Session November 6, 2018
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 10-02396 Chris
petitioner, Tarence Nelson, appeals the denial of his
post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court
erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel
at trial and on appeal. The petitioner argues trial counsel
was ineffective for failing to turn over certain firearms to
law enforcement for testing, failing to request funds to hire
a ballistics expert, and failing to request oral argument on
direct appeal. Separately, the petitioner alleges numerous,
additional errors of trial counsel amounted to ineffective
assistance under the cumulative error doctrine. The
petitioner also contends post-conviction counsel was
ineffective. Following our review, we affirm the denial of
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
M. Carriker, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tarence
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ronald
L. Coleman, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich,
District Attorney General; and Melanie Cox, Assistant
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
D. Kelly Thomas, Jr. and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
ROSS DYER, JUDGE
and Procedural History
petitioner was convicted of two counts of premeditated murder
for which he received two consecutive life sentences.
State v. Tarence Nelson, No. W2011-02222-CCA-R3-CD,
2013 WL 12185279 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 24, 2013), no
perm. app. filed. This Court affirmed his convictions
and sentence on appeal and summarized the facts presented at
trial, as follows:
The victim, Tonya Johnson, was 36 years old at the time of
her death. She was eight months pregnant with [the
petitioner]'s child. Kaye Ingram lived across the street
from the victim. She described the victim as a "quiet
neighbor" who "kept to herself." On September
25, 2009, Ms. Ingram observed Ms. Johnson arrive home at
approximately 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. Ms. Ingram testified that Ms.
Johnson left her garage door open, which was unusual because
"she never ever leaves her garage door up so [she]
assumed that she probably had company coming." At
approximately 6:00 p.m., Ms. Ingram went outside to watch her
grandchildren ride their bikes on the sidewalk. She saw a
black car pull into Ms. Johnson's driveway. She described
the driver of the vehicle as a black male, between 5 feet 7
inches and 6 feet in height. He was wearing blue jeans and a
white shirt. He entered the house through the garage. Ms.
Ingram saw him leave Ms. Johnson's house at approximately
Ms. Ingram and her husband decided to go to Ms. Johnson's
house to tell her that her garage door was open. They knocked
on her front door, and she did not answer. Ms. Ingram looked
through the window beside the front door and saw Ms. Johnson
"slumped over her ottoman." She yelled to another
neighbor, Dixie Harber, to call 911.
Dixie Harber lived across the street from Ms. Johnson. She
and her husband left their home at approximately 6:30 or 7:00
p.m. to eat dinner. She noticed that Ms. Johnson's garage
door was open. After they returned home from dinner, she was
sitting in her garage when she saw the Ingrams walk across
the street and knock on Ms. Johnson's front door. She
then heard Ms. Ingram yell at her to call 911.
Justin Grimsley, Ms. Ingram's son-in-law, described the
vehicle in Ms. Johnson's driveway as a dark blue or black
four-door late model sedan. Mr. Grimsley left Ms.
Ingram's house to go to the store at approximately 9:30
p.m., and the car was still in Ms. Johnson's driveway.
When he returned 15 minutes later, the car was gone. He
walked to Ms. Harber's house to talk to Ms. Harber and
her husband, who were sitting in their driveway. When Ms.
Ingram yelled to Ms. Harber to call 911, he ran across the
street to Ms. Johnson's house. He and the others entered
Ms. Johnson's house through the garage door leading into
the kitchen. They found Ms. Johnson lying across an ottoman
in her living room. They checked for a pulse and did not find
one. They rolled her onto her back, and Mr. Grimsley checked
for a pulse on Ms. Johnson's neck but did not feel one.
He then ran across the street to Ms. Ingram's house to
get a respiration mask. He gave the mask to another neighbor
on the scene, Steve Starnes, who tried to resuscitate Ms.
Johnson while Mr. Grimsley did chest compressions until
paramedics arrived. Mr. Grimsley testified that Ms. Johnson
appeared to have one gunshot wound in the back of her head
and one gunshot wound to her abdomen. He testified that he
did not observe any signs of a struggle inside the
Deputy James Hogan, of the Shelby County Sheriff's
Office, responded to the crime scene. He found shell casings
near the victim's body. Deputy Hogan searched the
victim's house. He testified that there "didn't
appear to be anyone else there or anything disturbed
even." After the paramedics arrived and left with the
victim, he interviewed the neighbors and secured the crime
Paramedic Vicki Jeffers testified that the victim was
deceased when she arrived at the scene. She continued CPR on
the victim and called for helicopter transportation in order
to try and save the life of the victim's unborn child.
Ms. Jeffers testified that the victim had wounds to the back
of the head, the right chest, and the abdomen.
Detective Jason Valentine, of the Shelby County Sheriff's
Office, testified that he executed a search warrant for the
victim's house. Detective Valentine found a 9 millimeter
shell casing near the chaise lounge. He testified that there
were no weapons recovered from the victim's home. After
the autopsy revealed that the victim had two gunshot wounds
and only one projectile was recovered from the victim's
body, Detective Valentine returned to the crime scene to
search again. Another projectile was recovered from the leg
of the chaise lounge.
Sergeant Trini Dean was the case officer in the
investigation. Sergeant Dean interviewed witnesses who stated
that the victim had arrived home at approximately 6:00 p.m.
Witnesses gave a description of a black male who was seen
entering the victim's residence "a few minutes"
later. Sergeant Dean also interviewed the victim's family
members and determined that [the petitioner] matched the
description of the subject. Sergeant Dean's investigation
revealed that [the petitioner] was visiting a girlfriend
named Amanda in Memphis on the date of the murders.
Amanda Hill testified that she and [the petitioner] began
dating each other in 2005, and they dated until February,
2007. They remained friends after their romantic relationship
ended. On September 25, 2009, [the petitioner] drove from his
home in Murfreesboro to Memphis to visit Ms. Hill. [The
petitioner] told Ms. Hill that he would leave work at 5:00
p.m., and she expected him to arrive at her house at
approximately 9:00 p.m. [The petitioner] arrived at her house
at 10:00 p.m. She testified that [the petitioner] was
carrying a laptop and a cell phone, and he had an empty gun
holster in the back of his waistband. They ate, watched a
movie and then went to bed.
[The petitioner] was arrested on September 26, 2009, and
transported to the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center.
Lieutenant Todd Sparks, of the Rutherford County
Sheriff's Office, assisted in obtaining and executing a
search warrant for [the petitioner]'s residence in
Murfreesboro on September 27, 2009. Lieutenant Sparks found
two firearms in [the petitioner]'s kitchen in the
"open space on top of the cabinets." One was a
Bushmaster AR-15 .223 caliber rifle, and the other was a
Taurus .44 Magnum revolver.
Sergeant Chris Owens, of the Rutherford County Sheriff's
Department, also assisted in executing the search warrant.
Sergeant Owens found "several loose ammunition
rounds" inside a clear plastic container in a storage
compartment of a boat parked inside [the petitioner]'s
garage. Sergeant Owens testified that the container held
"several rounds of .40 caliber ammunition inside."
He also found a nylon briefcase inside the storage
compartment of the boat that contained "several
different types of miscellaneous ammunition to include-I
don't have a certain-an exact count but there were 12
gauge rounds and some 9 millimeter rounds as well."
Sergeant Owens also found "a magazine for a
semiautomatic rifle style weapon and a clip or a holster for
Detective Nathan Cockman, of the Shelby County Sheriff's
Department, also assisted in executing the search warrant for
[the petitioner]'s home. A rented black Chevy Impala was
beside the boat parked in [the petitioner]'s garage.
Detective Cockman found an empty cell phone case with a
"flowery" design inside the center console of the
vehicle. Detective Cockman also found a rental agreement for
the Impala inside the center console. Detective Coleman went
to the location from which the car was rented and found [the
petitioner]'s Chevy Tahoe. Detective Cockman found a 9
millimeter shell casing and a .40 caliber shell casing inside
the center console of the Chevy Tahoe.
Agent Cervinia Braswell, a forensic scientist for the
Firearms Identification Unit of the Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation (TBI), testified that she examined the 9
millimeter shell casing recovered from the victim's home
and the 9 millimeter shell casing recovered from [the
petitioner]'s vehicle. Agent Braswell determined that the
two shell casings had the same class characteristics, but
they had insufficient individual ...