Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
GEORGE A. STANHOPE
STATE OF TENNESSEE
Session February 13, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Hickman County No. 14-CV-39 Joseph
P. Binkley, Jr., Judge
A. Stanhope, the Petitioner, was convicted of first degree
premeditated murder, two counts of first degree felony
murder, theft of property valued at $1, 000 or more but less
than $10, 000, and aggravated burglary. The Petitioner
received a total effective sentence of life without parole
plus ten years. His petition for post-conviction relief was
denied by the post-conviction court following a hearing. On
appeal, the Petitioner argues that: (1) the State's voir
dire and trial counsel's concession to second degree
murder during closing argument violated the Petitioner's
right to a jury trial and constituted a structural
constitutional error; and (2) the Petitioner received
ineffective assistance of counsel during voir dire and
closing argument. After a thorough review of the facts and
applicable case law, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
K. Smith, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, George A.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; M.
Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; Kim Helper, District
Attorney General; and Michael J. Fahey, II, Assistant
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined. Thomas T. Woodall,
P.J., concurred in the results only and filed a separate
L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE
Factual and Procedural History
court's opinion in the Petitioner's direct appeal,
this court summarized the facts of the Petitioner's case
as the following:
The victim, Lillie Moran, was last seen alive on the
afternoon of April 5, 2006. Sammy Ferguson testified at trial
that he leased a cow pasture adjacent to the ninety-year-old
victim's house in a "secluded area" of Hickman
County. On April 5, 2006, Mr. Ferguson spoke to the victim in
her driveway around 3:00 p.m. when she returned home from a
physical therapy appointment. The victim's neighbor,
David Oxman, had driven the victim to the appointment in her
car, a tan 1998 Ford Escort station wagon. The victim had a
follow-up appointment scheduled with the physical therapist
for the next day, but the victim never showed up for the
appointment and did not answer her phone when the physical
therapist's office called to remind her of the
At approximately 3:00 p.m. on April 6, 2006, Deputy Levi
Mobley of the Hickman County Sheriff's Department (HCSD)
responded to "a possible death" call at the
victim's home. Deputy Mobley testified that he met Mr.
Oxman on a side deck of the house near the carport. According
to Deputy Mobley, the victim's car was not in the carport
and Mr. Oxman was "somewhat" upset. The victim used
a side entrance as the main entrance to her home instead of
the front door. Deputy Mobley testified that there were pry
marks on the screen door and that it "had been
apparently forced open." The inside handle of the screen
door was broken off and found lying on a washing machine
inside the home. A crow bar from the victim's tool shed
was found on a bench in the carport. The victim's phone
line had been cut and two small plug-in lights the victim
kept on her porch were found in the yard "a fairly good
distance from the house."
Deputy Mobley testified that he entered the house with
another deputy and found the victim in a first floor bedroom.
The victim was lying on the bed and "had trauma to the
right side of her head." The victim was clothed and
"covered up" to her chest with a sheet. The
victim's hands were crossed and resting on her torso. A
bloody pillow was propped up on the headboard next to the
victim's head. A purse and a nightgown were found lying
on the bed next to the victim's body. The victim's
bed appeared to have been pushed over "about a
foot" and several coins were scattered across the
bedroom floor. An empty "coin sorter" was found on
the victim's nightstand. Deputy Mobley checked the victim
for a pulse and determined that she was dead. Deputy Mobley
testified that he did not touch anything else in the bedroom
besides the victim's neck and arm.
The evidence at trial established that the [Petitioner]'s
grandmother lived on a hill 200 yards from the victim's
house. Sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on the morning of
April 6, 2006, the [Petitioner] pulled into a local gas
station driving the victim's car. Tristan Louis Malston
testified that he was working at the gas station that morning
when the [Petitioner] came in alone. Mr. Malston testified
that the [Petitioner] was very quiet that morning.
Christopher M. Campbell testified that he was working at the
Waffle House in Dickson that morning when the [Petitioner]
came into the restaurant by himself around 3:00 a.m. The
[Petitioner] left and came back to the restaurant around 7:00
a.m. driving the victim's car. Mr. Campbell testified
that he did not have a ride home, so he accepted a ride with
the [Petitioner]. Mr. Campbell further testified that he
spent the entire day with the [Petitioner] in Nashville and
Dickson and that the [Petitioner] had a revolver with him.
The [Petitioner]'s ex-girlfriend, Leandra Smith-Winters,
testified that she saw the [Petitioner] at 6:15 a.m. on April
6, 2006, as she was dropping her son off at daycare.
According to Ms. Smith-Winters, the [Petitioner] was alone
and was driving the victim's station wagon. The
[Petitioner] gave Ms. Smith-Winters a ring that morning.
According to Ms. Smith-Winters, the [Petitioner] had not had
a job since January 2006. The victim's niece, Dorothy L.
King, identified the ring the [Petitioner] gave to Ms.
Smith-Winters as having belonged to the victim. Ms. King also
testified that the victim's station wagon was valued at
$3, 500 in April 2006. Ms. Smith-Winters testified that she
saw the [Petitioner] two more times that day. The
[Petitioner] was still driving the victim's car, but Mr.
Campbell was with him when she saw him later on in the day.
At approximately 10:30 p.m. on April 6, 2006, Sergeant Jeff
Lovell of the Dickson County Sheriff's Department (DCSD)
spotted the victim's car pull up to a pay phone at
Tuffy's Market. As the [Petitioner] got out of the car to
use the pay phone, Sgt. Lovell drew his weapon and ordered
the [Petitioner] to lie down on the ground. Sgt. Lovell
ordered Mr. Campbell to exit the car and lie down on the
ground as well. Deputy Paul Montgomery of the DCSD handcuffed
the [Petitioner] and checked his driver's license to
confirm his identity. Deputy Montgomery then placed the
[Petitioner] in the backseat of his cruiser and activated the
cruiser's audio recording device. At trial, the audio
recording was played for the jury. The [Petitioner] told
Deputy Montgomery, without any prompting, to "look under
the front seat" when he searched the car because there
was "a .32 revolver under there." While the
[Petitioner] was alone in the cruiser, he stated that he
wanted the police to take him to jail so he could call Ms.
Smith-Winters and tell her he had been "arrested for
The [Petitioner] was eventually moved from Deputy
Montgomery's cruiser to a HCSD cruiser that did not have
an audio recording device. Once in the HCSD cruiser, the
[Petitioner] started "causing a little bit of a
commotion" and motioning for officers to come to the
cruiser. Sgt. Carl Hutchinson of the HCSD testified that when
he approached the cruiser, the [Petitioner] said that he knew
"what this [was] all about . . . [h]omicide." Sgt.
Hutchinson went and got Jimmy Barnett, then a detective with
the HCSD, to come speak with the [Petitioner]. Mr. Barnett
testified that the [Petitioner] repeatedly told him that he
knew "what this [was] about." Mr. Barnett
eventually asked the [Petitioner], "what" it was
all about, and the [Petitioner] responded
"homicide." The [Petitioner] then pointed at Mr.
Campbell and said that Mr. Campbell "didn't have
anything to do with it."
Mr. Barnett testified that the [Petitioner] stated that he
had left his grandmother's house the night before and had
gone to the victim's house. The [Petitioner] told Mr.
Barnett that he cut the victim's phone line with a knife
and then knocked on her door to ask if he could use the
phone. The victim answered the door and invited the
[Petitioner] inside. The
[Petitioner] told Mr. Barnett that the victim was holding a
gun when she answered the door. The [Petitioner] asked for a
glass of water and sat down in the living room. Eventually,
the victim put her gun down on a table. The [Petitioner] told
Mr. Barnett that he picked up the gun, and made the victim go
into her bedroom and lie down on the bed. The [Petitioner]
stated that he put a pillow over the victim's head and
shot her twice in the head.
Sgt. Hutchinson testified that he heard most of what the
[Petitioner] said to Mr. Barnett and corroborated Mr.
Barnett's recollection of the [Petitioner]'s
statements. Sgt. Hutchinson also testified that the
[Petitioner] said, "I probably f-ked up, didn't
I" after he told Mr. Barnett that he shot the victim.
All of the officers involved in the [Petitioner]'s arrest
who testified at trial stated that they did not tell the
[Petitioner] why he was being arrested and did not hear
anyone else tell the [Petitioner] he had been arrested for a
homicide. Mr. Campbell testified that he repeatedly asked the
officers why he was being detained, but none of the officers
responded to his questions. However, Mr. Campbell testified
that he could not hear what the officers said to the
[Petitioner]. Later that night, samples were taken from the
[Petitioner]'s hands to test for gunshot residue, and
the [Petitioner] gave the police his clothes for forensic
testing. The next day, the [Petitioner] told Mr. Barnett that
he did not know why he killed the victim because she was the
only person that was ever nice to him.
A Smith & Wesson .32 long caliber revolver was recovered
under the driver's seat of the victim's car after the
[Petitioner]'s arrest. Constable Jerry Deal testified
that the gun recovered from the victim's car belonged to
the victim and that she kept it in her nightstand for
protection. Shelly Betts, a forensic scientist with the
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and an expert in tool
mark and firearms identification, testified that .32 caliber
guns were relatively uncommon and "not a very popular
revolver." When the revolver was recovered, it had four
unfired Winchester .32 caliber cartridges in the cylinder and
two empty chambers. Ms. Betts testified that the recovered
cartridges contained "copper coated brown nose lead
bullets." Police recovered a fired bullet underneath the
victim's body when it was moved from the bed. A second
fired bullet was found during the victim's autopsy in the
sheet her body had been wrapped in.
Ms. Betts testified that the pillow found above the
victim's head had two bullet holes in it. Ms. Betts
opined that both shots were "contact or near contact
gunshots." Ms. Betts also testified that the fired
bullets were .32 caliber, "copper coated lead with a
round nose." Ms. Betts opined that the fired bullets
were "the same type and design" as the bullets
found in the unfired cartridges found in the revolver. Ms.
Betts also opined that the fired bullets were
"consistent with being manufactured by Winchester,
" like the unfired cartridges. The fired bullets were
too badly damaged for Ms. Betts to make a conclusive
determination as to whether they had been fired from the
victim's gun. However, there were no dissimilarities
between the bullets recovered at the crime scene and bullets
test-fired from the gun. Ms. Betts testified that both of the
fired bullets had the same "class characteristics"
and one bullet had "similar individual
characteristics" with the test-fired bullets.
Ms. Betts also testified about the cut to the victim's
phone line and the pry marks on the victim's screen door.
Ms. Betts opined that the cut to the phone line had been made
with a single-blade cutting tool like a knife or a box
cutter. Ms. Betts testified that there were pry marks both
below and above the handle to the screen door. Ms. Betts
opined that the pry marks on the door were made by "a
prying type tool" like the crowbar found in the
victim's carport. Ms. Betts also opined that the marks
were the same size as the crowbar, but she testified that
"there were not individual characteristics to link the
crowbar to the tool marks on the door." TBI agents
searched the victim's house for fingerprints but were
unable to find any identifiable prints in this case.
Laura Hodge, a TBI forensic scientist and expert in gunshot
residue, testified that the samples taken from the
[Petitioner]'s hands were inconclusive for gunshot
residue. Ms. Hodge explained that to determine if gunshot
residue was present she looked for three specific chemical
elements in specific quantities. Ms. Hodge testified that all
three of the elements were present in the samples from the
[Petitioner]'s hands, especially his left palm, but not
in sufficient quantities to say the [Petitioner] tested
positive for gunshot residue. Ms. Hodge further testified
that gunshot residue was "very fragile" and could
easily be destroyed by wiping or washing the affected area.
No gunshot residue was found on the [Petitioner]'s
clothing. However, three bloodstains were found on the
[Petitioner]'s jeans. Two of the stains were a
"complete" match with the victim's DNA and the
third stain was a partial match.
. . . .
David Brundage testified on behalf of the [Petitioner] as an
expert in tool mark and firearms identification. Mr. Brundage
opined that the pry marks on the screen door were made by a
rounded tool and were inconsistent with the crowbar found in
the victim's carport. Mr. Brundage also opined that he
"could not positively identify nor eliminate" the
fired bullets recovered from the victim's bed as having
been fired from the gun found under the driver's seat of
the victim's car.
Based upon the foregoing evidence, the jury convicted the
[Petitioner] of first degree premeditated murder, two counts
of first degree felony murder, theft of property valued at
$1, 000 or more but less than $10, 000, and aggravated
burglary. The jury acquitted the [Petitioner] of the charge