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State v. Brooks

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 25, 2018


          Session February 13, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County Nos. CC-2015-CR-678 & CC-2015-CR-615 Jill Bartee Ayers, Judge

         A Montgomery County jury convicted the Defendants, Martavious D. Brooks and Brittany G. Lee, of theft of property valued over $10, 000, and it also convicted Defendant Lee of aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced Defendant Brooks as a Range II, multiple offender to ten years in prison. The trial court merged Defendant Lee's convictions and sentenced her to nine years in prison, at 85%, for the aggravated robbery conviction. On appeal, Defendant Lee contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain her convictions and that the trial court improperly limited her cross-examination of a witness. Defendant Brooks contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for theft. After review, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Robert Allan Thompson, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Martavious D. Brooks.

          James Andrew Simmons and Jamie Simmons Tarkington (on appeal), Hendersonville, Tennessee, Larry B. Hoover, Nashville, Tennessee (at trial) for the appellant Brittany G. Lee.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Daniel A. Stephenson, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., joined.



         I. Facts

          This case arises from the theft of a diamond ring from a ninety-year-old woman living in an assisted living facility on September 28, 2014. For this theft, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted Defendant Lee, who was an employee of the assisted living facility, and her husband Defendant Brooks, for aggravated robbery, theft of property valued over $10, 000, especially aggravated burglary, and criminal responsibility for especially aggravated burglary. At a trial on these charges, the parties presented the following evidence: Delbert L. Peterson testified that his mother, Christine A. Peterson, resided in Sterling House, an assisted living facility in Clarksville, Tennessee. On September 28, 2014, while his mother was residing at the facility, the Clarksville Police Department called him at around 11:15 p.m. and informed him that his mother had been assaulted. He went to Gateway Hospital, where she had been taken, to be with her. Mr. Peterson identified photographs showing that his mother had bruising and other injuries from being beaten. Mr. Peterson testified that his mother had a "broken orbit" among other injuries.

         When Mr. Peterson arrived at the hospital, his mother said that she did not understand why someone would have injured her for her ring. The diamond ring about which she was talking was a family heirloom, bequeathed to her some forty-five years prior by her sister. Mr. Peterson testified that his mother wore the ring "constantly." Mr. Peterson identified an appraisal from 2009 for the ring, which found its replacement value to be $10, 000.

         During cross-examination, Mr. Peterson said that he did not know the story behind where his aunt originally got the ring.

         Thomas Teague testified that he performed the appraisal of the victim's diamond ring in 2009 when he worked for MacKenzie and Smiley Jewelers. He said that his appraisal described the ring as 14-carat yellow gold, diamond solitaire with an approximately 1.5 carat round brilliant diamond with a clarity of SI 2 and a color of H. The appraisal estimated the replacement value for the ring at $10, 000. The appraisal included a photograph of the ring.

         Michael Curtsinger, an emergency medical technician with the Montgomery County EMS, testified that he responded to the call about a suspected fall at Sterling House. When he arrived, he found the victim, Ms. Petersen, with swelling and a laceration to the side of her face. Mr. Curtsinger identified photographs of the victim taken on the night of the incident.

         Mr. Curtsinger found it strange that there was blood only on the victim's bed and pillowcase and nowhere else in the room. He said that, had the victim fallen, he would have expected to see blood in other locations. The victim told him that night that she had awoken to someone standing over her and that they had struck her in the face. Mr. Curtsinger began the process to transport the victim to the hospital, and she felt her finger and said that her ring was missing. Mr. Curtsinger noted a small tear on the side of the victim's finger. On their way to the ambulance, the victim asked if her son had been contacted, and Mr. Curtsinger's partner went with the victim while Mr. Curtsinger contacted the Clarksville Police Department and also asked Sterling staff if they had contacted the victim's son.

         During cross-examination, Mr. Curtsinger agreed that two African-American females were on duty on the night of this incident. He agreed that it was not unusual for EMS to receive calls about elderly people who had fallen. On redirect examination, he said that this was unlike his other fall calls in that there was no blood on anything except the victim's bed.

         A second EMS responder, Rita Cain, testified that she was dispatched to respond to this call from the nursing home, where she found the victim in the bathroom sitting on the commode. The victim's eye was swelling, and she said that someone had hit her. Ms. Cain said that she looked around the room and saw no signs of blood anywhere but on the bed. Ms. Cain said that she had responded to several calls about elderly persons falling and usually there was blood in the location where they had fallen.

         Ms. Cain said that she placed the victim on a stretcher and put her in the ambulance. During the ambulance ride, the victim said that she had a ring missing, and Ms. Cain observed a skin tear on the victim's finger from which the ring was missing.

         During cross-examination, Ms. Cain said that there were no blood specks between the bed and the bathroom, and she could not explain why, if the victim went from the bed to the bathroom, there was no blood trail. Ms. Cain said that the victim's facial wounds had stopped bleeding by the time the ambulance arrived. She further clarified that there was one staff member in the bathroom helping to care for the victim when she arrived.

         Jackie Stevens testified that she was initially charged as a co-defendant in this case. Ms. Stevens said that at the time of this incident she worked at Sterling House, and she arrived for work at 3:00 p.m. on that day for her 3:00-11:00 p.m. shift. Ms. Stevens said that Defendant Lee arrived for work later and that at 10:00 p.m. it was just the two of them working. Ms. Stevens testified that the building was kept locked and required a code for entry. The doors sounded an alarm if someone entered without the code. The patients' rooms were also kept locked, and employees could gain access to those rooms only with a key. Ms. Stevens said that she checked on the residents before leaving at 11:00 p.m., and the victim was sleeping in her bed. Ms. Stevens said that the victim's door was locked when she checked on her and locked when she left the room.

          Ms. Stevens said that, after checking on her patients, she went to the front lobby and began folding napkins. Defendant Lee left the front lobby and went in the direction of the victim's room, saying she was going to get clothes hangers. Ms. Stevens said that, at the end of that hall, there was an exit, which Ms. Stevens had never used. Ms. Stevens said that shortly after Defendant Lee returned, the victim's alarm sounded, and she cried for help. Ms. Stevens arrived at the victim's room first, and she unlocked it and saw blood on the pillows. The victim was sitting on the toilet, her face swollen, and blood "all on her face."

         Ms. Stevens testified that Defendant Lee entered the room but not the bathroom. Defendant Lee did not offer any assistance, but she did call 911. The victim repeatedly said that someone had "beat her up." When EMS responded, they cared for the victim and then told Ms. Stevens that the victim said she had a ring missing. Ms. Stevens told Defendant Lee to tell "Debbie," the executive director of Sterling House, that the victim mentioned a missing ring. Defendant Lee did not comply with this request, and Ms. Stevens informed "Debbie" that the ring was missing.

         During cross-examination, Ms. Stevens testified that she had been employed less than six months at the time of these events. She said that she did not know why the pillowcase had been removed from the pillow but stated that she did not remove it. Ms. Stevens said that Defendant Lee did not call 911 the first time Ms. Stevens asked her to do so and instead called Deborah ("Debbie") Elms.

         Upon further questioning, Ms. Stevens said that one of her Alzheimer's patients was with her that evening, following her around. Ms. Stevens explained that the patient did not like to sleep and kept trying to walk out the door. The patient was sitting in the lobby in a chair when the victim called for help. Ms. Stevens said that, at the time of trial, she had been in the nursing home care industry for seven years and had never had a patient have personal belongings go missing.

         Bambi Boyd, also an employee of Sterling House at the time of these events, testified that she was the health and wellness director, meaning that she supervised the nurses and the resident care associates. She described the resident care associates position, saying that they would serve residents their meals, dress and bathe them, wash their clothes, and check on them every two hours, among other things.

         Ms. Boyd described Sterling House as a secure facility, saying that each of the doors has a key pad and that only employees have the code to the doors. Further, the front door had restricted access, meaning that a visitor had to ring a bell before entering. At the time when the victim was injured, a visitor would have had to ring the doorbell, go to a phone system and speak with a staff member, who could then let them into the building.

         Ms. Boyd said that she was "[v]ery acquainted" with the victim, whom had resided at Sterling House all nine years that Ms. Boyd had been employed there. The two spoke on a regular basis and had a "really good relationship." The victim could accurately recognize and name Ms. Boyd's children when they came to visit.

         Ms. Boyd said that she responded to Sterling House on the night of this incident. She said that Defendant Lee called her between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. saying that the victim had pulled a cord indicating that she needed help and that, when Defendant Lee responded, the victim had blood all over her face and her eye was swollen. Ms. Boyd said that she informed Defendant Lee that the victim's injury qualified as a head injury and that 911 needed to be called. She also informed Defendant Lee that the victim's son needed to be called. Ms. Boyd said, at this point, Defendant Lee told Ms. Boyd that the victim was saying that someone beat her up. Ms. Boyd said she was confused and asked if there were any other residents awake and whether the victim's room was locked.

         Ms. Boyd said that she went to Sterling House and looked in the victim's room. She noted that there were two pillowcases "pretty saturated with blood" but that there was not much in disarray. They searched the apartment numerous times but did not see any blood anywhere but the bed. Ms. Boyd testified that, normally, there would have been a pool of blood wherever the victim had fallen, if she had fallen.

         During cross-examination, Ms. Boyd said that after she learned that the victim had said that someone had beat her up, Ms. Boyd called Deborah Elms, the executive director of Sterling House.

         Deborah Elms, the executive director of Sterling House at the time of these events, testified that the victim had been a resident at Sterling House for ten years. She described her relationship with the victim as "[v]ery friendly" saying that the two were social with one another and spoke several times a day. Ms. Elms recounted that the victim got the ring at issue while she was a resident at Sterling House. Initially, the victim's family asked Ms. Elms to keep the ring locked up, but then they ...

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