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State v. Dotson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 9, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
GREGORY TYRONE DOTSON

          Assigned on Briefs April 16, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-B-1811 Monte Watkins, Judge

         The Defendant-Appellant, Gregory Tyrone Dotson, appeals from his conviction of voluntary manslaughter by a Davidson County jury. In this appeal as of right, the sole issues presented for our review are whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction and whether the trial court properly imposed his sentence. Upon our review, we affirm the conviction of the trial court. However, we reverse and vacate the Defendant's sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed in Part; Remanded for Sentencing

          Manuel B. Russ (on appeal) and Jack Byrd (at trial), Nashville, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Gregory Tyrone Dotson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Alexander C. Vey, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn Funk, District Attorney General; and Deborah Housel and Roger D. Moore, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE

         This case stems from the shooting death of Antonio Kelly, the victim, by the Defendant on February 28, 2011. The Defendant does not dispute that he shot and killed the victim; however, he claims that he acted in self-defense. The following proof was adduced at the Defendant's August 29 through September 1, 2016 trial.[1]

         Jacques Brown, the victim's sister, testified that at the time of the offense she was the Defendant's girlfriend and that he would often stay with her at her apartment in Nashville, Tennessee. For the two-year period prior to the offense, the Defendant had attended holiday and family gatherings without incident. Brown specifically recalled that a couple of months prior to the offense, the victim and the Defendant helped her move into her apartment without any problems.

         The day before the offense, Brown and the Defendant drove to her mother's apartment to return her mother's food stamp card. Brown recalled that her mother and the victim were in Kentucky playing bingo at the time, and her younger brother, Antwain Kelly, met her outside their mother's apartment to get the card. As Brown attempted to leave the area, her car was blocked-in, and two men approached the passenger side of her car to speak with the Defendant. Brown did not know the men; however, the Defendant got out of the car and spoke with them for approximately ten minutes. When the Defendant returned to the car, his mood had changed. Brown testified that she probed the Defendant about the encounter, but he did not disclose the substance of the conversation. Brown said they returned to her apartment and ate dinner.

         The next morning, the day of the offense, the victim called Brown and arranged to come to her apartment to eat after he left the post office. During the phone call, Brown heard her younger brother, Antwain Kelly, in the background. Brown got off the phone, went to the kitchen, and began to warm up some left-over spaghetti. The Defendant apparently overheard her conversation and asked Brown why she invited her brothers to the apartment without letting him know. For approximately five minutes, the Defendant started "talking crazy" to Brown. Even though Brown told the Defendant that her brothers were just coming to eat, the Defendant appeared "elevated" and "furious" without an explanation as to why. Brown said the Defendant shouted, "[I]f they come up here on something, he was going to shoot one of them." At this point, the victim knocked on the apartment door. Brown looked around the corner, confirmed it was her brother coming into the apartment, and went back into the kitchen to stir the spaghetti. Brown said that the victim left the car running and that her younger brother stayed in the car listening to music.

         Brown heard the Defendant ask the victim what he was doing there, to which the victim replied, "I came to see my family." She came back out of the kitchen upon hearing the victim say, "[W]ell, you didn't give me a chance to explain myself, you already pulled the gun out." When she came into the hallway, she observed the Defendant with a shotgun pointed directly at the victim. She then begged the Defendant to put the gun down, and he refused. She said the Defendant was angry and talking, but she could not understand what he was saying. She said, "[A]ll of a sudden, it got quiet and [the Defendant] shot two times."

         Brown said the Defendant shot at her once. The Defendant also shot in the direction of the victim and Brown. Brown described what happened immediately after the shots as follows:

I hollered and screamed because I didn't think [the Defendant] was gonna shoot him, and then when he shot him, it scared me; and so I screamed. At that time, my brother was still standing. He didn't try to reach forward or go after it. Because I remember he shot again. That's what made me holler, like scream and holler. Because I just took off running, because I thought he was, well, I knew somebody was shot. I just seen fire come out the gun, so I was screaming and hollering, like, no, no; and I ran.

         Brown ran out the front door and to the management office of her apartment complex to get help. As she was running, she slipped and fell. She also heard her younger brother, Antwain Kelly, screaming "Jacques, what happened!" She said that her body became numb, that she was in shock, and that she believed she had been shot. When she arrived at the management office, she told them to call 911. Brown said she wanted to return to her apartment to check on her brother but was unable to do so until the police arrived.

         Brown recalled that on the day of the offense the victim wore an orange T-shirt, later admitted as an exhibit, and blue jeans. She described the victim as tall and skinny. She said that when she saw the victim in the hallway of the apartment, he did not have a gun. She also said that when she saw her younger brother, Antwain Kelly, outside after the shooting, he did not have a gun either. After the shooting, when Brown was in the back of a police squad car, she realized that her cell phone was in her back pocket. She received a phone call from an unfamiliar number and the caller asked, "[D]id your brother make it?" When she asked the caller's identity, the caller hung up. Brown then sent a text message to the Defendant asking why with a question mark; however, she never received a response.

         Brown provided a three-hour interview detailing the circumstances of the offense to Detective Russell Thompson. Brown acknowledged that she did not initially tell Detective Thompson that she witnessed the Defendant shoot the victim. She explained that she was "going through a whole lot" and had been "traumatized" and "delusional." She did not "want to believe what had happened, seriously." Brown also testified that she had seen the gun used by the Defendant to shoot the victim a couple of weeks prior to the offense. She identified the gun at trial, later admitted as an exhibit, and said that the Defendant showed it to her. Although Brown asked the Defendant not to keep the gun at her apartment, he did so without her knowledge. Brown also explained that the Defendant did not live with her on a permanent basis. He "stayed some nights" at her apartment and other nights he would stay at the mission.

         Brown noted that the Defendant was not working at the time of the offense and paid for the gun with his monthly $700 government check. Brown also explained that she allowed the Defendant to drive her car and that he had obtained several tickets while doing so. She agreed that she had loaned the Defendant $500 to reinstate his license and drive her car without restrictions. She was unsure whether the Defendant used part of the money she loaned him to purchase the gun used to shoot the victim. Photographs showing the interior of Brown's apartment and a consent to search form from the offense date were admitted into evidence at trial. From the photographs, Brown identified bullet holes in the walls and bullet strikes on the pot of spaghetti that were not there prior to the offense.

         On cross-examination, Brown acknowledged that her statements to Detective Thompson and her prior testimony contained inconsistencies. She also agreed that she met the Defendant sometime in 2009 or 2010, which was before the Defendant had been shot in the leg. She denied being aware of "difficulties" between the victim and the Defendant. However, when pressed with a prior statement, Brown agreed that she "might've" talked to her mother and brother about conflicts between the Defendant and the victim. She further acknowledged that in her statement to Detective Thompson and her prior testimony, she said she did not know whether the victim had a gun at the time of the offense.

         Antwain Kelly, the victim's younger brother, testified consistently with the testimony of Brown. He agreed that the day before the offense, Brown came to his mother's apartment to drop off the food stamp card, and he met her. He confirmed that the Defendant was in the car with Brown at the time, but he did not observe anything else unusual about their visit. The day of the offense was the first time he had gone to Brown's new apartment, and he was unfamiliar with the address and the area. Upon arriving at his sister's apartment, he remained in the car to charge his phone and listen to music. He acknowledged that the victim took the car keys with him but stated that the make/model of the car enabled it to run without them. He observed the victim "tap on the window" for Brown to open the door. Although he observed the victim enter the apartment building doors, he did not see the victim enter his sister's apartment. After "a while," he heard an "echo" and observed his sister running out of the apartment. As his sister ran out of the apartment, he heard more sounds and then observed the victim come out the door "like he was trying to get away." He did not realize the victim was shot until the victim "dropped to his knees" and told him to call 911. He used the victim's phone to call 911 because his phone was in the car, and he remained with the victim until help arrived.

         Antwain Kelly was asked by police if the "person" was still inside, to which he replied, "I guess so, he ain't come out the front. So maybe he went out the back." He further testified that neither he nor the victim had a gun with them on the day of the offense when they went to their sister's apartment. He signed a consent to search form for the car he and the victim drove on the day of the offense, and he acknowledged that after seeing the victim's "insides hanging out," he screamed, "I'm killing him." Antwain Kelly said that everything happened "pretty fast" and agreed that he previously said the offense lasted only "a couple of seconds." He acknowledged that he did not see the Defendant on the day of the offense, and he did not learn of the victim's death until after he provided a statement to police. On cross-examination, Antwain Kelly agreed that there were "sorta" conflicts between the Defendant and the victim, and he reasoned that "all people have issues." He clarified that he used his phone to call 911 and notified family members with the victim's phone.

         Alan Jordan, a veteran officer of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD), testified that he responded to a shooting call regarding the instant offense. He was part of setting up and securing the crime scene, which involved securing the entry area of the doorway to the apartment complex. He did not initially observe any injured parties; however, he noticed shell casings. He also confirmed, based on a previously admitted photograph, that there was a broken window frame at the back of the apartment complex. In the same area, Officer Jordan observed nine unspent shell casings and a cartridge.

         Sergeant Danny Orr of the MNPD responded to the scene in the instant case at approximately 10:45 a.m. Other officers had already secured the scene and briefed Sgt. Orr as to the circumstances. He testified, based on previously admitted photographic exhibits, that the window screen from the back of the apartment complex was collected as evidence. He said that there was no indication that the window had been broken; however, he was certain that the screen had been "pushed through." He said there were several shell casings and bullet strikes and projectiles within the interior of Brown's apartment. He identified several bullet strikes in photographs, which were also admitted as exhibits. He also identified a cooking pot with a strike mark on it, which was admitted into evidence. A "lead fragment" was also collected from the same area in the kitchen, a spent casing collected from the hallway floor, and a set of keys collected from just outside the front door of the apartment, all of which were admitted into evidence. Additionally, a projectile was collected from behind the stove in the kitchen, a copper jacket from the kitchen, and several rounds from outside the apartment were collected.

         Deputy Robert Runnels of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) testified that at the time of the offense he was assigned to the warrants division, which involved serving civil process warrants. On the day of the offense, he heard the shooting call over dispatch in his area and drove toward the scene with intent to help the victim or the other officers. While in route to the scene, he observed an individual, later identified as the Defendant, matching the description given for the shooter. He testified that he observed the individual walking away from the scene, wearing a white tank top, and carrying a rifle. Deputy Runnels testified that he eventually exited his car, commanded the Defendant to drop his weapon, and the Defendant complied. At the time Deputy Runnels approached the Defendant, the Defendant had a cell phone in his hand and appeared to be talking on it. Deputy Runnels testified that he had to forcibly take the phone away from the Defendant. When Deputy ...


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