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State v. Williams

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 5, 2018


          Session January 17, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2015-C-1928 Cheryl A. Blackburn, Judge

         Defendants, Marcus K. Williams and Corey Zimberlist Rutland, Jr., were indicted for aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. Defendant Williams was also indicted for aggravated burglary. After a jury trial, Defendants Williams and Rutland were convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault, and Defendant Williams was convicted of aggravated burglary. At a sentencing hearing, Defendants Williams and Rutland received identical sentences of eleven years for aggravated robbery and five years for aggravated assault. Defendant Williams received a five year sentence for aggravated burglary. On appeal, Defendant Williams challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for his aggravated robbery charge. Defendant Rutland argues that the trial court improperly excluded the content of a phone call between Defendant Rutland and Defendant Williams, that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions under a theory of criminal responsibility, and that his sentence is disproportionate and excessive. Finding that the only error by the trial court was harmless, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Jay Umerley, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Marcus K. Williams.

          Jessica M. Van Dyke, Nashville, Tennessee for the appellant, Corey Zimberlist Rutland, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth Anne Thompson, Senior Counsel; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Doug Thurman, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J. and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., joined.



         Factual and Procedural Background

         A Davidson County Grand Jury indicted Defendant Williams for one count of aggravated burglary and Defendants Williams and Rutland for aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault. Prior to trial, the State chose to nolle prosequi Count Three, attempted aggravated robbery. A trial was held on the remaining counts. The following narrative of events is derived from the consistent testimony of the State's witnesses at trial.

         Robert Anderson, Michele Howard, and their one-year-old son lived in Room 146 at the Congress Inn. For a period of time, Defendants Rutland and Williams lived next door in Room 145. Mr. Anderson saw the Defendants almost every day. On June 1, 2015, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard got into an argument. The volume of this argument prompted Defendant Williams to knock on their window and ask them to "keep it down" because they were "keeping his daughter awake." Ms. Howard told Defendant Williams to get away from the window and called him a "peeping Tom." Mr. Anderson recounted that Defendant Williams walked up to the door and shoved it open with his shoulder in response to Ms. Howard's statement. Once in the room, Defendant Williams raised his hand as if he was going to hit Ms. Howard, but Mr. Anderson intervened to stop him. Mr. Anderson said, "He didn't actually throw a punch, but he made the gesture." Ms. Howard explained Defendant Williams tried to "swing" at her. Ms. Howard thought that Defendant Williams was going to try to hit her. However, she stated that he did not make contact. Mr. Anderson demonstrated the action by holding his arm up at shoulder level and pushing his arm forward as if he were going to punch but did not make a full punching motion. At the time that Defendant Williams made this motion, he was partially inside the room, but his right leg was still outside the door. Mr. Anderson was concerned that Defendant Williams would strike Ms. Howard. When he intervened, Mr. Anderson told Defendant Williams that he "wasn't going to fight him, " and Defendant Williams walked away.

         After this altercation, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard placed their son in the car and went on a search for houses. Around this time, Mr. Anderson saw Defendant Rutland arrive at the Congress Inn. Once Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard returned in the afternoon, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard noticed Defendants Williams and Rutland outside. At this time, Defendant Williams was smoking a cigarette, and Defendant Rutland was standing at the door for Room 145. As typical, Mr. Anderson backed his white Cadillac into a parking spot. Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard sat in the car for a short period of time before Ms. Howard got out and opened the rear door of the car to get their son out of the back seat. Mr. Anderson walked to the door of Room 146 to unlock it, and Defendant Williams walked up behind him.

         The encounter escalated when Defendant Williams pulled out his gun and put it to Mr. Anderson's head. Mr. Anderson recalled Defendant Williams saying, "[G]ive me your money." Defendant Williams had a silver revolver that Mr. Anderson could see was fully loaded. When Mr. Anderson felt the gun touch him, he tried to smack the gun out of Defendant Williams's hand. Defendant Williams attempted to dig into Mr. Anderson's pockets but was unsuccessful. Eventually, Mr. Anderson reached into his pockets and gave around $420 to Defendant Williams. Defendant Williams also took Mr. Anderson's car keys. After taking the items, Defendant Williams waived the gun around and pointed it at Ms. Howard while she held the one-year-old child before he backed off and walked away. Ms. Howard was scared for the life of her son and herself when Defendant Williams pointed the gun at them.

         While Defendant Williams held Mr. Anderson at gunpoint, Defendant Rutland approached Ms. Howard and said "give me your phone" and "don't call the police." Ms. Howard had her phone in her hand and put it in her back pocket. Ms. Howard thought about calling the police, but refrained when Defendant Rutland asked for her phone. Ms. Howard's first instinct was to go to the front desk at the hotel and summon help, but she was prevented from doing so when Defendant Rutland walked into her path and told her not to move. After Defendant Rutland cut her off, Ms. Howard went back to the car to put her son inside the car to keep him safe. However, Defendant Rutland shut the car door and prevented Ms. Howard from getting inside the vehicle. This is contrary to Mr. Anderson's recollection that Ms. Howard got into the passenger's seat of the car. Ms. Howard admitted that Defendant Rutland did not place his hands on her, but she claimed that he was less than two feet away from her. Ms. Howard could not recall overhearing any communication between Defendant Williams and Defendant Rutland. Both Defendants walked away at the same time.

         Once Defendants were gone, Mr. Anderson, Ms. Howard, and their child went inside their room. At that point, the police were called. Moments after getting inside the room, Mr. Anderson saw Defendants Williams and Rutland leave. Ms. Howard recalled Defendant Rutland leaving in a different vehicle from Defendant Williams. Mr. Anderson did not specify. In order to determine the full names of the Defendants, Ms. Howard looked them up on Facebook. Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard independently identified Defendant Rutland and Defendant Williams in a photographic line-up.

         Detective Jack Stanley of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was dispatched to the Congress Inn and was met there by Officer Joshua Reece. Officer Reece briefed Detective Stanley on the incident and then Officer Reece spoke with Mr. Anderson, Ms. Howard, and Shanquita Jeter. Detective Stanley stated that the witnesses were able to identify the perpetrators by their first names immediately when he spoke with them. After speaking with the witnesses, Detective Stanley retrieved the surveillance footage from the Congress Inn. When Detective Stanley inquired about who had rented room 145, he obtained a handwritten receipt as well as photocopies of the driver's licenses of Defendant Williams and Shanquita Jeter. Detective Stanley testified that between $400 and $420 in addition to a set of car keys were taken from Mr. Anderson, but neither the money nor the keys were recovered.

         Defendant Williams chose to testify on his own behalf. He stated that he lived in room 145 at the Congress Inn with Ms. Jeter, his daughter, and Defendant Rutland. Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard lived next door, and within the first few weeks of moving to the Congress Inn, Defendant Williams began having issues with the noise coming from Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard's room. Defendant Williams could "constantly hear the arguing and fighting as if someone was yelling . . . . [T]he wall would be shaking where . . . my head was at." He said, "It prevented me from sleeping, it prevented me and my daughter from sleeping, it prevented me from having peace. It agitated me, and it angered me." Defendant Williams recalled asking Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard to keep the noise down, but nothing changed.

         Defendant Williams stated that, on the day of the crimes, he went to the window of Room 146 to ask Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard to be quiet. At this point, Ms. Howard made a statement that Defendant Williams perceived as a threat. He indicated that this threat was a statement that did not include the words "peeping Tom." Defendant Williams went back to his room. Later, he returned to Room 146. This time Defendant Williams stated that he simply opened the door. According to Defendant Williams, the door was unlocked and he opened it by simply turning the handle. Once the door was open, Defendant Williams said, "If you thought Mr. Anderson was beating your a**, I would knock your a** out." At that point, Mr. Anderson stepped toward Defendant Williams. Upon review of the video, Defendant Williams noted that his arm was cocked back in response to the arguing with Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard. Defendant Williams stated that there was not a physical altercation between him and Mr. Anderson or Ms. Howard. Once he exited their room, he went back to his room.

         On cross-examination by the State, Defendant Williams admitted that he entered Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard's hotel room without permission and drew his arm back as if he were going to throw a punch. However, Defendant Williams maintained that he never threw a punch, but only jerked or cocked his arm back. Defendant Williams admitted that it was his intent to intimidate Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard when he cocked his arm back.

         With regard to the second encounter, Defendant Williams described the events that occurred as follows:

Mr. Anderson pulls up in his vehicle. He backs his car in. I'm standing outside of my room. I wait for Mr. Anderson to get out of his car. I walk over to Mr. Anderson, and I state to him, what are we going to do about the noise. That I asked him, I said, what is that s**t you're talking. He looks at me like . . . he doesn't even care. I then pulled the weapon from my hip, and I pointed the weapon at Mr. Anderson's head. And I threatened him.

         Defendant Williams denied taking anything from Mr. Anderson. Defendant Williams admitted that he had made a mistake and maintained that he did not intend to hurt anyone. Rather, his intention was to scare Mr. Anderson and Ms. Howard.

         During a review of the video of the second altercation during the State's cross-examination, Defendant Williams admitted that he changed his position relative to Mr. Anderson, but denied reaching into Mr. Anderson's pocket. Defendant Williams also denied any type of exchange or acceptance of anything from Mr. Anderson. Defendant Williams admitted to pointing the firearm at Ms. Howard while she was holding her one-year-old son. However, he said that this was in reaction to her making statements toward him. At the time that he pointed the firearm at Ms. Howard, Defendant Williams agreed that Defendant Rutland was standing beside her. When speaking about the vehicles leaving the ...

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