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State v. Padgett

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 23, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs March 27, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 284433 Thomas C. Greenholtz, Judge

         Defendant, Christopher Christian Padgett, was convicted for felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, and the trial court imposed an effective sentence of life in prison. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it allowed the State to introduce indirect hearsay evidence regarding an eyewitness's description of the suspect's shoes in violation of the rules of evidence and the Confrontation Clause. Additionally, Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it allowed the State to introduce a recording of Defendant's conversation with his mother taken at the police service center because the statements were taken in violation of Defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy protected by the Tennessee and United States Constitutions. After a review, we hold that the trial court committed harmless error by admitting the indirect hearsay description of the suspect and that Defendant is not entitled to plain error relief on the other issues raised. Thus, we affirm the judgment of the trial court, but we remand this case for entry of judgment documents in Counts Two and Four.

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

          Lorrie Miller, Chattanooga, Tennessee (on appeal); Meredith Ziebold, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wencke West, Cleveland, Tennessee (at trial) for the appellant, Christopher Christian Padgett.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and Cameron Williams, Assistant 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 Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.



         Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant was indicted on July 11, 2012, by a Hamilton County Grand Jury for felony murder in Count One, first degree premeditated murder in Count Two, especially aggravated robbery in Count Three, and possession of a weapon with intent to commit a dangerous felony in Count Four. The Friday before the jury trial commenced, Defendant posted a $350, 000 bond and was released with the special conditions of GPS and House Arrest Monitoring. On October 4, 2016, a four-day jury trial commenced, and the following evidence was adduced.

         Mankin Mansur, an employee at Millennium Taxi, testified that Nathan Deere, the victim, came to work for the taxi company after Mr. Mansur encouraged him to leave his job at Waffle House to receive better pay. Mr. Mansur estimated that he and the victim spoke daily over the six to eight months that the victim was employed with Millennium Taxi. Explaining particular policies and procedures, Mr. Mansur stated that each driver must "pay a pack" of $95 each day by 6:00 p.m. to lease the van from the cab company. After the driver "pays the pack," additional money earned was for the driver to keep.

         Furthermore, Mr. Mansur described that drivers typically picked up fares in two ways: base fares and special fares. Special fares occurred when a rider contacted the driver directly on the driver's cell phone and were not recorded in the log book. Mr. Mansur estimated that 60 to 65 percent of the calls originated from base fares and 35 to 40 percent of calls from special fares. In his experience, the majority of the transactions he made were in cash.

         Mr. Mansur estimated that he spoke with the victim two hours before his death. The victim told Mr. Mansur that he had $95 to "pay his pack" and was on the way to pick up another ride. Mr. Mansur shared that he was not aware of exactly how much money the victim had in his possession when they spoke during the day, only that the victim stated he had enough to pay the $95 leasing fee.

         Tierra Mosley, an eyewitness who lived on Ocoee Street the day of the shooting, observed a man get out of the back passenger seat of the cab, "[and] when he got out [of] the passenger side[, ] he glanced back and took off running." She described the man as "a black skinny guy." Taking note of how long it had been since the shooting, Ms. Mosley said she could not remember exactly what the man was wearing, but thought it was a black or navy hoodie and blue jeans. Ms. Mosley did not see anyone else get out of the cab.

         Hamilton County 911 received a call on April 18, 2012, that the driver of a blue, taxi-cab van located at 1643 Ocoee Street was injured or possibly deceased. Officer Clayton Smith from the Chattanooga Police Department was the first on the scene. He saw a blue van belonging to Millennium Taxi Cab Company with the passenger side door open. Officer Smith discovered an injured male victim inside the cab with what he believed to be a gunshot wound to the head. After securing the scene and calling for additional help, Officer Smith spoke with individuals on the scene. Anthony Pickett identified himself as the 911 caller. When interviewed, Mr. Pickett provided "unclear answers and refused to answer some questions." Officer Smith did not take Mr. Pickett in to the police station for questioning and did not speak to him again.

         Joseph Montijo, a crime scene investigator for the Chattanooga Police Department, testified that he observed and photographed the scene but did not collect evidence from inside the cab because the team decided to transfer the vehicle to the police service center for processing in a more controlled environment. Investigator Matthew Puglise responded to the crime scene and deduced that the victim's phone was missing. Investigator Puglise got another officer to seek out an exigency warrant in order to get the GPS location of the victim's phone. Investigators utilized cell-tower ping location data to locate the victim's cell phone, and it was found around thirty meters (approximately 33 yards) from the crime scene. Investigator Montijo detailed that a trampled path heading northeast through the adjacent backyard was apparent on the night of the incident. The victim's cell phone was located on that path and collected by investigators for evidence and returned to the police service center for processing. Investigators also located a black, zip-up sweatshirt inside a bucket discarded along the same path and collected it for processing as well.

         As the police delved further into the investigation, Sergeant Daniel Francis spoke to the dispatcher for Millennium Taxi to get more information about "where the victim had gone, who he'd picked up[, ] and what his day had looked like prior to his death." Sergeant Russell Davis affirmed Mr. Mansur's description of the logbook as a place where Millennium Taxi kept track of any calls it received to the dispatcher: the number the person called from, who the person was, and the pick-up and drop-off locations. The only fares recorded in the logbook were the ones that went straight through Millennium Taxi's dispatcher, so when a passenger contacted the taxi driver directly, that was not recorded in the logbook. When Sergeant Francis reviewed the logbook, there were no entries around the time of the victim's death regarding the victim or a ride on Ocoee Street.

         During his investigation, Investigator Puglise became aware that the victim had a "special fare," which means that the rider had contacted the victim directly for a taxi ride, just before the crime occurred. By examining the victim's phone record, the police determined that the "special fare" phone call had come from a number associated with Defendant. Investigator Puglise called the phone number and asked for Defendant. Once a voice on the phone identified himself as Defendant, Investigator Puglise identified himself. Unprompted, Defendant said that he had lent his phone to another person earlier in the day. Investigator Puglise explained that he would like to talk to Defendant and asked for Defendant's whereabouts. Defendant gave him an address, and Investigator Puglise sent some officers to the address to pick up Defendant.

         Defendant was not present at the address, but Defendant's mother eventually brought him to the investigators. Investigator Puglise and Investigator Montgomery conducted an interview of Defendant. The State introduced a recording of this interview at trial. The State proceeded to play portions of the interview where the investigators questioned Defendant, and Defendant continued to deny involvement in the crime. Defendant told the investigators that he had lent his phone to a friend who must have called the victim. Defendant also explained that he found a phone with a cracked screen during the day, but he claimed that he did not know that it belonged to the victim. Defendant maintained that he did not call the victim and that he never fired a gun on the day of the crime. Defendant did, however, mention that he had been shooting off fireworks with his friends. Defendant adamantly stated that he did not own any gray Jordan shoes. When the police showed Defendant the gray Jordan shoes recovered from Defendant's closet, Defendant admitted that they were his, but he maintained that he forgot about owning those shoes. When the prosecutor began playing a portion of the recording that contained statements made by Defendant's mother, defense counsel objected. The trial court responded, "The exhibit's already been admitted." Defense counsel said, "Well, we would object to the playing of his mother's statements." The trial court noted that the objection was untimely and allowed the prosecutor to continue playing the recording. During this portion of the recording, Defendant was asked probing questions by his mother. However, Defendant continued to deny any involvement in the crime and told his mother essentially the same account of the evening as he told the police moments earlier. After that portion of the recording was played, the prosecutor ended his presentation of the recording. Later, the prosecutor entered Defendant's handwritten statement as an exhibit and had Investigator Puglise read it aloud. Defendant's statement reads as follows, verbatim:

When I woke up I took a shower and all that in got on Facebook and told cody to come get me so I started walking to the gas station that's when I seen cody I got in the car he dropped me off in boone heights that's when I see the little kids playing with fireworks so I stated playing with them to for a little bit then walked around for a while that's when I see a phone in the grass so I picked it up when I see it was messed up I threw it then I started walking I seen cadarrius I told him to take me to east lake so when I got in the car we rode around for a little while the he dropped me off in east lake it let jay use my fone then I walked off I went over tylers sister house charge my fone then left in got dropped off in by wood lawns that's when I seen my mom.

         In his handwritten statement and throughout the recorded interview, Defendant mentioned an individual named "Jay"[1] that borrowed his phone. Investigator Puglise was never able to locate or identify an individual named "Jay," but Investigator Puglise admitted on cross-examination that he never believed that an individual named "Jay" existed. Also on cross-examination, Investigator Puglise admitted that the victim's phone did not have a broken screen or other notable damage.

         After his initial investigation at the crime scene, Investigator Montijo traveled to Erlanger Hospital to check on the victim and collect any necessary evidence. Investigator Montijo used swabs to collect physical evidence from the victim's hands and arms, specifically swabs for evidence of gunshot residue and swabs of the blood on the victim's arms and hands. Later at the police service center, Investigator Montijo photographed Defendant, collected Defendant's clothing to test for gunshot residue, and took several swabs of Defendant's hands and mouth for gunshot residue and DNA testing. At the time, Defendant was wearing a dark blue University of Michigan sweatshirt, jeans, and dark tennis shoes. Investigator Montijo received a pair of "gray white Nike hightops" from investigators who executed the search at Defendant's residence. The State admitted photographs of the Nike hightops into evidence without objection. Later in the trial, the State attempted to enter the specific shoes into evidence during Sergeant Francis's direct examination, and defense counsel objected on relevance grounds. The trial court admitted the shoes into evidence over the objection of Defendant.

         The day after the shooting, Investigator Montijo processed the cab at the police service center and collected items and other physical evidence from inside. Despite the victim's wallet being found in the cab, there was no other cash located during the investigation. Next, Investigator Montijo utilized a gun-shot residue kit to collect any physical evidence from inside the cab. The cab was later processed completely for fingerprint and DNA evidence and four fingerprint cards were submitted for processing. Three of the four samples were sufficient to compare to both the victim and Defendant's fingerprints and were not a match to either and remained unidentified when run through a database. The fourth sample was not run through the database due to the detail of the fingerprint impression collected; however, it was also not identified as match to the victim or Defendant.

         The Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. James Metcalfe, explained that the victim's death occurred on April 19, 2012, around 1:50 pm, less than 24 hours after he suffered a gunshot wound to the right temple at approximately 5:50 pm. The autopsy indicated that the gunshot wound was the cause of death.

         Special Agent Hunter Greene, a forensic scientist with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), testified as an expert regarding latent print analysis. He had examined latent prints collected from the U.S. currency totaling $76.45 found in Defendant's bedroom and the victim's cell phone found in the grassy area around 1700 Olive Street. Special Agent Greene determined that the prints found on the currency failed to show "enough detail for [him] to make a comparison." When testing the victim's cell phone, Special Agent Greene described that the non-porous surface of the cell phone and its battery provided some evidence of ridging from latent prints, but these prints were also not sufficient enough to make any kind of comparison or "reveal the presence of identifiable latent prints."

         Dr. Laura Boos of the TBI's forensic biology section testified about the DNA testing conducted in this case. Defendant's DNA profile did not positively match any of the samples taken from the crime scene. Additionally, James Davis from the microanalysis unit at the TBI testified that he analyzed various items for gunshot primer residue. The hand swabs of both Defendant and the victim tested negative for gunshot primer residue. Special Agent Davis tested one sample from the victim's taxi cab, and a sample from the right rear passenger seat tested positively for gunshot primer residue. No more samples from the taxi cab were tested because Special Agent Davis indicated that they would not have been helpful from crime scene reconstruction. Special Agent Davis tested various articles of Defendant's clothing for gunshot primer residue, and only Defendant's blue jeans tested positively for gunshot primer residue. From this, Special Agent Davis concluded that Defendant's blue jeans "were being worn by someone when a weapon was fired, or they came in contact with that weapon, or with a fired cartridge case." Special Agent Davis specifically stated that the gunshot primer residue material that was found on Defendant's blue jeans was not consistent with residue that would be left on clothing from shooting fireworks. Also, Special Agent Davis did not find any material on Defendant's clothing that would be consistent with residue from shooting fireworks.

         Mark Hamilton, a cellular signal analyst with the Chattanooga Police Department, testified about the approximate location of Defendant's cell phone and the victim's cell phone at times relevant to the shooting. Initially, the phones were located in different areas of Chattanooga, but after Defendant's phone made two calls to the victim's phone, the victim's phone began to move. At 5:35 p.m., Defendant's phone and the victim's phone were located in the same area. Then, Defendant's phone and the victim's phone both moved together. Mr. Hamilton elaborated by stating, "I can't say with certainty they're together but they're very likely very close because of the timing. They would have to both be traveling basically following each other." The phones continued to move together until they reached the approximate location of the shooting. Defendant's phone and the victim's phone were in the same area at the time of the shooting. At 5:43 p.m., the victim's phone made its last communication with a cellular tower. At 5:50 p.m., police received a 911 call about the shooting. Defendant's phone continued to show activity and did not remain in the same location. After the police called Defendant, Defendant's phone ceased communication with the network, which could result from the phone dying or someone removing its battery.

         After the close of the State's case-in-chief on the second day of trial, Defendant violated the conditions of his bond and failed to appear in court on the third day of trial. Following a jury-out hearing, the trial court found that Defendant was voluntarily absent, without cause, and proceeded with trial in Defendant's absence. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 43(6)(1). Defense counsel rested without offering proof. The State was permitted to reopen proof to offer testimony regarding Defendant's violation of the conditions of his bond. Defense counsel moved for a mistrial because of Defendant's absence and the motion was denied.

         After reopening its proof, the State called Chris Jackson, the director of corrections at Hamilton County Corrections, to testify about the monitoring of Defendant. Mr. Jackson's department began monitoring Defendant on the Friday before Defendant's trial. As an essential part of the monitoring process, a GPS ankle monitor was affixed to Defendant's leg. Hamilton County Corrections continuously monitored Defendant's whereabouts until the morning of the third day of trial. On that morning at 1:41 a.m., Defendant's ankle monitor sent out a notification that it had been tampered with, but Mr. Jackson did not read the notification until around 6:00 a.m. He eventually spoke with Defendant's mother on the phone. As a result of his conversation with Defendant's mother, Mr. Jackson contacted the District Attorney's Office and Key Bonding Company. Eventually, Defendant's mother ...

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