Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs February 12, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2015-B-1509
Steve R. Dozier, Judge.
Austin Andrew Morse, was indicted by the Davidson County
Grand Jury for six counts of aggravated child abuse, four
counts of aggravated child neglect, and four counts of
aggravated child endangerment. Pursuant to a plea agreement,
Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated child
neglect. The remaining counts were dismissed. It was agreed
that Defendant's sentences would be served concurrently
with a 70 percent release eligibility date. The trial court
would determine the length of the sentences. Following a
sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed sentences of 19
and 21 years for Defendant's convictions. In this appeal
as of right, Defendant contends that the trial court abused
its discretion in imposing the length of his sentences.
Having reviewed the entire record and the briefs of both
parties, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
Bernard F. McEvoy, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Austin Andrew Morse.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Garrett D. Ward, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk,
District Attorney General; and Pamela Anderson, Assistant
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
T. Woodall, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
T. WOODALL, JUDGE.
2014, Amber Leedy rented a room from Defendant and lived
there with her two-year-old son, J.D. Defendant lived there
with his girlfriend Ashley Pesterfield and her four children,
two of whom were fathered by Defendant. Ms. Leedy testified
that Defendant cared for the children while she and Ms.
Pesterfield worked as prostitutes. Ms. Leedy gave Defendant
all of the money she made as a prostitute, and Defendant gave
her heroin. She testified that Defendant, in the
children's presence, abused substances, including
"[h]eroin[ ], crack, pills, weed . . . pretty much
everything you can name." Ms. Leedy testified that at
some point, she began noticing bruises on her son. She asked
Defendant about the bruises, and he told her that J.D. and
another child were "playing rough." Ms. Leedy also
noticed that some of her son's hair was missing and that
he seemed to have pain in his arms and legs. Ms. Leedy
testified that she wanted to take the child to the doctor,
but Defendant "told [her] that he wanted [the] bruises
to go away before so that he wouldn't get in trouble for
Duke, Ms. Leedy's mother, testified that on August 5,
2014, she received a phone call from Ms. Leedy. Ms. Duke
heard a female voice in the background telling Ms. Leedy that
she needed to take her son to the hospital or he would die.
Ms. Duke then heard a male voice say that Ms. Leedy would not
take the child anywhere. Ms. Duke drove to Ms. Leedy's
residence and knocked on the door for 30 minutes before she
was allowed to enter. When she entered, she asked Defendant
where her grandson was, and Defendant told her that he did
not know. Ms. Duke began opening doors and found her grandson
in a bedroom. She testified that he held his arm over his
face in a protective manner and whispered, "I be good, I
be good." He was wearing only a diaper, and his mouth
was bleeding. Ms. Duke told Defendant that she was taking the
child and that Defendant was "going to jail." Ms.
Duke pushed past Defendant and exited the house. She was met
by emergency responders, who had been contacted by Ms. Leedy.
J.D. and two other children who were present in the home were
transported to the hospital. J.D. had severe bruising and
swelling around his eyes. He also had two fractured arms, a
pelvic fracture, and a large patch of hair missing from the
top of his head.
Pesterfield testified for Defendant. She testified that in
December 2008, she and her two daughters moved in with
Defendant. She testified that Defendant "basically took
it upon himself to help [her] and be a father to [her] kids.
. . ." Ms. Pesterfield testified that Defendant
"worked hard" and they "lived very nice."
She testified, "[m]e and my girls had everything we
needed." Defendant and Ms. Pesterfield had a daughter
born in 2011 with Down Syndrome. Ms. Pesterfield testified
that Defendant "was the perfect father by her" and
that he was very involved in her caretaking.
Pesterfield testified that she began taking prescription pain
medication following a serious car accident in 2011. She
testified that she had "problems [ ] with
addiction" since childhood, but that she had remained
sober since her release from incarceration for a prior
conviction in Texas. She testified that when she was
prescribed pain medication following the accident that
"it was like starting my - my addiction all over
again." Defendant also developed an addiction to pain
summer of 2014, Ms. Pesterfield met Ms. Leedy and offered to
rent her a bedroom because Ms. Pesterfield "was trying
to help [Ms. Leedy] out basically." Ms. Pesterfield knew
that Ms. Leedy was a heroin addict. Ms. Pesterfield
acknowledged that she also used heroin. She testified that