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Kent v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 14, 2018


         Assigned on Briefs March 28, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lewis County No. 2015-CR-94 Michael Binkley, Judge

         The Petitioner, Anne Marie Kent, was convicted by a Lewis County jury of two counts of aggravated child neglect or endangerment and two counts of child abuse and received an effective sentence of twenty-two years. The Petitioner filed a post-conviction petition alleging that she received ineffective assistance of counsel, which was subsequently denied by the post-conviction court. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that trial counsel was ineffective by (1) failing to file a motion to change venue; (2) advising the Petitioner not to testify at trial; (3) failing to call a witness; and (4) failing to properly cross-examine a witness. Upon thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Matthew J. Crigger, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anne Marie Kent.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General; and Jennifer Mason, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.





         The Petitioner and her husband, Mr. Steven Kent, adopted three children, two boys and one girl, before moving to Lewis County in 2004. The Petitioner's convictions arise from abuse inflicted upon the two boys between the dates of July 1, 2005, and November 10, 2009. The Petitioner was indicted on two counts of aggravated child neglect or endangerment and two counts of child abuse. The evidence presented at trial is summarized below.

         Both victims testified at trial about the abuse allegations. Victim 1[1] was born in 1995, and victim 2 was born in 1997. They were adopted by the Kents and moved to Lewis County in 2004. The victims shared a bedroom, which consisted of two twin size beds, a dresser, and a closet. They did not have any books or toys in their bedroom. Victim 2 testified they initially had pictures hanging on their bedroom walls, but the Petitioner "ripped them all off." Victim 1 had a fitted sheet on his bed but did not have a flat sheet, blankets, or pillows, and victim 2's bed did not have any bedclothes at all.

         The victims' sister had toys and electronics in her bedroom, and she had sheets, blankets, and pillows on her bed. Victim 2 testified that he and victim 1 were not allowed in their sister's room, noting that the Petitioner would "beat" them if they went into her room. Victim 1 explained that he and his brother had a box of toys that was kept outside when they first moved to Tennessee. The toys were never replaced if they broke, and sometimes the Petitioner would break their toys in front of them as a form of punishment. When the victims received toys as presents from family members, the Petitioner would take them away, but their sister was allowed to keep her presents. The victims were not allowed in the basement, and victim 2 stated that the Petitioner "beat him" because he "snuck down there one day."

         The victims were not allowed to watch television and were not allowed in the living room except to pass through to access their bedroom. The victims were allowed to watch one Christmas special on television in 2004. They were not allowed to use the computer, nor were they allowed to ride in the go-cart. Their sister could watch television, use the computer, go into the living room, and ride in the go-cart. The victims could not choose their own clothes, but their sister could pick out her clothes from a store or order them online. Victim 1 testified that his shoes were often "the cheapest pair you could find, " that sometimes he would have to wear women's shoes, and that his jeans were not long enough. Victim 1 testified that he and victim 2 took baths every two days, that they were not permitted to take showers, and that Mr. Kent had to supervise them while they bathed.

         The victims' bedroom and their sister's bedroom were connected by a bathroom. The bi-fold door between the victims' bedroom and the bathroom was turned backward so that the victims could not access the bathroom from their bedroom. One year after moving into the house, the water to the bathroom sink was turned off. The victims could brush their teeth once a day, but they were not permitted to spit out the toothpaste or rinse their mouths. The Petitioner gave them a cup of water to be used to rinse their toothbrushes. They used the same toothbrushes for "three to four years."

         The victims were not allowed to use the bathroom without first obtaining permission, and the Petitioner would watch them while they used the bathroom. If the victims tried to use the bathroom without permission, they would get in trouble, which normally resulted in being whipped with objects such as a "[b]elt, stick, rake handle, [and] board." Victim 1 said he was whipped "at least once a day." The victims also were prohibited from using the bathroom at night. The Petitioner built a "makeshift alarm, " which consisted of a box of wooden blocks placed on top of a crate. The crate was placed against the bathroom door, so "if you push the door in[, ] … it knocked [the box] over." Victim 1 explained that he had "more than five" accidents in his bed because he was not allowed to use the bathroom at night. Victim 2 had accidents and vomited in his bed because he could not access the bathroom. He explained that he would lie in his own vomit until the Petitioner allowed him to get out of bed the next morning. The victims had to go to bed around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., but no later than 8:00 p.m. Victim 2 said that they were not allowed to get out of their beds in the morning until the Petitioner gave them permission.

         Victim 2 testified that he and victim 1 had to get dressed in the kitchen every morning because the Petitioner wanted to watch victim 1 put on his pants. If victim 1 lost his balance or tripped while putting on his pants, the Petitioner made him start over "until he did it properly ten times." The victims were given the same breakfast every day: a bowl of moistened cereal with the milk drained out of it. The victims' sister got "pancakes, eggs, bacon, anything she wanted" for breakfast. The Petitioner packed the victims' school lunches every day. Victim 1 explained that he had different kinds of sandwiches and chips during the family's first year in Tennessee. After that year, the victims got the same lunch every day. Victim 1 explained that although he got three meals a day, he still went to bed hungry. The Petitioner determined how much food they could eat, and they were not allowed to have second servings of food. Their sister could have seconds, but if the victims asked for seconds, the Petitioner "would laugh and say no." If the victims did not finish their food on time or if there was not enough food left over for seconds, then the Petitioner would give the victims' food to their sister.

         Victim 1 said the Petitioner punished him by forcing him to exercise and do "write-offs." He was given forty-five minutes to write sentences on pieces of paper. He "normally" had to write "four pages front and back" within the time limit. If he failed to complete the write-offs in time or if his handwriting was not to the Petitioner's satisfaction, he had to exercise. The exercises consisted of running around the family's circle driveway and "squat thrusts or jumping jacks or something like that." After completing his exercises, he would do more write-offs. He testified that this cycle repeated "four to five times" on a school day and "ten to fifteen" times on a weekend. He stated that within a four-year period, his write-offs were considered "good enough" by the Petitioner on one or two occasions. Victim 1 acknowledged that he and victim 2 had poor penmanship and that he had to take a class from first through fourth grade to improve his handwriting.

         Starting in 2006, victim 1 was required to run around the driveway every day until the Petitioner told him he could stop. If he was not running quickly enough, the Petitioner would chase him either on foot or on a four-wheeler. She sometimes would hit him with a stick if he did not run faster. Victim 1 saw victim 2 walk or run around the driveway "once or twice maybe." Victim 1 had to run in the cold, heat, and snow. He was allowed to go inside if it was raining but was required to do "squat thrusts or jumping jacks" until the Petitioner said he could stop. Victim 2 testified that they had to do "[j]umping jacks, squats, push-ups, [and] sit[]-ups" when it was raining outside. Victim 2 also testified that he once saw the Petitioner chasing victim 1 with a stick, that somebody pulled into the driveway and asked what was going on, and that the Petitioner responded that "she was not going to beat him. [She was] going to kill him with it."

         On the typical school day, the victims rode the bus home from school, drank the small amount of water given to them in empty yogurt cups, changed out of their school clothes and shoes, and went outside where victim 1 would begin his write-offs. After arriving home from school, the victims were permitted to sit to change their shoes but were required to remain standing for the rest of the day until bedtime. Once the victims were outside, the Petitioner locked the door to the house and would not allow the victims to go inside. They remained outside until it was time for dinner. Victim 1 explained that he had to have his shoes untied before dinner began. If he did not have his shoes untied quickly enough, the Petitioner fed his dinner to the dog.

         During dinner, the children were all separated from each other, and the victims had to remain standing while they ate. The Petitioner did not allow victim 1 to look at her, and he was whipped if he did so. If the victims did not finish their food by the time everyone else had finished or if they were eating too quickly, their food was taken away and fed to the dog. The victims were not allowed to access the refrigerator or have any snacks. Victim 2 testified that sometimes the Petitioner blended his meal together for him to eat. He said that he would sometimes throw up his dinner and that the Petitioner would "put soap in it and make [him] eat it again." He recalled being forced to eat his vomit on multiple occasions while the Petitioner laughed. Victim 2 also testified that the Petitioner poured dish soap and chili powder down his throat.

         At school, the victims were not allowed to participate in any class parties or field trips. Victim 1 went on one field trip not long after moving to Tennessee but was not allowed on any other trips during a five-year period. The victims were also not allowed to have any food or drinks during class parties, nor could they watch television or movies at school. Victim 2 noted that although he was allowed to attend school book fairs, the Petitioner did not let him buy any items.

         The victims were not allowed to get a drink of water by themselves. Victim 1 explained that the Petitioner would allow them to have about six ounces of water, provided to them in an empty yogurt container, every "hour, hour and a half." Victim 2 described the yogurt containers and added that they had to drink out of "sippy cups." The victims' sister had free access to water. Victim 1 said he sometimes felt thirsty and dizzy, so he would try to find water to drink from a "water hose or one of the livestock buckets." Victim 2 said that they would drink water from the water hose or horse troughs and that the Petitioner would hit them and make them run laps if they were caught. The Petitioner put locks on the water spigots to prevent the victims from drinking out of them.

         Victim 1 testified that he did not have any birthday parties and was not permitted to attend anyone else's parties. He and victim 2 were not allowed to go to church, but their sister could go. The family lived on a farm and put on a pumpkin patch festival each year starting in either 2006 or 2007. Schools would come to the festival, but victim 1 explained that he was not allowed to participate in any of the activities. He was once allowed to go on a hayride after everyone had left for the day, while his sister was allowed to participate in activities.

         During the summer of 2009, the Petitioner required victim 1 to stay outside from 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. He was required to do write-offs and run laps around the driveway. The victims were only allowed inside the house if it was raining, but their sister could remain inside the house at any time. While the Petitioner raked the goat and horse barns every day, she required the victims to stand inside separate stalls. The victims had to face the corners of the stalls for about an hour each time. If they "even looked up or talked, [the Petitioner would] hit [them] with a rake." Victim 1 explained that the Petitioner put them in the horse stalls because they had "tried to run away a couple of times."

         The Petitioner forced victim 1 to wear a diaper during the summer of 2009, when he was thirteen years old. Victim 1 explained that he wet himself since he was not allowed to use the bathroom when he needed to go. One day, the Duncan family was dropping the victims' sister off after church and saw victim 1 in a diaper. Two weeks before school started, the Petitioner made victim 1 wear his diaper, shoes, and shirt, drove him to the Walmart parking lot, and threatened to make him get out of the vehicle. The Petitioner made him wear a diaper under his jeans to school "[a] couple times." When asked why he did not throw his diaper away once he arrived at school, he explained that the Petitioner would whip him for it. In July 2009, victim 1 was locked into what he described as a pigpen made out of dog kennel panels. The Petitioner tied the door shut so he could not get out and left him in the pen from "[e]arly afternoon to late in the evening." Victim 2 said that victim 1 could not get out of the pen because the Petitioner had put a padlock on the gate.

         Victim 1 testified that the objects with which the Petitioner hit him "got bigger over time." He explained that he would "get in trouble for almost anything, " including "for not standing in the same spot [he] was standing in before." He testified that the Petitioner would call him names such as "retarded" and "gay." When victim 1 expressed his desire to join the military, the Petitioner told him that he would never succeed, that "they don't allow gays in the military, " and that "[t]hey don't allow people on medication" in the military. She also sometimes called victim 2 "stupid." Victim 1 explained that if he "stepped out of line, " the Petitioner would hit him across the back with the rakes she used to clean the barns. He testified that on "at least two or three occasions, " the Petitioner broke a rake handle by hitting him with it. He also saw victim 2 being hit with rakes and recalled the handle breaking on one occasion. Victim 1 described these beatings as painful but said that he never bled as a result.

         Victim 2 said that he saw the Petitioner hit victim 1 with "a stick, rake, belt, riding crop and a metal horse brush with spikes at the end." He testified that he saw the Petitioner break at least seven rakes while hitting victim 1. Victim 2 said that he was hit with a "soap [sic] belt, the riding crop, the spiked horse brush, a board, a stick, and a rake, " explaining that the Petitioner broke eight rakes while hitting him. He was never cut, but he did have bruises and was sore. Victim 2 said the Petitioner called him "[g]ood for nothing" and "a loser." She told victim 2 that he would never get a date and would never take a girl to a dance. He said that the Petitioner would hit them in whatever position they were in at the time and that sometimes they would "collapse after being hit so many times." He believed the Petitioner had fun when punishing them because she would smile and laugh while doing so.

         Victim 2 said that Mr. Kent "spanked [him] every now and then against [Mr. Kent's] will, " explaining that Mr. Kent tried to talk to the victims rather than hitting them. Mr. Kent would hit them with his hand and would only hit them three times. He said that Mr. Kent would cry after hitting them and that he would hit them when the Petitioner told him to do so. Victim 2 testified that Mr. Kent was not around to see the Petitioner "beat" them.

         Victim 1 testified that beginning in either 2007 or 2008, he was required to clean the toilet every night before dinner because sometimes he would "miss the commode." He explained that he missed because he was uncomfortable with the Petitioner standing behind him and watching. During the summer of 2009, victim 1 tried to commit suicide by consuming the toilet cleaner. When he drank the cleaner, the Petitioner sent him outside to run laps, did not call 9-1-1, and did not appear panicked or concerned.

         The victims' sister testified that she was the biological half-sister of the victims, that she was adopted by the Petitioner and Mr. Kent, and that the family moved to Tennessee when she was in preschool. Her testimony was consistent with the victims' testimony regarding the abuse allegations. She also noted that if victim 1 looked at the Petitioner during dinner, then the Petitioner "would open the microwave door in his face." She stated that when the victims were forced to get dressed in the kitchen every morning, she noticed bruises on their backs and shoulders. She heard the Petitioner call the victims "useless" and tell them that they would never get married, get jobs, or be successful. She also said, "Anytime [the Petitioner] did not like what they were doing, she would hit them with a belt, a wet built [sic], a rake, or open board."

         The State presented the testimony of twelve additional witnesses, including two expert witnesses. Mr. Eddie Duncan and Mrs. Kathy Duncan testified that they saw victim 1 on August 9, 2009, walking outside wearing only a diaper. The Duncans also corroborated the victims' testimony that they had to do write-offs, that their clothes were too small, and that they had to drink from "sippy cups."

         Four of victim 2's teachers each testified about victim 2's clothing not fitting properly, his lack of cleanliness, his dietary restrictions, and his restrictions against participating in class parties and watching class movies. The school guidance counselor testified that she reported the children to the Department of Children's Services ("DCS") after having a discussion with victim 1 about his home life. Victim 1 made a statement the guidance counselor believed meant that he did not want to go ...

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