant recalled the week before the shooting. He said that
he had picked up the children from Marylyn Thompson's
house. At the end of his time with the children, however, he
could not obtain a ride to take the children home so he
called Ms. Thompson asking if she would come get the
children. Ms. Thompson agreed, and the Defendant told her to
meet him at "54th and St. Elmo Avenue"
because he did not want the victim and Mr. White to know
where he stayed. Ms. Thompson arrived, with Mr. White
driving, later than expected and appeared "all mad"
and "agitated." She rushed the children into the
car and would not speak to the Defendant.
Defendant testified that he had known the victim and Mr.
White for many years. He explained that the victim and the
Defendant's younger brother, Nathan Jennings, had gone to
school together. The Defendant recalled that approximately
two years before the shooting, in 2012, the Defendant and the
victim had engaged in an argument at Marylyn Thompson's
residence. The Defendant said that he had gone to Marylyn
Thompson's residence to see Ms. Thompson. While still
outside, the victim approached the Defendant and accused him
of "disrespecting Mar[y]lyn Thompson." The two
began to argue and "tussle, " but no one was hurt
during the exchange. He described the victim as six feet one
inch tall and weighing approximately 175 pounds in comparison
to the Defendant's smaller stature.
Defendant confirmed that he was convicted of robbery in 2006
and domestic violence and vandalism. As to the latter two
offenses, the Defendant explained that he was "staying
with" Ms. Thompson at her 6th Avenue unit.
Ms. Thompson had a friend over at the time, and the Defendant
wanted the friend, Kionna Glenn, to leave because he felt
that Ms. Thompson "act[ed] funny toward[ ] [him]"
in Ms. Glenn's presence. Ms. Thompson refused to ask Ms.
Glenn to leave, so the Defendant left to "drink"
and "stuff like that." When the Defendant returned,
he again raised the issue of Ms. Glenn leaving, and Ms.
Thompson "just went off." The two began to argue
and "stuff." He felt badly about the exchange, so
he left his cell phone with her to call the police and walked
to Waffle House.
Defendant testified that, while he was incarcerated for the
domestic assault conviction, he spoke with his brother on the
phone. His brother told him to be careful because the victim
had threatened to "get" the Defendant when he saw
him next. The Defendant and victim were incarcerated at the
same facility for a period of time, and the victim confronted
the Defendant verbally about the incident with Ms. Thompson
but initiated no physical contact. The Defendant avoided the
victim after that.
Defendant testified that he had seen the victim before with a
gun at Marylyn Thompson's residence. He recalled that he
was on the front porch of the residence when the victim
arrived. The victim's eye was swollen and bleeding, and
the Defendant saw a gun in the victim's back pocket as
the victim paced back and forth angrily while ranting. The
Defendant said ...