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State v. Morse

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 31, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs February 12, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2015-B-1509 Steve R. Dozier, Judge.

         Defendant, 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.

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

          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 Tennessee.

          Thomas T. Woodall, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         Sentencing hearing

         In July 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 it."

         Carmella 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.

         Ashley 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.

         Ms. 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 medication.

         In the 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 ...

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