Session February 6, 2018
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-00001 Chris
Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Curtis Morris, of
first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child
neglect, and felony murder of his seventeen-month-old son. On
appeal the defendant argues: the trial court erred when
excluding a daycare record; the trial court erred when
permitting the jury to view autopsy photos of the victim; the
trial court erred when allowing certain expert testimony; the
State failed to properly elect offenses; the trial court
erred when failing to define "knowing" in its
aggravated child abuse instructions; the State presented
insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict; and
the cumulative effect of these errors resulted in the denial
of a fair trial. Based on our thorough review of the record,
pertinent authorities, and arguments of the parties, we
affirm the judgments of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
William D. Massey, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P.
Weirich, District Attorney General; and Carrie Shelton,
Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State
Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
John Everett Williams and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.
ROSS DYER, JUDGE
and Procedural History
January 8, 2013, a Shelby County grand jury returned
indictment No. 13-00001, charging the defendant with
first-degree murder during the perpetration of aggravated
child abuse, first-degree murder during the perpetration of
aggravated child neglect, aggravated child abuse of a child
eight years of age or less, and aggravated child neglect of a
child eight years of age or less. The victim in the present
case was the biological son of the defendant and seventeen
months old at the time of his death on November 14, 2009. The
jury heard proof from the State indicating the defendant
knowingly inflicted severe injuries on the victim, resulting
in substantial internal bleeding and, consequentially, death.
The defendant argues he accidently landed on the victim when
jumping over a baby gate and did not knowingly cause the
State initially called Glenda Eddins, the owner of the
Creative Christian Learning Center ("the day
care"). The victim and his sister were enrolled at the
day care at the time of the victim's death and had been
for approximately four months. The day care enrollment form
listed the defendant as the victim's father. Ms. Eddins
testified that the victim had thrown tantrums and injured
himself or other children during these incidents. Ms. Eddins
noted there were no reported injuries to the victim on
November 13, 2009, his last day at the day care prior to his
cross-examination, the defendant attempted to enter three
accident reports from the day care detailing the victim's
tantrums. The trial court permitted two of the records,
finding it clear the persons who completed the forms saw the
tantrums and contemporaneously reported them. The trial
court, however, did not allow the third record. This record
indicated that August 27, 2009, an employee of the day care,
Samantha Yates, witnessed the victim throw a tantrum and hit
his head on the concrete. During a jury-out hearing, the
trial court determined after questioning Ms. Eddins that
another employee, Adrian Fleming, actually witnessed the
event. As Ms. Yates, not Ms. Fleming, prepared the report,
the trial court found the record inadmissible.
jury then heard from Shirley Boyland, a 9-1-1 dispatcher with
the Germantown Police Department. Ms. Boyland testified she
handled the 9-1-1 call made by the defendant when he
discovered the victim was not breathing. She dispatched
paramedics to the residence. She confirmed the transcript of
the 9-1-1 call was accurate and that another dispatcher,
Chuck Douglas, instructed the defendant on the performance of
CPR on the victim.
State's next witness, Chief William Beaman, with the
Germantown Fire Department, entered the defendant's
apartment first. After entering the apartment, Chief Beaman
announced "fire department" twice, and the
defendant called him upstairs. Once upstairs, Chief Beaman
saw the defendant giving the victim CPR. The victim was not
breathing and did not have a pulse. The victim's
extremities were dark and cool to the touch indicating he had
not been breathing for forty-five minutes to an hour. Chief
Beaman expected to find the victim's airway blocked and
was surprised to find the airway clear.
defendant told Chief Beaman the victim had been "fine
about an hour ago." Chief Beaman began CPR on the victim
as the remaining emergency crew came upstairs to assist. The
defendant came into the room "a couple of times"
and appeared concerned. The emergency personnel then
transported the victim to the emergency room, and Lieutenant
Mark Carter, another first responder, accompanied the
defendant to the hospital.
Lieutenant, now Captain, Mark Carter, an EMS coordinator with
the Germantown Fire Department, arrived at the scene and went
upstairs to join the other paramedics. He found the defendant
in the room "standing over" everyone. Captain
Carter took the defendant downstairs and interviewed him. The
defendant told Captain Carter the victim did not have a
medical history and did not take any medication except
Tylenol, but had not taken any that evening
Carter asked the defendant to recount the day's events.
The defendant told Captain Carter the victim played normally
during the day but fell off a bike several times. Captain
Carter saw the bike and opined it was large enough for a ten
or twelve year-old. The defendant told Captain Carter that,
after riding the bike, the victim ate a snack, watched a
movie, and went to bed. Later, the defendant could not wake
Carter then gave the defendant a ride to the hospital. On the
way, Captain Carter asked the defendant to go over the
day's events again. This time, the defendant told Captain
Carter the victim and his sister got off the bus, had a
snack, and took a nap. After Captain Carter heard the
defendant recount two different versions of the day's
events, he informed a police officer at the hospital that
detectives should interview the defendant.
to the State's next witness, the trial court conducted a
jury-out hearing to determine the admissibility of photos
taken during the victim's autopsy. The trial court
redacted several photos by trimming those depicting the
victim with his eyes open and by covering the victim's
genitalia with exhibit stickers. The trial court additionally
required the State to convert a photo of a subdural
hemorrhage to black and white. Finally, the trial court
excluded all photos in which the victim's internal
injuries were visible, finding the medical examiner could
instead rely on anatomical diagrams when explaining the
victim's injuries to the jury.
State next called an expert witness, Dr. Karen Chancellor,
Chief Medical Examiner for Shelby County. Dr. Chancellor
performed the autopsy on the victim on November 15, 2009. Dr.
Chancellor noted the victim had numerous injuries on his
face, scalp, chest, and abdomen. The victim also had either
one large bruise or a confluence of bruises on his abdomen.
One of the injuries to the victim's head caused a
hemorrhage in the deep scalp tissue, which could only occur
through the application of severe force. The victim also had
numerous abrasions on his body.
conducting the autopsy, Dr. Chancellor discovered the victim
had about 150 to 200 cubic centimeters of blood inside his
abdomen, which comprised about thirty to forty percent of the
victim's total blood volume. Dr. Chancellor stated that
level of blood loss would have sent the victim into shock,
with death following shortly thereafter. She found fatty
tissue from the mesentery floating in the blood removed from
the victim's abdominal cavity. Dr. Chancellor noted this
was very unusual. The mesentery, the membrane that keeps the
bowels in place, was completely torn, resulting in severe
internal bleeding. Dr. Chancellor noted the mesentery was a
"very tough substance" and would require a severe
injury to tear.
addition to the torn mesentery, Dr. Chancellor found bruised
lung tissue; blood outside the esophagus; and hemorrhages on
the large and small intestine, transverse colon, and
subcutaneous and skeletal muscle tissue in the victim's
abdomen. Of note, she also found the psoas muscle, a muscle
running from the lower spine to the top of the leg, had been
completely torn away from the spine. The psoas muscle was
completely "pulpified" and the victim's spine
was exposed internally. Dr. Chancellor noted she had never
before seen such a severe injury to the psoas muscle. She
further stated all the injuries occurred "close in
time" to one another.
Chancellor testified the cause of death was the injury to the
abdomen which led to fatal internal bleeding. She did note,
had the victim received immediate medical attention, there
would have been a possibility of survival. When asked if the
injuries could have come from falling off a bicycle, Dr.
Chancellor opined such a fall could cause one, but not all,
of the injuries. Over the defendant's objection, Dr.
Chancellor further opined a seventeen-month-old child could
not possess the developmental coordination to ride a bike.
The trial court allowed this testimony after the State laid a
foundation for Dr. Chancellor's expertise, which included
medical training on child development. Dr. Chancellor
concluded by stating the victim could not have received these
injuries on his own, and the manner of death was homicide.
State concluded its case-in-chief with testimony from
Detective Anthony Kemp, an investigator with the Germantown
Police Department. Detective Kemp interviewed the defendant
at the hospital shortly after the victim had been pronounced
dead. Detective Kemp noted the defendant "rambled"
a bit during the interview. During this interview, the
defendant stated the victim fell while playing in leaves. It
was not until two days later that the defendant admitted he
stepped on the victim. Detective Kemp then went to the
defendant's apartment where the defendant performed a
reenactment of his version of events. Detective Kemp
witnessed the defendant place a stuffed animal on the other
side of a baby gate and jump over the gate, landing on the
stuffed animal's stomach. The State played a video of
this reenactment for the jury. Detective Kemp stated the
defendant did not accept responsibility for the victim's
defendant testified on his own behalf. He stated that the day
the victim died, the victim and his sister were playing
outside. He testified the victim fell off a bike and fell
again while playing in a pile of leaves. After this, the
defendant placed the victim in a room secured with a baby
gate because he was worried the victim might fall down the
stairs. According to the defendant, the victim often threw
tantrums and hit his head. He testified that he heard a
"thud" and thought the victim had climbed over the
gate and fallen down the stairs. In his rush to determine
what happened, the defendant jumped over the gate and landed
on the victim, who was lying on the ground behind the gate.
The defendant's leg buckled and his hand struck the
victim's head. When the defendant landed, he heard the
victim make a noise "like he had never heard
victim "looked stunned" but was breathing. The
defendant tried to feed the victim who barely ate and then
vomited. The defendant thought if the victim relaxed, he
would be fine. He put the victim in his playpen and then went
downstairs to watch a movie. When the defendant returned an
hour later, he found the victim unresponsive. The defendant
called the victim's grandmother, who told him to call
9-1-1. He called 9-1-1 and began performing CPR until the
defendant remembered being interviewed at the hospital but
"everything was a blur at that point." After
approximately two days of interviews, the defendant told
investigators he stepped on the victim and explained he did
not include this information in his initial accounts of the
incident because he was ashamed. The defendant then performed
the afore mentioned reenactment for police investigators. The
defendant admitted he lied to law enforcement due to his
embarrassment and maintained the entire incident was an
State's Rebuttal Evidence
rebuttal, the State first called Detective Ryan Carter of the
Germantown Police Department. Detective Carter questioned the
defendant at the hospital with Detective Kemp and then
interviewed the defendant over the subsequent two days. After
two days of questioning, the defendant admitted to stepping
on the victim. Detectives Carter and Kemp then witnessed the
defendant's reenactment of the jump. The defendant told
Detective Carter that after stepping on the victim, he tried
to get the victim to play outside and attempted to feed him.
Noticing the victim was in distress, the defendant placed the
victim in his playpen. When the defendant checked on the
victim thirty minutes later, he found the victim
unresponsive. According to Detective Carter, the
defendant's story remained consistent after he offered
this final version of events. The defendant was cooperative
throughout the investigation.
the State called Dr. Karen Lakin, Assistant Professor of
Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee, medical director
for the Le Bonheur Cares program, and a pediatrician with
University Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists. Dr. Lakin
testified that the Pediatric Specialists program focused on
traumatic injuries to children and worked with law
enforcement and Child Protective Services when there were
concerns of child abuse. Prior to Dr. Lakin's testimony,
the defense objected because Dr. Lakin reviewed photographs
of prior injuries the victim received before November 14 that
were excluded before trial. The trial court overruled the
objection and instructed Dr. Lakin to base her expert
opinions on the evidence presented at trial.
Lakin testified she was trained in differentiating a diffuse,
accidental injury from a specific, direct-force injury. She
opined the defendant's "accidental-stepping"
account was inconsistent with the injuries listed in the
autopsy report. When an "accidental-stepping"
injury occurs, the child typically suffers rib fractures,
radius fractures, or occasionally femur fractures. She
concluded the lack of bone fractures suggested the
victim's injuries were not caused by an "accidental
Dr. Lakin had never seen injuries to the intestines or
pancreas in similar "accidental-stepping" cases.
Severe and traumatic organ ruptures usually result from
direct force to a specific area of contact, rather than
dissipated force over a wide area. The complete rupture of
the psoas muscle, the tearing of the mesentery, and the
hemorrhages in multiple parts of the body were not typical
"accidental-stepping" injuries. Dr. Lakin noted a
rupture of the psoas muscle was highly unusual and the type
of injury more often caused by a car accident.
cross-examination, Dr. Lakin stated a direct blow would
likely cause more damage than a 250-pound man falling on an
infant. However, Dr. Lakin conceded she did not have the
biomechanical training necessary to determine the exact
pounds of force required to cause the victim's injuries.
According to Dr. Lakin, if the defendant did step on the
victim, only an "extremely violent and severe"
impact could have caused the injuries.
trial court charged the jury with the four count indictment
and instructed the jury on the necessary law. The trial court
also instructed the jury on the lesser included offenses for
each count, which on at least three occasions included the
definition of "knowing." However, the trial court
did not provide a definition for "knowing" under
count three, aggravated child abuse.
jury found the defendant guilty as charged on all four counts
and sentenced him to life imprisonment under count one. The
trial court merged count two with count one and count four
with count three and sentenced the defendant to twenty-two
years at one-hundred percent. The defendant filed a motion
for judgment of acquittal and a motion for new trial, the
trial court overruled both. This timely appeal followed.
appeal, the defendant challenges his conviction on seven
grounds. First, the trial court committed reversible error
when excluding a day care accident report indicating the
victim injured himself two months prior to his death. Second,
the trial court erred when allowing the jury to view
post-mortem photographs detailing the victim's injuries.
Third, the trial court erred when allowing the medical
examiner to testify regarding the victim's developmental
capacity, and a pediatrician specializing in the treatment of
child abuse injuries to testify regarding the biomechanics of
the victim's injuries. Fourth, the State failed to
properly elect the "substantial bodily injuries"
inflicted to satisfy the elements of aggravated child abuse.
Fifth, there was insufficient evidence the defendant
knowingly inflicted all of the victim's injuries to
support the jury's verdict. Sixth, the trial court erred
when failing to define the mens rea required to prove
aggravated child abuse. Finally, the cumulative effect of
these errors denied the defendant a fair trial. We disagree
and affirm the judgments of the trial court.
Day Care Accident Report
first consider whether the trial court erred when excluding a
day care accident report because the teacher who prepared the
report was not the same teacher that witnessed the reported
tantrum. The Tennessee Rules of Evidence define hearsay as
"a statement, other than one made by the declarant while
testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to
prove the truth of the matter asserted." Tenn. R. Evid.
801(c). "Hearsay evidence is not admissible except as
provided by [the Tennessee Rules of Evidence] or otherwise by
law." Tenn. R. Evid. 802. The day care's accident
report constituted hearsay evidence that was not admissible