Assigned on Briefs April 2, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-06191 W.
Mark Ward, Judge
Defendant, Christian Blackwell, was convicted by a Shelby
County Criminal Court jury of rape of a child, a Class A
felony, and sentenced to twenty-five years in the Tennessee
Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues the trial
court erred in excluding unrelated allegations of sexual
abuse made by the victim's sister, in admitting the
victim's forensic interview into evidence, and that the
evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. After
review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
R. App. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court
Jessica L. Gillentine, Bartlett, Tennessee, and Benjamin
Israel, Memphis, Tennessee (on appeal), and Thomas E. Hansom,
Memphis, Tennessee, (at trial), for the appellant, Christian
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Caitlin Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Amy P.
Weirich, District Attorney General; and Lessie Rainey,
Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State
E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
John Everett Williams, P.J., and Timothy L. Easter, J.,
E. GLENN, JUDGE
Defendant was indicted for rape of a child based on
allegations that he put his penis in the victim, his
sister's, mouth after blindfolding her.
on Motion to Admit Forensic Interview
Coleman, an investigator with the Department of
Children's Services ("DCS"), testified that she
received a referral in January 2013 regarding allegations of
sexual abuse of the victim by the Defendant and psychological
harm to the victim by her grandmother. DCS later determined
that the allegations of psychological harm to the victim by
her grandmother were unsubstantiated.
Coleman testified that she visited the victim's home and
interviewed her. The victim's mother, the victim's
mother's boyfriend, and three of the victim's
siblings were present in the house that day. She spoke with
the victim in private and asked her whether anyone had ever
"done anything" to her. The victim disclosed that
the Defendant, her brother, had sexually abused her. The
victim provided Ms. Coleman with information that was
consistent with the initial report of abuse. The interview
lasted approximately ten minutes and was not recorded. After
speaking with the victim, Ms. Coleman spoke with the
victim's siblings, individually, as well as the
victim's mother. She then scheduled a forensic interview
for approximately two weeks later. Ms. Coleman conducted
background checks on the victim's mother, grandmother and
the Defendant, but not on the victim's mother's
Coleman testified that the victim's mother brought the
victim to the forensic interview, and the victim's
mother's boyfriend and a sibling were present as well.
Ms. Coleman explained the process to the victim and her
family, but she did not ask the victim any questions about
the abuse because she did not want her to reach the point of
being unwilling to talk during the forensic interview. Ms.
Coleman observed the interview, and the victim's account
was consistent with what she had previously disclosed to Ms.
Coleman. Ms. Coleman acknowledged that the victim's
family had previous interactions with DCS, but she could not
recall the details of those allegations.
Cole, a forensic interviewer with the Memphis Child Advocacy
Center, conducted the forensic interview of the victim, who
was seven years old at the time. No one else was present
during the interview, and it was recorded. She asked
open-ended questions to avoid leading the victim, and the
victim gave age-appropriate responses.
Cole recalled that the victim told her that "her brother
made her put her mouth on his penis." Before making this
disclosure, Ms. Cole showed the victim anatomical diagrams of
the human body, and at first the victim said that "no
one ever touched her anywhere on her body." They
discussed the male anatomical diagram, and the victim said
that she had not "seen the penis or the behind[.]"
Ms. Cole asked the victim who she could tell if someone did
something to her that was not okay, and the victim answered
that she could tell her mother and grandmother. Ms. Cole then
asked the victim if she had ever told her mother and
grandmother that someone had done something to her and that
was when the victim disclosed what had happened with the
Cole testified that during the interview, the victim seemed
well-oriented to time and place, although she was confused as
to the year, thinking it was 2012 when it was 2013. The
victim recalled that the incident happened when the Defendant
was home visiting from college, but she did not know the name
of the school he attended. The victim said, "He's
not really 18. He's like an eight and a zero." Ms.
Cole asked the victim how she knew that the Defendant had put
his penis into her mouth if she was blindfolded. The victim
responded that God had told her but also that she had looked
down from under the tie and could see. Ms. Cole stated that
she asked follow up questions to clarify some of the
victim was nine years old at the time of the hearing. She
confirmed that she understood the difference between the
truth and a lie. The victim recalled watching part of the
video of the forensic interview at the prosecutor's
office. She remembered that a woman named Lois was present
while she watched the video, and a man was there for a
portion of the video as well. She said that she was
"[s]ort of" scared when she watched the video, and
that one of the prosecutors got upset with her when she did
not remember things and told her "[y]ou have got to
remember that." She testified that she was telling the
truth when she answered the questions in the video.
victim recalled watching part of the video again in defense
counsel's office; it was muted so she could not hear the
sound. The victim recognized herself in the video, but she
did not recognize the interviewer or remember being with the
interviewer. The victim said that she did not remember any
questions that the interviewer asked or any of her answers.
The victim confirmed that the interview took place two years
prior, when she was seven years old. The victim remembered
talking to defense counsel about her saying in the video that
the Defendant would lock the bathroom door but that the door,
in fact, will not lock. She said that she did not remember
talking about the Defendant locking the bathroom door during
the interview but that she did not try to lie about anything.
The victim confirmed that it was her in the video and that
she was telling the truth when she answered the questions in
the video, although she could not remember the questions and
answers at this point in time.
Katie McKinnie with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office
Sex Crimes Division investigated the allegations of abuse of
the victim in February 2013. The complaint came as a referral
from DCS. The victim's mother was the one who made the
original complaint, and it involved two of her children
– the seven-year-old victim and eighteen-year-old
Defendant. The victim's mother reported that the rape had
occurred on January 9, 2013. The complaint was made outside
of the 72-hour window to obtain a sexual assault examination.
Sergeant McKinnie reached out to the victim's mother
about scheduling a forensic interview with the victim, and
she was "[v]ery cooperative." She attempted to
speak with the Defendant but was unable to reach him.