Session October 3, 2017
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-06427 John
W. Campbell, Judge
Defendant, Marcellus Woods, was convicted by a Shelby County
Criminal Court jury of aggravated robbery, a Class B felony,
and was sentenced to eight years in the Tennessee Department
of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the trial court
erred in allowing testimony under Rule 404(b) of the
Tennessee Rules of Evidence concerning his involvement in an
attempted robbery of one business and his suspicious
activities near another business. After review, we affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
M. Lutz, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Marcellus
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P.
Weirich, District Attorney General; and Leslie Fouché
and Olivia C. Brame, Assistant District Attorneys General,
for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
John Everett Williams and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.
E. GLENN, JUDGE.
Defendant and two co-defendants were indicted for the
aggravated robbery of an employee of the Family Dollar store
on Third Street in Memphis that occurred the morning of July
29, 2014. The State filed a motion in limine to admit
evidence of other bad acts pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the
Tennessee Rules of Evidence, and, after a hearing, the trial
court granted the State's motion. The case proceeded to
Lewis testified that she was working as the store manager of
the Family Dollar store on South Third Street in Memphis on
July 29, 2014. That morning, as Ms. Lewis unlocked the door
to go into the store, two men pushed her in, made her disarm
the alarm, and commanded her to get money from the safes.
Both of the men had guns, their faces were covered and they
were wearing gloves. Ms. Lewis said that the store had two
safes, one that housed the register trays and one that was
used for bank deposits. Both safes had a time delay before
they would open. The men warned Ms. Lewis not to run her hand
down the middle of the safe's keypad, a feature on some
safes in the company that would alert the police. It appeared
to Ms. Lewis that the men were familiar with the layout of
the store because they avoided the parts of the store with
motion detectors that would set off the alarm. The
store's video surveillance system captured the incident.
Ms. Lewis estimated that the men stole $3000. During the
ordeal, Ms. Lewis feared for her life and believed that she
would be killed.
Lewis testified that Vernicia Stamps, the assistant store
manager, was originally scheduled to come in a few hours
after Ms. Lewis but had volunteered to come in early to
assist Ms. Lewis with some freight. However, Ms. Stamps
texted Ms. Lewis that morning to say that she was running
late, which was unusual for her. Ms. Lewis knew the Defendant
because his mother was a former manager for Family Dollar,
and Ms. Lewis was the Defendant's mother's assistant
manager. Later, Ms. Lewis hired the Defendant the summer
after his senior year of high school before he left for
Taurus Nolen with the Memphis Police Department investigated
the July 29 robbery of the Family Dollar store. He recalled
that Ms. Lewis was unable to identify the robbers because
they were masked. He viewed the surveillance footage from the
store and noticed that the robbers were wearing all black and
carrying a backpack. He noticed that their guns were
"extremely large, " which struck Sergeant Nolen as
peculiar. Sergeant Nolen developed suspects in the Family
Dollar robbery after the police were called to a cash advance
business on August 5, 2014 where suspects had been detained
and then released. One of the individuals who had been
detained was Demarcio Ross. Sergeant Nolen noticed
similarities between the two robberies and wanted to
determine if the two crimes were related. He brought Mr. Ross
in for questioning and obtained consent to search Mr.
Ross's girlfriend's vehicle. The search revealed a
paintball gun, which, because of its "abnormally"
large size, Sergeant Nolen surmised that it was the gun used
in the Family Dollar robbery. After interviewing Mr. Ross and
discovering the paintball gun, Sergeant Nolen obtained a
warrant for the Defendant's arrest.
Ross testified that he and the Defendant robbed the Family
Dollar store on South Third Street on July 29, 2014. The
Defendant brought up the idea weeks earlier when they were
joking about how they both needed money. They picked that
particular Family Dollar store because the Defendant said
that his sister worked there. The night before the robbery,
the Defendant stayed at the home Mr. Ross shared with his
girlfriend, Regina Muhammad. The Defendant was dating Lelia
Muhammad, Regina's sister. Mr. Ross and the Defendant awoke
around 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. the morning of the robbery. They
picked up Jeremy Howard in Regina's car, a blue Saturn,
and drove to the Family Dollar where they waited for someone
to arrive and unlock the door. Mr. Ross covered his face from
his nose down with his shirt, and Mr. Howard covered his
entire face. Mr. Ross carried a BB gun, and Mr. Howard
carried a paintball gun. The Defendant served as driver and
lookout, while Mr. Ross and Mr. Howard entered the store.
Once inside, Mr. Ross and Mr. Howard forced the victim to
turn off the alarm and open the safes. Mr. Ross was in
contact with the Defendant while they waited for the time
delay on the safes to elapse. They put an estimated $1700 in
a backpack and ran from the store. The Defendant drove them
back to Mr. Ross's apartment, and the three men split the
robbery proceeds equally.
Ross testified that on August 5, 2014, he and the Defendant
and Mr. Howard attempted to rob a cash advance business, Ace
Cash Express. The men developed a plan wherein Mr. Ross went
in pretending to be a loan applicant, and the Defendant and
Mr. Howard entered and demanded cash, while pretending to
hold Mr. Ross hostage. Mr. Ross said that the Defendant and
Mr. Howard were both armed with BB guns, which were different
from that used in the Family Dollar robbery. The robbery of
Ace Cash Express was unsuccessful because the store clerk
immediately dropped to the floor and activated the alarm. Mr.
Ross stayed at the scene pretending to be a bystander and was
eventually arrested for possession of marijuana. Police also
found a BB gun in Mr. Ross's car. The Defendant and Mr.
Howard ran after the employee signaled for the police, but
they later returned to the scene to check on Mr. Ross.
Ross testified that over a week later, on August 13, 2014, he
and the Defendant planned to rob another Family Dollar store
in the area of Mary Jane Avenue. They had a BB gun and
paintball gun in the trunk of their car for such purpose.
They tried to rob the store that morning when it opened, but
the door was locked. They returned later that night to try
again, but a police officer pulled them over and arrested Mr.
Ross for driving on a suspended license.
Howard's testimony was essentially consistent with Mr.
Ross's testimony regarding the robbery of the Family
Dollar store on South Third Street and attempted robbery of
Ace Cash Express. Mr. Howard elaborated that the Family
Dollar was chosen because the Defendant had worked there. Mr.
Howard also said that the Defendant believed that the only
people who were going to be working in the store were
"his two sisters, " but there ended up being
"just one woman." Mr. Howard estimated that they
took around $2000 in the robbery.
regard to the Ace Cash Express attempted robbery, Mr. Howard
testified that they chose the location because it was the
"closest to us." Mr. Howard's recollection
differed from Mr. Ross's in that Mr. Howard recalled that
he was armed with a paintball gun, and the Defendant was
armed with a BB gun. Mr. Howard also elaborated that he and
the Defendant returned to Ace after waiting on Mr. Ross for
thirty to forty-five minutes to try "to get [Mr. Ross]
out of the situation." He said that officers handcuffed
him and the Defendant and put them in a police car, but the
officers eventually let them go.
Muhammad testified that the night before the robbery of the
Family Dollar store on South Third Street, Mr. Ross was
"joking around" and "saying he was going to
rob something." The next morning, she woke up and
discovered that the Defendant and Mr. Ross were not in the
house and that her Saturn automobile was gone. She saw the
Defendant, Mr. Ross, and Mr. Howard come into the house with
backpacks and later saw them counting money. Ms. Muhammad
said that, a few days before, she saw the Defendant and Mr.
Ross "messing around with" a BB gun and a paintball
Styles, the custodian of jail records for the Shelby County
Sheriff's Office, testified that the Defendant's
inmate record showed that he was booked into the jail on
September 3, 2014, and he was visited by Vernicia Stamps on
September 4, 2014. Ms. Stamps was the Defendant's first
Anderson,  a resident of Mary Jane Avenue, testified
that early in the morning on August 13, 2014, he noticed a
gray or silver four-door car with two young African-American
men inside parked in front of his neighbor's house.
Almost two hours later, Mr. Anderson saw the two men, dressed
in dark clothes, get out of the car and put on black ski
masks. Both men were wearing all black, and the passenger had
a backpack. The men walked west, toward the "business
district" on Elvis Presley Boulevard. There was a Family
Dollar store on Elvis Presley Boulevard about a half a mile
from where the car was parked. Mr. Anderson called the
police. The men returned after five or ten minutes, sat in
the car for a short while, and then drove off slowly. Later
that evening, Mr. Anderson saw the flashing blue lights of a
police car in the neighborhood, so he went outside to speak
to them and reiterated what he had observed that morning.
Tony Franklin of the Memphis Police Department testified that
he responded to a "suspicious person's" call in
the area of Mary Jane Avenue and Elvis Presley Boulevard on
August 13, 2014, around 8:00 p.m. The caller advised that a
gray Saturn, seen in the area earlier that day and
"occupied by two subjects with hoodies and gloves on,
" had returned to the area. Officer Franklin located a
vehicle matching the description parked on Mary Jane Avenue
with its lights off. The car was facing west, and Officer
Franklin was driving east. Immediately after Officer Franklin
drove past the car, it turned on its lights and drove away.
Officer Franklin turned around, activated his blue lights,
and pulled the car over. The car had the same license plate
number as the car that had been reported that morning.
Officer Franklin discovered that the license of the driver,
Mr. Ross, was suspended. The Defendant was also in the car,
sitting with a backpack on the floorboard between his legs.
Officer Franklin opened the backpack and saw two guns, which
the Defendant spontaneously told him were not real. The
Defendant claimed ownership of the paintball gun and told him
that the BB gun belonged to Mr. Ross. Officer Franklin also
saw gloves on the center console armrest and on the backseat.
Franklin testified that the Defendant told him that he did
not live in the area but was there "to meet girls."
The Defendant denied having been in the area earlier that
day. The Defendant told Officer Franklin that Mr. Ross walked
to a nearby Family Dollar store but came back immediately
saying that the store was closed. However, Officer Franklin
verified that the store was still open at that time. Officer
Franklin also spoke to Mr. Ross about why he was in the area,
and his story did not match the Defendant's. Officer
Franklin did not recall finding any ski masks in the vehicle
Bledsoe, an employee of Ace Cash Express, testified that she
arrived to work around 7:30 a.m. on August 5, 2014, and the
store was to open at 8:00. A tall young African-American man
knocked on the door at 7:45, but she did not let him inside
until the store opened. The man inquired about a title loan
and stood by the window filling out an application. Ms.
Bledsoe had her back turned away from the window as she
continued completing her opening duties when she heard the
door chime, indicating that someone had entered. She turned
and saw that the person who had entered was wearing a mask
and carrying a gun. The man demanded money, and Ms. Bledsoe
dropped to the floor and pressed the panic button behind the
counter. From where she was hiding under the counter, Ms.
Bledsoe heard two men talking, speculating where Ms. Bledsoe
had gone. She heard one man say, "I'm going to
threaten you and see if that brings her out." The same
man then said, "[I]f you don't come back up here by
the time I count to three, I'm going to shoot this guy in
his head." Ms. Bledsoe did not move. She then heard the
other man say, "[Y]ou need to go ahead and leave before
the police come." Ms. Bledsoe got up after the police
arrived and saw the surreptitious customer outside. The
Saturn car he arrived in ...