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Elsea v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 24, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs April 24, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 302308 Don W. Poole, Judge

         Petitioner, 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 court.

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

          Samuel Lewis, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Charles Elsea.

          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 Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         Petitioner's 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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 about them.

         At 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.

         At 6:50 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.

         Later 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 ...

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