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Capshaw v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

August 7, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs June 5, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-01288 Chris Craft, Judge

         Petitioner, Travis Capshaw, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition. Petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel (1) failed to adequately utilize mental health issues as a mitigating factor in Petitioner's first degree murder charge and (2) such failure caused trial counsel to erroneously advise Petitioner to plead guilty. Following a review of the briefs of the parties and the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Eric J. Montierth, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Travis Capshaw.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Abby Wallace and Karen Cook, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Thomas T. Woodall, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         Background Leading to Conviction

         Petitioner was arrested on August 31, 2012, for the death of his wife, Ranita Burke. Because he was indigent, Petitioner was appointed trial counsel from the Shelby County Public Defender's Capital Defense Team. On October 9, 2012, the trial court issued an order for a mental evaluation, and Petitioner was found competent. On March 26, 2013, the Shelby County Grand Jury entered a true bill charging Petitioner with first degree premeditated murder, and the State filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

         On June 26, 2015, Petitioner pled guilty as charged, with a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Four months following his plea, Petitioner filed an untimely motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court denied his motion because the judgment had already become final on July 26, 2015.

         Guilty Plea Submission Hearing

         The facts of the case as presented by the State and stipulated by the defense at the guilty plea submission hearing are as follows:

[O]n August 20th of 2012, the victim Ranita Burke was at her place of employment at 6207 Summer Avenue. When she was attempting to get into her car, she was trying to either go to lunch or eat lunch in her car when witnesses observed a man walk quickly up to her car and [attempt] to get inside [her car] on her lunch break.
This witness observed the male push Ms. Burke back inside the car and began stabbing her repeatedly. Witness in the matter came out of the business after being alerted to [the stabbing] and actually saw [Petitioner], and attempt[ed] to intervene when she saw that he was indeed stabbing Ms. Burke with what she thought was a filet knife and she screamed for him to stop. And before leaving, the individual pulled Ms. Burke out of the car and slashed her throat with the knife and then ran from the scene.
That witness positively identified [Petitioner] from a photo spread. [Petitioner] and Ms. Burke were married and these individuals had seen [Petitioner] coming back and forth from her place of business during the course of her employment there and their relationship.
The basis for the death penalty is, Your Honor, that we were seeking under heinous, atrocious and cruel in that she died as a result of multiple stab wounds to the head and neck. These stab wounds or seven of them perforated her internal jugular vein, her right subclavian vein, and branches of her left external carotid artery. There were also two wounds to the chest which perforated her left lung. She had 16 wounds to the upper extremities and another 44 to the back and buttocks, perforations of the right fourth rib, right and left lungs.

         At the hearing, Petitioner verified his signature on the plea acceptance document. The trial court explained to Petitioner his rights, the degrees of homicide, their corresponding punishment, the elements of premeditated murder, and the sentencing procedure if he were convicted as charged. Petitioner confirmed under oath that he understood the plea, that his trial counsel and defense team had explained everything about his case to him, and that he was entering his plea voluntarily and knowingly. The trial court specifically addressed the preparation by Petitioner's trial counsel:

THE COURT: Okay. Is there anything else about this plea about what your attorneys explained to you, what they've been doing for you, anything about it you're confused about, ...

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