Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs April 24, 2018
from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 302308 Don W.
Charles Elsea, appeals the denial of his petition for
post-conviction DNA analysis on unprocessed specimens
relating to his October 10, 1997 conviction for first degree
murder. Because we hold that even favorable DNA results from
the unprocessed specimens do not create a reasonable
probability that Petitioner would not have been prosecuted or
convicted or would have received a more favorable verdict or
sentencing, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
Lewis, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Charles
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; M.
Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; and Neil Pinkston,
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Alan E. Glenn and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ.,
TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE
convictions stem from the brutal murder of Ernest Wayne
Heard, the robbery of Jerry Hawkins, and the burning of Mr.
Hawkins's car which took place during Petitioner's
drunken rampage with his cousin, Ronnie Elsea, Jr., on July
30, 1996. State v. Charles W. Elsea, Jr., No.
03C01-9901-CR-0031, slip op. at 3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 15,
1999). At around 11:30 p.m. on July 29, 1996, Petitioner and
Ronnie Elsea, Jr., arrived at a Golden Gallon convenience
store in a red Corvette. While they ran around the store
acting "crazy, " the store clerk, Juanita Walker,
noticed that they were wearing T-shirts and shorts. Ms.
Walker described them as "drunk." They purchased
some gas and beer.
Heard had spent some time with Bonnie Couch and her husband
at the Patterson Creek Boat ramp on the night in question.
They drank some beer, and Mr. Heard remained at the boat ramp
and expressed his intent to take a nap while Ms. Couch and
her husband went home. When Ms. Couch left the boat ramp, Mr.
Heard was the only person there, and his Toyota was the only
vehicle parked there. Upon arriving at their house, Ms. Couch
saw Mr. Hawkins with her daughter, Lisa Couch, and her son,
Charles Adam Couch. Later, Mr. Hawkins, Lisa Couch, and Mr.
Couch left and went to the boat ramp. At the time they
arrived, Mr. Couch saw a Toyota car, and he did not see
anyone in the car. After staying at the boat ramp for a
while, Mr. Hawkins fell asleep in the car and Lisa Couch and
Mr. Couch chose to walk home. On their walk, they came across
Petitioner and another man sitting by a red Corvette and
drinking beer in the middle of the road. They talked to
Petitioner and one of the men said, "he was on Bakewell
Mountain beating the heck out of some n****rs." After
Lisa Couch and Mr. Couch declined a ride home, Petitioner and
the other man drove away in the red Corvette toward the boat
ramp. Mr. Coach saw the Corvette's headlights go past the
Toyota car and then he heard three doors slam shut.
Hawkins was in his car when he heard two voices ask him about
some money. Mr. Hawkins was hit in the left jaw, and the next
thing he remembered was lying on the ground and his car, a
red Camaro, leaving without him. After that, Mr. Hawkins
passed out while walking down the road. The next thing Mr.
Hawkins remembered was the arrival of his wife. When Mr.
Hawkins went to the location of his wife, they saw a body.
Then, they went to a market to call the police. Mr.
Hawkins's statement to the police was very different from
his testimony at trial. During cross-examination at trial,
Mr. Hawkins was confronted with his previous statement that
he was beaten up by four or five guys in a pickup truck, and
it appears that he admitted that his prior statement of the
events is what actually happened. Mr. Hawkins had a hard time
recalling the events that took place at any time he was asked
around 2:00 a.m., Petitioner and Ronnie Elsea, Jr., returned
to the Golden Gallon and purchased a twelve-pack of bottled
Budweiser. At this time, Ms. Walker described them as more
intoxicated than before. She described Petitioner and Ronnie
Elsea, Jr., "running around the store" and acting
"wild" and "crazy." Regarding their
appearance, Ms. Walker said that they were only wearing
shorts and shoes, and "[t]hey had blood splattered all
over them." According to Ms. Walker, they said that they
either "killed two n****r q***rs on the mountain or they
f**ked them up." Ms. Walker noted that they both had
blood on their chests and Ronnie Elsea, Jr., had blood on his
face and knuckles. After she told them about the blood on
their bodies, they said, "We f**ked them up[, ]"
and they went to the restroom and washed up. All of these
actions were captured on the surveillance video that Ms.
Walker reviewed on the night in question. However, Ms. Walker
erased the video recording because she was afraid that she
would lose her job if someone saw Petitioner and Ronnie
Elsea, Jr., stealing a case of beer.
a.m. on July 30, 1996, Detective Gary Gaskill arrived at the
boat ramp and found Mr. Heard's Toyota car. The rear
windshield of the car was broken and shattered, and the front
passenger door window was broken out. A concrete cinder block
was on the front dash and a "creek rock" was found
in the rear floorboard. The DNA of the human blood found on
both the concrete cinder block and the "creek rock"
was consistent with the DNA of Mr. Heard. Brown glass pieces
were found in Mr. Heard's Toyota, and those glass pieces
had the same optical properties as the brown glass pieces
found in Petitioner's red Corvette. Fingerprints were
found on Mr. Heard's Toyota, but they did not match
Petitioner. Mr. Heard's body was face down on the ground
outside the car. He was partially clothed and the front
pockets of his pants were turned inside out. About fifty feet
from the car and Mr. Heard's body, Detective Gaskill
found a white T-shirt with a Tazmanian devil on it. The
T-shirt had "fluid-type stains" on it. Detective
Gaskill reviewed the video surveillance from the Golden
Gallon, and he observed Petitioner wearing the T-Shirt
recovered from the crime scene in the videotape. Human blood
was found on the T-Shirt, but the DNA test results were not
conclusive. However, the partial DNA analysis that was done
on the T-shirt could not be positively matched to Mr. Heard
or Mr. Hawkins.
in the day, Detective Gaskill discovered Mr. Hawkins's
car. It had been burned. The area around Mr. Hawkins's
car was muddy, and Defendant's red Corvette had ...