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State v. Collins

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 18, 2018

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
WALTER COLLINS

         Session July 11, 2017

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 15-00211 Paula Skahan, Judge

         The Shelby County Grand Jury charged the Defendant-Appellant, Walter Collins, and two codefendants with first degree felony murder. Following a jury trial, Collins, who was seventeen years old at the time of the offense, was convicted as charged and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, Collins argues: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statement to police; (2) the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence at trial; (3) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction; and (4) his sentence of life imprisonment violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, and the trial court abused its discretion in failing to dismiss his indictment on that basis.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; and Barry W. Kuhn (on appeal), and Jennifer Case and Amy G. Mayne (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Walter Collins.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Pamela Stark and Samuel Winnig, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE

         This case relates to the March 9, 2014 shooting death and robbery of the victim, Larry Wilkins. Collins and two codefendants arranged to purchase a Mustang the victim had listed on Craigslist and, after test driving this car, robbed the victim of his automobile and shot him.

         Suppression Hearing.

         At the hearing on Collins' motion to suppress his statement to police, Sergeant Kevin Lundy with the Memphis Police Department testified that he investigated the death of the victim. He said that several witnesses at the scene had provided information to the police. Corrie O'Bryant informed officers that she had seen three men standing around the open hood of a Ford Mustang and, a minute later, heard five gunshots. Lekevva Allen told police that after hearing four or five gunshots, she looked out her bedroom window and saw two men running away and saw the Mustang speeding off toward the exit. Joanna Martin informed police that she saw two men running from the scene.

         Sergeant Lundy said a car belonging to Collins' brother, codefendant Brandon Vance, was left at the scene of the crime. After obtaining a warrant, the police searched this car on March 10, 2014, and discovered Vance's Tennessee identification, a tow ticket for Vance's car, and Vance's driver's license application. In addition, some Southwest Community College financial paperwork containing Collins' name and social security number and a juvenile summons for a traffic ticket made out to Collins were found inside Vance's car. Sergeant Lundy acknowledged that he was unsure whether the financial paperwork actually belonged to Collins.

         On March 11, 2014, Sergeant Lundy took statements from Vance and Martiness Henderson, the other codefendant. Vance told police that he, Henderson, and Collins planned to steal a car the victim had listed on Craigslist and that during this offense, Vance's car was left at the scene. Vance's statement corroborated not only the statements from witnesses at the scene but also the paperwork related to Collins that was found in Vance's car at the scene. Henderson, who was a juvenile, had his mother present during his interview and told the officers that he, Vance, and Collins planned to rob the victim of the Mustang that had been listed on Craigslist.

         Sergeant Lundy said that around 9:00 a.m. on March 12, 2014, Collins was brought to the homicide office and subsequently gave a statement to police at 9:58 a.m. Because Collins was a juvenile, his mother was present when he was advised of his Miranda rights and when he signed the Advice of Rights form prior to giving his oral and written statements to police. Sergeant Lundy said Collins' statement contained a notation, "He read aloud, " which meant that Collins read the Advice of Rights form aloud in the presence of his mother and the police. Sergeant Lundy said Collins appeared to understand the Advice of Rights form and did not appear to have any learning disabilities. He added that Collins' mother never indicated that Collins had been enrolled in any special education classes or had any educational impairments that prevented him from knowingly waiving his rights or giving a statement.

         After Collins read this form aloud, Collins and his mother signed the Advice of Rights form before Collins gave his statement. Collins told the police that he, Vance, and Henderson rode to the scene in Vance's car, hid in a corner, and when the victim came out, they approached him, and shots were fired. Collins jumped into the Mustang because he was the only one who knew how to drive a standard transmission and then drove to his sister's home. Collins added that because Vance's car would not crank, Vance and Henderson ran away from the scene. Collins said that they had walkie-talkies, and a single walkie-talkie was found at the scene. Collins' statement corroborated the other evidence obtained by the police regarding this offense.

         Sergeant Lundy acknowledged that while fingerprints belonging to Vance and Henderson were found on the victim's Mustang, Collins' fingerprints were not found on this car. He said that until Vance's and Henderson's interviews, no one had told the police that Collins was involved in the offense. However, after Vance and Henderson implicated Collins in the crime, Collins was arrested without a warrant sometime prior to 9:00 a.m. on March 12, 2014. Collins was then brought to the homicide office, despite the fact that he had not been charged with any crime. Sergeant Lundy confirmed that the reason Collins had been brought to the homicide office was to determine his "involvement in this particular incident."

         Sergeant Lundy first encountered Collins, who had been shackled or handcuffed, in one of the interview rooms at the homicide office. Although Sergeant Lundy said that juveniles are typically given an opportunity to talk to a parent or guardian before their interview, he could not say whether this procedure was followed in Collins' case. He conceded that while Collins was in the interview room, he was not free to leave. He confirmed that no video or audio recording had been made of Collins' interview.

         Sergeant Lundy said he did not ask Collins to explain, in his own words, what the Advice of Rights form meant because that was not his normal procedure. He acknowledged that he did not ask Collins if he understood what a lawyer was and did not tell Collins what the consequences of his appearing in court might be. He stated that Sergeant Kelly was also present during Collins' interview and that although Sergeant Wilkie was not in the room during Collins' questioning, he was present when Collins' written statement was typed. Sergeant Lundy confirmed he was the officer who actually took Collins' statement.

         Sergeant Lundy said that neither Collins nor Collins' mother had any questions about the Advice of Rights form during the interview. He stated that if a suspect asked questions about the meaning of words on the Advice of Rights form, then he explained the meaning of these words before continuing with the interview.

         Sergeant Lundy said that unlike Vance, Collins never provided any evidence of an alibi and that if Collins had given an alibi, the police would have investigated it before continuing with Collins' statement. During the interview, Collins gave his address as 3730 Fieldbrook Street, Memphis, which was two blocks away from Annie's Apartments, which was where the Mustang was found by police. In response to the questions, "Do you understand each of these rights I've explained to you?" and "Having been read these rights, do you wish to talk to us now?, " Collins specifically wrote "Yes" on the Advice of Rights form and the written statement and signed his initials. Sergeant Lundy said Collins was given an opportunity to make any changes to his written statement prior to signing and initialing it.

         Sergeant Lundy acknowledged that the police records regarding the interview did not reflect whether Collins was offered food, drink, or bathroom breaks during his time in the homicide bureau. While he did not recall Collins asking for any of these things, he said that if Collins had asked for them, then they would have been provided. When Sergeant Lundy left Collins' presence in the interview room, Collins had not been charged with any particular crime. He added that the case officer, Sergeant Hurst, was responsible for contacting the district attorney's office to determine whether Collins would be charged as a juvenile or an adult and that this determination was made before a charging decision could be made.

         Sergeant Lundy acknowledged that he never took Collins to appear before a judicial commissioner or magistrate prior to being taken to juvenile detention. He said he never saw a magistrate advise Collins that he was being charged with a crime, inform him of his rights, or tell him that there was probable cause to detain him. Sergeant Lundy admitted that he did not know whether Collins was ever taken before a magistrate after his arrest on March 12, 2014.

         Dr. James Walker, an expert in the fields of forensic psychology and neuropsychology, testified that he performed a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of Collins. He said Collins had a full scale intelligence quotient (IQ) of 82, which was in the low average range and meant that Collins' "reasoning and thinking abilities [were] not as well developed as, perhaps, the average person in our society." He also said Collins' verbal IQ score was 72, which indicated that he "had significant problems understanding and dealing with language." Dr. Walker opined that Collins' test scores showed that he functioned on a fifth grade level and that he would be able to use his language skills as effectively as only the lowest three people out of a hundred. However, Dr. Walker acknowledged that Collins scored an 88 on perceptual reasoning, which placed him on the higher end of low average and indicated that he performed better on non-verbal skills.

         Dr. Walker concluded that Collins' scores on two different tests showed that he was "a very compliant, highly suggestible person." He said Collins was "extremely susceptible to someone suggesting he should change his answer" and that Collins "would typically do what other people want[ed] him to do rather than what he chooses to do." Relevant to this issue, Dr. Walker noted that Collins said his mother told him to talk to the police officers about this case. Dr. Walker diagnosed Collins with depressive disorder and a dependent personality disorder, which contributed to his being very dependent on others and doing what others wanted him to do.

         Dr. Walker also opined that Collins would be unlikely to understand the rights described in the Advice of Rights form or the consequences of waiving these rights and would have signed the waiver in order to comply with the wishes of the police and his mother. Dr. Walker said that Collins told him it never occurred to him not to talk to the police during his interview.

         Dr. Walker admitted that Collins did not have any brain injuries or disorders that would have entitled him to full social security disability benefits. He said Collins could do simple tasks but would be unable to complete complex tasks involving multiple steps. Dr. Walker acknowledged that Collins, at age 15, began working as a cook at Krystal's and performed so well in that job that his supervisor asked him to fill in at the drive-through window and the cash register without any specific training. However, he asserted that it would take Collins longer than the average employee to learn these tasks.

         Dr. Walker said his testimony was not that Collins was unable to understand the Miranda warnings. He acknowledged that if Collins had received prior exposure to the Miranda rights, then it would be easier for him to understand these rights than if he had never been exposed to these rights. He also acknowledged that if people in Collins' family or peer group had been involved in interactions with the police, then this would affect Collins' knowledge as to how to conduct himself around police.

         Dr. Walker said Collins disclosed that he had "great difficulty navigating his relationship with his mother" because "she was a very strong-willed person." He acknowledged that Collins' desire to please others could have motivated him to provide certain information to him and his defense attorneys in order to help his case.

          Dr. Walker stated that he was not surprised to learn that Collins told people during phone conversations in jail that he could not talk to them about the crime because the call was being recorded. He said the difference between the phone situation and the interview situation was that Collins' decision to talk to the police "was a forgone conclusion given his personality characteristics." Dr. Walker was not surprised to learn that Collins had gone to Mississippi to look for an engine for his own vehicle immediately after the victim's death. He explained that "[p]eople do all kinds of things after they do bad things[.]"

         Dr. Walker said he was surprised to learn that Collins' codefendants claimed Collins was the one who found the Craigslist advertisement and who wanted to steal the car. He also said he was surprised to discover that the codefendants claimed Collins used a masking application to disguise his cell phone number when sending texts to the victim about the Mustang. Dr. Walker acknowledged that Collins said he provided the gun used to kill the victim.

         Trial. Dionne Lee testified that on the afternoon of March 9, 2014, she and her boyfriend, the victim, finished their shifts at FedEx and returned to their apartment in Memphis. Lee decided to take a nap, and she asked the victim to wake her up at 8:00 p.m. When she awoke on her own around 8:00 p.m., she noticed that the victim was asleep on the couch, and she returned to sleep. Sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, Lee was awakened by the sound of five or six gunshots fired nearby. When she was unable to find the victim inside the apartment, she went outside. She saw some people standing around who appeared to be "in shock a little, " and one of these individuals told her that "the guy in the Mustang shot that guy" and pointed in the direction of her apartment building. When Lee turned around, she saw the victim lying in the parking lot where his Mustang had been parked. She immediately ran to him and realized that he was dead.

         When the police arrived at the scene, Lee gave them the victim's cell phone, which had been on the ground next to the victim's body. Lee said the victim had been trying to sell his Mustang so he could buy a Camaro, and the victim's phone contained some text messages and phone calls between the victim and another person regarding the Mustang. One text message in particular had been sent at 11:00 p.m. that night. As Lee looked around the parking lot, she noticed a Monte Carlo, that she had never seen before, that was backed into a space in the parking lot.

         Corrie O'Bryant testified that she and her boyfriend, Frederick Moss, were coming home around midnight on March 9, 2014, when she saw three or four men under the open hood of a Mustang at her apartment complex. She parked her vehicle, and thirty to forty-five seconds later, she heard gunshots. She went inside her apartment for five minutes before walking back outside to find out what had happened. When she got to the parking lot, she noticed the victim lying on the ground and heard a lady start screaming, "They killed him." She also realized that the Mustang she had seen was missing.

         Fredrick Moss also testified that he saw four or five men gathered around the open hood of a Mustang. He said that as he and O'Bryant were getting out of the car, he heard four or five gunshots.

         Lekevva Allen testified that she was studying in her apartment around midnight on May 9, 2014, when she heard five gunshots. She immediately ran to her back bedroom, which was the direction from which the shots were fired. When she looked out her window there, she saw two or three men gathered together. Allen ran back to the front of the apartment to determine if her boyfriend heard the shots, and then less than a minute later, returned to the back bedroom window. As she looked out, she saw one man fall down, two other men run away, and observed the Mustang pulling out of the parking lot. Allen said she was unable to see who got into the Mustang before it left the apartment complex.

         Officer Michael Huff testified that when he arrived at the crime scene, he saw the deceased victim and several people gathered together. He and other officers noticed that the victim's Mustang was missing from the parking lot and that a Monte Carlo was parked in one of the spaces. The Monte Carlo stood out because its windows were rolled down, which was unusual because the weather at the time was chilly. In addition, the other cars in the lot had their windows rolled up and were locked, probably because there had been several car thefts at that apartment complex. Officer Huff said he put up crime scene tape to secure the area and began separating the witnesses so statements could be obtained.

         Officer James Smith testified that he collected four spent shell casings at the scene. He said three of the casings were .380 caliber and one casing was nine millimeter.

         Sergeant Reginald Titus testified that he suspected that the Monte Carlo belonged to the person who killed the victim, and he and other officers kept the car under surveillance all night with the hope that the suspect would return to claim it. Sergeant Titus identified a photograph of the Monte Carlo that had a temporary tag placed in the window.

         Sergeant James Sewell testified that after obtaining a search warrant, he discovered numerous items inside the Monte Carlo. He found an identification, an application for a driver's license, and an employment application that contained Vance's name. He also found a temporary tag listing Vance's name and an address of 3730 Fieldbrook Street, Memphis. In addition, he found a juvenile summons issued to Collins for a traffic ticket that contained an address of 3730 Fieldbrook Street, Memphis and another document that referenced Collins' name inside Vance's vehicle. In the backseat of the Monte Carlo, Sergeant Sewell found a magazine advertising cars for sale and a walkie-talkie that was powered on and functioning. He admitted that although he found approximately twenty items that belonged to Vance inside the car, he found only two items that belonged to Collins.

         Officer James Johnson testified that on March 10, 2014, around 10:00 a.m., he saw what appeared to be the victim's Mustang but lost track of it when it turned into the entrance for Annie's Apartments, which was near the address of 3730 Fieldbrook Street, Memphis. He later located the Mustang, which was parked with the doors partially open and the keys inside, in the apartment complex.

         Sergeant Kelly stated that sometime before 9:00 a.m. on March 12, 2014, Collins was arrested without a warrant and placed in handcuffs. Although the police had probable cause to arrest Collins, he was not charged with any particular crime at the time of his arrest. Collins was then taken to the homicide office by a patrol officer and while Collins' mother was not permitted to ride in the police car with him, she arrived shortly after Collins reached the police station.

         Collins got to the homicide office around 9:00 a.m. and was shackled and placed in an interview room with two other officers until his mother arrived. Sergeant Kelly said that at the beginning of the interview, he introduced himself and Sergeant Lundy as homicide investigators with the Memphis Police Department. Sergeant Kelly allowed Collins' mother to sit down and asked Collins if he needed to use the restroom. Collins was allowed to speak with his mother. Sergeant Kelly advised Collins of his Miranda rights and at 9:22 a.m. presented him with the Advice of Rights form. He acknowledged that he did not ask Collins to explain what Advice of Rights form meant in his own words but asserted that Collins did not have any questions about his rights and stated that he understood his rights. Sergeant Kelly then told Collins that he would not be coerced into giving a statement, and when Collins indicated that he did not understand what that meant, Sergeant Kelly explained that "coercion" meant that no one was "going to come in here and beat [him] or kick [him] or punch [him] or threaten to lock up [his] mama if [he] [did]n't talk to [the ...


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