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Williams v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 7, 2019


          Session April 2, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County, No. 10-00629 James M. Lammey, Judge

         The Petitioner, Stanley Williams, was denied post-conviction relief for his convictions for first degree premeditated murder, attempted first degree premeditated murder, and employing a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony and his aggregate sentence of life in prison plus thirty years. On appeal, the Petitioner alleges that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a severance of his trial from his co-defendant's trial, failing to communicate and investigate, failing to challenge the chain of custody of certain evidence, and failing to cross-examine witnesses. He also requests relief pursuant to the writ of error coram nobis based on recanted testimony. After a thorough review of the record, we discern no error and affirm the post-conviction court's judgment.

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

          Josie S. Holland, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Stanley Williams.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ronald L. Coleman, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Leslie Byrd, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.




         The Petitioner's convictions stem from a shooting at a Memphis nightclub in which the victim, Mr. Jimmie Johnson, [1] was killed, and the victim's cousin, Mr. Eldridge Donelson, was wounded. The Petitioner was convicted based on the identification of witnesses including Ms. April Campbell. At the post-conviction proceedings, Ms. April Campbell stated she had been mistaken in her identification, and the Petitioner introduced evidence that trial counsel had failed to discover the existence of a family feud between the Petitioner's family and Ms. April Campbell's family. He also sought relief based on trial counsel's failure to seek the severance of his trial from the trial of the co-defendant, Mr. Lashun Gray; failure to communicate; failure to inspect or object to the admission of the victim's bloody shirts; and inadequate cross-examination. Because the Petitioner has failed to establish deficiency or prejudice regarding the post-conviction claims and because the post-conviction court discredited the recantation of Ms. April Campbell's testimony, we affirm the denial of relief.

         Trial Proceedings

         Prior to trial, the co-defendant's attorney moved for a severance on the basis that only two eyewitnesses had identified the co-defendant while several had identified the Petitioner and that the co-defendant would be prejudiced by the "overwhelming" proof against the Petitioner. The trial court denied the motion to sever.

         The testimony at trial established that there were two parties being held simultaneously at the nightclub on October 18, 2009, and that an argument and a physical fight had broken out prior to the victim's arrival. When the victim arrived at the club, he and Mr. William "Booka" Goliday got into an argument after Mr. Goliday knocked the victim's drink out of his hand, and the argument grew into a physical fight involving numerous people. After the fight, the victim and Mr. Donelson were shot. Ms. April Campbell and her sister, Ms. Janice Campbell, were standing next to the victim when he was fatally shot, and they, along with other witnesses, implicated the Petitioner and the co-defendant in the shootings.

         Ms. April Campbell testified that when she arrived at the club, she observed guns in the trunk of a car parked outside. She saw the Petitioner involved in a physical altercation with the victim over the spilled drink. After the fight, Ms. April Campbell, her sister, the victim, and Ms. April Campbell's boyfriend, Mr. Frederic Rivers, were attempting to leave out of the only egress when the Petitioner came in, shooting at them. Ms. April Campbell testified that she saw the Petitioner shoot the victim in the stomach and that she then fled to the kitchen area. Hearing more gunfire, she came out of the kitchen to try to retrieve her sister, and she saw the co-defendant leaving the club with a gun, although she did not see him fire his weapon. She identified the co-defendant from a photographic array and noted on the array that she saw him fighting the victim, that she saw him with a gun, and that her sister and Mr. Rivers saw him shoot the victim. Ms. April Campbell did not recall telling the co-defendant's investigator that she did not remember if the co-defendant had a gun. She also identified the Petitioner from a photographic array as the individual who shot the victim. She testified that she was acquainted with the Petitioner but did not recognize him at the club because he had gained weight since their prior acquaintance.

         Ms. Janice Campbell was next to the victim as the shooting occurred, and she saw both the Petitioner and the co-defendant shoot him. She testified that the victim was fighting against both the Petitioner and the co-defendant during the physical altercation. After the fight was over, she tried to leave with her sister, Mr. Rivers, and the victim, but the Petitioner came in shooting at them. They retreated into the club, and the victim attempted to kick down a nonfunctional door. The Petitioner, who appeared angry and appeared to be aiming at the victim, shot the victim in the stomach. After the Petitioner shot the victim, the victim continued to stand. The co-defendant then raced through the club, shooting "like crazy." Ms. Janice Campbell believed that the co-defendant was the one who killed the victim because the victim did not fall until after the co-defendant began firing shots. Ms. Janice Campbell testified that she took off the victim's shirts because he felt hot and that she was wearing the victim's clothing after the shooting. She gave the victim's shirt, which had two bullet holes, to someone at the hospital.

         Ms. Cecilia Williams witnessed the Petitioner holding a gun at the club. She was in the bathroom when the fight broke out, and she went outside to avoid the altercation. As she left, she saw a group of men retrieving guns from a car near the front door. While the Petitioner was not among the men by the car, he was standing by the gate, and Ms. Williams saw him enter the club with a gun prior to hearing gunshots. Ms. Williams testified that there were approximately ten armed men. She hid next to a car and spoke to police when they arrived, naming the Petitioner as one of the armed men. She subsequently identified him in a photographic array. She acknowledged she did not tell the police the co-defendant's name on the night of the shooting and that she could not identify him in a photographic lineup.

         Ms. Jamaica Cartwright ran out of the club after the fight, and she likewise saw a group of four or five men retrieving guns from the trunk of an older, white car. She testified that she returned to the club to warn the occupants and then hid under a table. Ms. Cartwright had seen the co-defendant fighting but did not see who was shooting and did not see either the Petitioner or the co-defendant with a gun. She identified the co-defendant from a photographic lineup as one of the men involved in the fight. She acknowledged that when she first spoke to police, she had told them that she left the club instead of going back in to warn others about the men with guns.

         Mr. Donelson was not able to identify the person who shot him or the person who shot the victim. He testified that he joined in the fight when he saw the victim fighting and that he subsequently left the club. As he was getting into a car, he heard gunshots, and a man whose face was obscured shot him in the stomach. He fled into the club and hid under a pool table, and he was taken to the hospital by family. He was unconscious for the next few days.

         The medical examiner testified that the victim was shot once in the abdomen. He stated that the wound would not necessarily cause the victim to immediately collapse and that there would not necessarily be a lot of blood at the scene. Five bullet casings fired from at least two weapons were found inside the club, and two bullets were recovered. A casing was also found on the sidewalk outside the club.

         Officer Will Bryson testified that he responded to the scene and secured it until medical help arrived. He gathered witnesses but did not personally interview them. In giving his background, Officer Bryson mentioned that he played football in college. On cross-examination, trial counsel did not ask any substantive questions of Officer Bryson, but instead asked him about his football experience.

         The State rested its case but moved to reopen the case prior to any proof being introduced by the defense. The State noted that it did not initially intend to introduce the victim's shirt into evidence but that the number of holes in the shirt "became an issue" after Ms. Janice Campbell's testimony that there were two bullet holes. The State had attempted to obtain the evidence from the property room after the issue was raised, but the property room was not able to locate the evidence until several hours later. Counsel for the co-defendant objected that the evidence had not been produced in discovery and that he would have tested the evidence had he known it would be used at trial. The prosecution noted that the items were referred to in the discovery materials and were available for inspection in the property room and that no one had requested to inspect them. The Petitioner's trial counsel objected on the basis that the chain of custody had not been established, given that the items had apparently been misplaced in the property room. The trial court agreed that the State must establish a chain of custody prior to introducing the evidence, and Mr. Richard Desaussure, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Criminal Court Clerk's Office, testified that a box containing the shirts was inadvertently placed on the wrong shelf in the room but that the evidence had never left the property room and had remained sealed. No one had attempted to inspect the evidence since it was initially checked into the property room.

         Sergeant Anthony Mullins then testified that Ms. Janice Campbell had given him two shirts which the victim was wearing when he was shot and which Ms. Janice Campbell had subsequently worn for some period of time. One was a black T-shirt and the other a black long-sleeved shirt. The T-shirt had three holes, one oblong and two "very small defects." The long-sleeved shirt had two holes in it. He stated that it was possible that the smaller holes were made by a very small bullet or a fragment, but he could not identify the origin of the holes.

         The Petitioner and the co-defendant each presented a witness to vouch for their whereabouts during the shooting. Mr. Derias Pettis testified that he and the co-defendant fled the club during the shooting and that the co-defendant did not have a weapon.

         Mr. Karlos Miller testified that his father was the owner of the club and that when he attempted to disperse the fight, it was already ending. The shooting began approximately ten minutes after the fight. Mr. Miller testified that he and the Petitioner were looking for the Petitioner's missing keys when the shooting started and that they were hiding under a table during the shooting. He testified that they did not find the Petitioner's keys but stated that the Petitioner left after the shooting. He then stated that the Petitioner probably found his keys because he was able to leave and finally said that he did not know if the Petitioner left. He did not know that the Petitioner had been charged in connection with the shootings.

         The jury convicted the Petitioner of first degree premeditated murder, attempted first degree premeditated murder, and employing a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony. The Petitioner was sentenced to consecutive sentences of life in prison, twenty-four years, and ten years for an aggregate sentence of life plus thirty-four years. The jury acquitted the co-defendant of first degree premeditated murder but convicted him of the remaining counts, and he received a thirty-four-year sentence.

         The Petitioner's appeal was consolidated with the co-defendant's appeal, and the sentences for employing a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony were reduced to six years, making the Petitioner's effective sentence life plus thirty years. State v. Lashun Gray and Stanley Williams, No. W2012-00415-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3291888, at *13 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 26, 2013), no perm. app. filed.[2] The Petitioner's direct appeal challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for attempted first degree murder and employing a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony and challenged the jury instruction related to criminal responsibility for the attempted first degree murder conviction, but this court concluded that there was no error and affirmed the judgments. Id. at *14-15.


         The Petitioner filed a timely post-conviction petition. As relevant to the issues on appeal, the Petitioner asserted that trial counsel was deficient in failing to move to sever the Petitioner's trial from the co-defendant's. The Petitioner also alleged that trial counsel was deficient in failing to communicate, in failing to properly investigate or prepare for trial, in failing to object to the introduction of the victim's shirts, and in cross-examining Officer Bryson. The Petitioner then amended the petition to include a claim that he was entitled to a writ of error coram nobis based on newly discovered evidence in the form of testimony by Ms. April Campbell and Mr. Rivers. The co-defendant also filed a post-conviction petition, and the post-conviction court held a joint hearing. See Lashun Gray v. State, No. W2018-01262-CCA-R3-PC, 2019 WL 2068506 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 8, 2019) (denying post-conviction relief).

         Mr. Rivers testified that he and Ms. April Campbell had been in a relationship for approximately twenty years and that he had gone to school with the Petitioner's older brother. Around 2001, Mr. Rivers witnessed a knife fight between the Petitioner's mother and Ms. Tamika Malone, [3] who was a cousin of the Campbell sisters. The Petitioner's mother was killed in the fight, and Ms. Malone was subsequently incarcerated.

         Mr. Rivers was present during the shooting in the club and recounted the fight over the spilled drink. He testified that he was trying to return to Ms. April Campbell, who was pregnant at the time, when people entered the club with guns, shooting. He fled toward the kitchen. Mr. Rivers did not see the shooting, but after the victim was shot, the victim asked Mr. Rivers to retrieve a gun from his vehicle. As Mr. Rivers was exiting the club, he bumped into the Petitioner, who was entering the club from outside. Mr. Rivers did not see the Petitioner with a gun. He stated that he subsequently left town to take care of his mother. He would have testified at trial "if [he] had been here," but he was in Atlanta. Before Mr. Rivers left town, he attempted to convince the Campbell sisters that they were mistaken in their identification of the perpetrators, but they remained unpersuaded by his assertions that, as women, they were too frightened to know what they saw.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Rivers stated that Ms. April Campbell's statement to police that he had seen the co-defendant shoot the victim was false. He denied telling her that the reason he did not run during the shooting was because the gunmen knew him and would not shoot him. He did not know that the Petitioner and co-defendant had been convicted until the post-conviction proceedings despite the fact that he and Ms. April Campbell had lived together for most of the time since the shooting. He agreed that he did not see the actual shooting. He alternately explained Ms. April Campbell's trial testimony by stating that she was emotional and mistaken, that she probably was lying, and that she thought it was the Petitioner "or probably some guy that looked like him."

         Trial counsel testified that he had practiced criminal law since 1984 and had previously represented defendants accused of murder. He represented the Petitioner at trial and, with the help of an associate, on appeal. The Petitioner was incarcerated, and post-conviction counsel introduced records showing that trial counsel visited him in jail three times. However, trial counsel testified that he spoke with the Petitioner's family almost daily and also spoke frequently with the Petitioner. Trial counsel did not hire an investigator because he felt his office was capable of investigating the crime. He interviewed witnesses and asked the Petitioner to provide information about any witnesses who might help his case.

         Trial counsel agreed that he did not file a motion to sever. He stated that he did not think the Petitioner's and co-defendant's defenses were antagonistic and did not feel that severance was warranted. He elaborated that he considered not only whether there was a basis for severance but also "what will and what won't fly out here." He and the co-defendant's attorney did not coordinate defenses, but the defenses were not in opposition to each other. The co-defendant's attorney was deceased at the time of the post-conviction hearing.

         Trial counsel recalled that Mr. Rivers was mentioned in discovery, but he did not attempt to contact Mr. Rivers. Trial counsel had been present for Mr. Rivers's post-conviction testimony and stated that the testimony was contradictory to Mr. Miller's testimony at trial that the Petitioner was inside the club searching for his keys during the shooting. He agreed that Mr. ...

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