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State v. Freeman

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 24, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs December 18, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 103488 Steven W. Sword, Judge.

         The Defendant, Michael Freeman, appeals his second degree murder conviction, alleging that (1) the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress his police statement because he made an unequivocal request for a lawyer; (2) that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; and (3) that the trial court erred by issuing a flight instruction to the jury.[1] Following our review of the record and the applicable authorities, we conclude that the Defendant's issues do not entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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

          Susan E. Shipley, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Michael Freeman.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ronald L. Coleman, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and Leslie Nassios and Hector Sanchez, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.


          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE.


         On April 15, 2014, a Knox County grand jury charged the Defendant with first degree felony murder. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202. Prior to trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress his recorded statement given at the police department. In it, he argued that he "explicitly invoked his rights to the assistance of counsel to three separate law enforcement officers" and that these requests were not "scrupulously" honored. A hearing was held on the motion. The trial court thereafter entered a written order denying the motion, concluding that the Defendant "never made an unequivocal invocation of his rights" and that he "made a voluntary and knowing waiver of all of his Miranda rights."[2]In its order, the trial court examined, in detail, each instance when the Defendant made any reference to an attorney. After the denial of his motion to suppress, the Defendant proceeded to a jury trial, where the following evidence was presented.

         Around 1:00 a.m. on January 22, 2014, the Defendant called 911 to report "a crime" and requested that he be picked up by an officer. Initially, the Defendant would not provide any more details. The Defendant eventually told the operator that he stabbed a friend who was attacking him, that it was "self-defense," that he did not know if the other person was alive or not, and that he left the scene because he was afraid the person would get a gun and retaliate. The Defendant provided his name, his general description, and his location, and he advised that he would be waiting for an officer to arrive to take him to the victim's location.

         Knoxville Police Department ("KPD") Officer James Lockmiller testified that he arrived at the Defendant's residence on South Dewey Road. The officers knocked on the front door, and the Defendant "started to come outside." According to Officer

         Lockmiller, the Defendant came out of the residence with an object in his hand. The Defendant was ordered to drop the object, and he complied. The object was a pocketknife that was wrapped in a toboggan, and the victim's blood was found on the knife. Officer Lockmiller testified that the Defendant appeared to "have an injury"; the Defendant had a cut on his hand that required bandaging.

         The Defendant "said that he was involved in a stabbing incident because he had been attacked." The Defendant was unsure of the victim's address but agreed to show them the location. The Defendant was placed in a police cruiser and provided "turn-by-turn" directions to the victim's residence, which was "[r]oughly three blocks" away.

         KPD Officer John Martin testified that, when he entered the victim's residence, he first observed "the victim lying on the floor just inside the doorway." Also, Officer Martin observed a large amount of blood "directly around the victim" and noted that "[i]t appeared to have dried" already in some places. Officer Martin performed a "protective sweep" of the victim's residence, opining that "it was a very well kept residence." According to Officer Martin, he did not "see any sort of disorder or a sign of a struggle anywhere else" inside the home. There were also four vehicles parked outside, and car keys were found near the victim.

         The Defendant was transported to the KPD. While waiting to speak with the lead investigator, Amy Jinks, the Defendant explained to Investigator Brian Moran that, before he stabbed the victim with the victim's pocketknife, the victim had struck him in the mouth and kept threatening to kill him. The Defendant showed Investigator Moran his lip. The Defendant claimed that the victim had "flipped" and that he acted in self-defense. When Investigator Jinks arrived at the police station, she spoke with the Defendant after giving him Miranda warnings. The Defendant told Investigator Jinks that he had known the Defendant for about three or four years and that they spent time together often. The Defendant relayed that the victim would sometimes drink too much and become insulting.

         The Defendant told Investigator Jinks that he had visited the victim three times that day and that, earlier in the day, they drank vodka and watched television together. The Defendant claimed that he had asked the victim to hold $600 in cash for him. According to the Defendant, when he returned later in the evening, the victim was still drunk and began threatening him. In addition, the Defendant said that he knew the victim had a gun and brass knuckles inside the house. The Defendant claimed that the victim punched him in the mouth, so he picked up a "little bitty" pocketknife that was on the table in the den. The Defendant ultimately admitted that he stabbed the victim and took cash from the victim's pocket. He acknowledged that the victim did not have any weapons on his person at the time of the stabbing. The Defendant described that "he shoved [the victim] down and he stabbed him in the back of the neck, and he held him until he quit moving." The Defendant said that he left the residence with the knife wrapped in a toboggan and drove a few blocks to his residence before calling the police.

         KPD crime scene technician Stephanie Housewright testified that she examined the victim's residence immediately following the victim's death. While she did not observe any brass knuckles inside the victim's home, she admitted that she did not look underneath the recliner. Ms. Housewright testified that she found an empty liquor bottle and a change purse containing several crack cocaine rocks next to the victim's recliner in the den. Ms. Housewright also noted that she saw boxed home security systems and some tire rims inside the home. She photographed the residence, agreeing that an object shown to her in one of the photographs of an upstairs bedroom "[p]otentially" looked like a firearm.

         In addition, after the Defendant arrived at the police station, Ms. Housewright photographed "clean, crisp 20-dollar bills" that were taken off the Defendant's person. The Defendant was also photographed, and those photos were shown to the jury. The victim's blood was also discovered on the Defendant's clothing.

         The victim's cellphone was examined. It was determined that an incoming call was made and answered at 11:12 p.m. on January 21, 2014.

         Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County, performed the autopsy of the victim, determining that the cause of death was "multiple stab wounds," five at least, and that the manner of death was homicide. The first wound she documented was a "complex stab wound on the chin" that went through the lower lip and "into the oral cavity or inside the mouth." She opined that it was possible that this was two separate stab wounds due to the complexity of the wound, but she could not say for certain. The second wound was on the right lower neck, where the knife penetrated the victim's thyroid gland. The third wound was a superficial cut. The fourth wound entered the left side of the neck, went through the victim's thyroid gland, penetrated his larynx, and cut his main carotid artery. According to Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, the victim "would bleed quite profusely" from this wound, which she categorized as a "deadly wound." The fifth wound was a stab wound to the "nuchal region" at the back of the victim's head, where the blade went between the first and second vertebrae and penetrated the victim's cervical spinal cord, which "would cause partial paralysis of the extremities." Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan observed that this stab wound was downward, whereas the other four to the victim's front side were inflicted in an upward manner.

         The victim's blood alcohol level was determined to be .32 percent at the time of his death. Moreover, the victim tested positive for cocaine metabolites, Valium, and a "veterinary drug . . . used to deworm cows." Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan believed that the victim had used "cocaine sometime within a couple hours of death[.]"

         Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan reviewed the photographs of the crime scene and the information provided by one of her field investigators. Her investigator described the victim's body "as being still warm and flaccid[,] meaning that rigidity [had] not set in and that lividity was not prominent yet." Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan was able to observe from her review of the photographs that "the blood was drying . . . on the exposed surfaces that were not under the body," that "it was already dry on the . . . coffee table[,]" and that "it had penetrated and . . . diffused through the carpet." She maintained that, "on [the victim's] clothing items, the blood was starting actually to separate into kind of [a] serum in the blood clot" and that it had "already diffused all over the rest of the shirt and then remained in that position even the next day[.]" She stated that, "obviously, some time ha[d] to pass for all of those processes to take place." Moreover, she opined that "several hours" had passed between the victim's death and when his body was discovered and photographed, but she could not provide a precise determination of the time of death.

         Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan assented that the victim's wounds were consistent with his being involved "in a struggle[.]" She could not determine, "to a reasonable degree of medical certainty[,]" the sequence in which the victim's wounds were inflicted. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan was able to opine that the victim was "low down on the floor" when he was stabbed in the neck. She further stated the nature of the victim's wound to the back of the head was consistent with the Defendant's being behind the victim or "above him if he's already down" and stabbing him. Moreover, the "jagged nature of some [the victim's] wounds in the facial and neck area" were also "consistent with . . . movement[.]"

         The victim's daughter, Cashauna Lattimore, testified that her father lived alone, received monthly social security disability, and participated in "the numbers" or "illegal number bracket." According to Ms. Lattimore, her father frequently carried cash on his person and hid cash "throughout the residence[.]" Ms. Lattimore confirmed that her father was a daily drinker, but she claimed that "[h]e was always able to function . . . [e]xcept for when he drank something that was not his regular brand of vodka." She additionally acknowledged that her father had used cocaine in the past. Ms. Lattimore had no knowledge of her father's possessing any guns or brass knuckles immediately before his death, but he did have "several pocketknives on the side table in his den." According to Ms. Lattimore, her father no longer carried a gun because "he had gotten in trouble . . . with a weapons charge several years" prior, so "he got rid of that gun[.]" She claimed that she had not seen him with a gun since 2014.

         Ms. Lattimore testified that she had known the Defendant for "maybe two or three" years prior to her father's death, that she was aware the Defendant and her father were friends, and that she had would often see the Defendant at her father's house when "their friendship was strong." However, at some point, the Defendant's and her father's friendship had "weakened" due to a disagreement, and the Defendant did not visit. According to Ms. Lattimore, the Defendant had begun "coming back" around to her father's house "closer in time to [her] father's death[.]"

         Ms. Lattimore stated that she visited her father's home the day after his death. While there, she did not find the cash her father kept inside a pillowcase or any brass knuckles. Ms. Lattimore reported that a burglary occurred at the residence several days later. Ms. Lattimore also admitted that there were several females who were "out stealing things and bringing [them to her father] for him to fence." She was aware that this happened "on a regular basis[.]"

         The victim's cousin, Avery Maurice Jack, testified that the victim "played the numbers every day[.]" Mr. Jack identified two calendars on the wall above the victim's desk that showed several sequences of numbers on specific days. The last entry was January 21, 2014. Mr. Jack also testified that the victim kept ...

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