Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Session February 26, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 108788 Steven W.
Defendant, Karen Sarah Thomas, alias, appeals her jury
convictions for aggravated stalking. In this direct appeal,
the Defendant alleges that the evidence was insufficient to
support her convictions and that the trial court erred when
it allowed the State to introduce evidence of an
out-of-courtroom event that took place during the trial.
Following our review of the record and the applicable
authorities, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
E. Stephens, District Public Defender, and Jonathan Harwell,
Assistant District Public Defender (on appeal); and Charles
G. Currier (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Karen Sarah Thomas, alias.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Charme
P. Allen, District Attorney General; and Willie R. Lane and
Randall J. Kilby, Assistant District Attorneys General, for
the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.,
KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE.
case involves an underlying feud between two families-the
Defendant's and the victim's. On August 17, 2016, a
Knox County grand jury charged the Defendant with alternative
counts of aggravated stalking. See Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 39-17-315. The Defendant was alleged to have
"unlawfully and intentionally stalk[ed]" the
victim, A.D.,  between February 18, 2016 and May 2, 2016.
Count 1 charged that the Defendant was prohibited from making
contact with the victim by an order of protection and that
the Defendant knowingly violated the order. Count 2 charged
that the victim was less than eighteen years of age at the
time while the Defendant was at least five years older than
the victim. The Defendant proceeded to a jury trial in
victim testified that she grew up in Florida and moved to
Knoxville with her mother, father, and two brothers in July
2015 when she was fourteen years old. They moved into the
Defendant's home and resided with the Defendant and her
family. The families had previously interacted with each
other when both families lived in Florida. Once in Knoxville,
the victim and the Defendant's teenage daughter both
attended West Valley Middle School. When the two families
began to quarrel, the victim and her family moved out in
2015, the Defendant had exchanged angry text messages with
the victim's mother, including messages discussing the
victim. The Defendant sent the following text message to the
If I wanted to harass you, think of all the ways, with the
skills and technology that I have available to me, that I
could. Then consider the fact that, by your own admission,
your daughter cannot be trusted and creates drama and is
slick enough to fool a psychiatrist. Then consider that
she's not f--king with me. She's f--king with my
children. Then realize I have done nothing to mess with you.
If I want to f--k your life, I would walk away from the space
forward, your non intention to pay whole Rob so that they
could go after you and garnish your husband's wages.
Defendant sent another message to the victim's mother
stating, "In case I haven't made it clear enough,
everyone in my family f--king hates your daughter and thinks
she's a b---h and a w--re, and so do all of [my
The Defendant further said to the victim's mother, via
F--k everyone and everything, and then all the s--t is
f--king up my kids' Thanksgiving and f--king up the first
day I've had to spend with them in forever. So I either
need you to come over here like in five minutes, or I'm
going to go over there and tak[e] a turn ruining your
Defendant texted, "We will have somebody f--k with [the
victim's brother] at school all day long and then try to
break up every friendship he has." The Defendant
continued that, if she did not "get enough satisfaction
from that," she would accuse the victim's other male
family members of raping the Defendant's daughter and
have someone "start physically hurting" the
was a short but direct confrontation between the Defendant
and the victim before the order of protection went into
effect, and the confrontation was recorded. On this occasion,
the victim was accompanied by a friend, and the Defendant was
"right next to" the victim when the conflict
occurred. The recording captured the Defendant saying to the
victim, "You know, I'm not allowed to talk to lying
w--res, but I can talk about lying w--res that accuse people
of raping them." She also said, "Oh, of course
I'm talking about you. You should know."
Furthermore, the Defendant remarked, "Do your friends
know what you say about them behind their backs?" to
which the victim responded, "I'm sure they do. Thank
you." The recording was played for the jury.
victim indicated that there were "other instances"
during this time that the Defendant called her names. When
asked if the Defendant made "other threatening
statements" to the victim, the victim replied, "She
told me that she would make my life a living hell, and I told
her that she already did, and she said she could do
result, the victim's mother obtained an order of
protection against the Defendant on behalf of the victim. The
February 18, 2016 order of protection was entered as an
exhibit at trial. The victim was listed as the
"Petitioner/Plaintiff," and it was noted that the
order was sought by the victim's mother for the
"minor plaintiff." The order of protection, which
indicated that it was issued "after proof," forbid
the Defendant from "abus[ing] or threaten[ing] to abuse
Petitioner or Petitioner's minor children" and from
"stalk[ing] or threaten[ing] to stalk Petitioner or
Petitioner's minor children." The order also
instructed the Defendant not to "come about the
Petitioner (including coming by or to a shared residence) for
any purpose" and not to "contact Petitioner and
Petitioner's children, either directly or indirectly, by
phone, email messages, text messages, mail or any type of
communication or contact." It also required the
Defendant to stay away from the Petitioner's home and
workplace and the "children's home and
workplace." The portion of the order for
"particularized findings of fact that the [Defendant]
committed the following acts" was left blank. The order
was placed into effect until February 17, 2017. Many of the
additional details not recounted above that ultimately led to
this order of protection were excluded by the trial court
because the trial court did not want the trial turning into
the "Jerry Springer Show."
victim testified that, following entry of the protection
order, her mother would pick her up when she got out of
school at 3:30 p.m. The victim stated that her mother parked
"by the sidewalk, right next to the entrance of"
the school. The victim had to walk up a hill to reach her
mother, and it was customary for the children to walk with
the victim was asked to describe "the next time"
she saw the Defendant after the protection order was entered,
the victim replied, "[S]he was parked right in front of
my mom." According to the victim, the Defendant
"would purposely park right in front of [her] mom, and
[she] would have to walk past her in order to get to [her]
mom's car." The victim said that she could see the
Defendant looking at her from inside the car, and the
Defendant "gave [her] dirty looks." The victim
described several instances where this occurred and
maintained that the Defendant's actions made her feel
"terrified." The victim subsequently explained that
this happened almost "every day" and that she was
afraid and "very uncomfortable" every time she had
to walk past the Defendant.
victim recounted a specific incident that took place on
February 26, 2016. According to the victim, after she got
into the car with her mother that day and they were headed
home, the Defendant "started driving behind [them], and
she would speed up." The victim claimed that there was
another route for the Defendant to take.
victim also described an April 5, 2016 incident that occurred
following her release from Peninsula psychiatric hospital.
Although the victim was not at school that day, the victim
went to the pick-up area "to surprise [her] best
friend" that she had just been released. When her best
friend "got up the hill[, ]" the victim got out of
her car to give her friend a hug. The victim testified that,
as she "looked back," she saw the Defendant with
her friend "Tracy" "leaning against
Tracy's red van looking at [her]." At that time, the
victim and her friend took a picture of the Defendant's
leaning on the van "staring" at the victim. The
victim described the Defendant's look in the photograph:
"I know her looks, and the look that she was giving me
made me feel uncomfortable." The victim acknowledged
that she was about two-car lengths from the Defendant when
this took place and that she was "walking away"
from the Defendant at the time the picture was taken.
victim relayed that, on March 23, 2016, the Defendant took a
picture of her and that she had seen that picture. The
Defendant's behavior caused her to feel afraid.
April 8, 2016, the victim's mother took a video
reflecting that the Defendant "got out of her car at the
school and was walking toward the hill." The victim
testified her mother called her while she was inside the
school and "told [her] to hold up because [the
Defendant] was walking in [her] direction." The victim
indicated that she had seen the recording and that her mother
had filed a police report.
victim was aware of an April 11, 2016 incident at school that
caused her to be afraid. On that occasion, the Defendant
"parked in front of the police officer at the school.
[The victim's] mother pulled in behind . . . . The
officer told [the Defendant] she had to go to another
location to pick up her children."
victim recalled that she saw the Defendant in her car on
April 12, 2016. According to the victim, on that day, the
Defendant "parked in a gravel area, and the police
officer had to tell her to move, because she was in eyeshot
of [the victim]."
victim indicated that, every time she encountered the
Defendant, she had "a really bad feeling," and she
"thought [the Defendant] was just never going to stop
until something bad happened." The victim explained,
"I was afraid that she wouldn't stop torturing me
until . . . I killed myself." The victim relayed that
her Peninsula hospital stay lasted "almost a week"
and that she was there due to "self-harming" by
cutting herself. Although the victim had engaged in this
behavior when she lived in Florida, the victim claimed that
it had stopped prior to her move to Knoxville. According to
the victim, it was the Defendant's behavior that led her
to start cutting herself again. The victim indicated that
following the April 5, 2016 incident, she "express[ed]
[her] fear" to herself "in [her] room." The
victim further testified that the Defendant knew about her
prior history with self-harming. Moreover, the victim said
that she was fearful of the Defendant while the victim was
testifying at trial.
Claxton, the principal at West Valley Middle School,
testified that he spoke with the Defendant's husband in
early April 2016. According to Principal Claxton, the
Defendant's husband came to his office to talk about
"the situation involving" his daughter and the
victim. Principal Claxton recalled that "there was an
issue of where the parents were picking up the
children." Principal Claxton told the Defendant's
husband, who was "upset," that he and his wife
could park in the staff lot behind the school to pick up
their daughter "to avoid any contact" with the
victim. He also remembered the Defendant's husband
referencing his "medical condition" when requesting
this change. Principal Claxton relayed that the staff lot was
"at the rear of the school" and was not as far away
as where they had been picking up their daughter on the
street in front of the school.
to Principal Claxton, shortly thereafter, the Defendant and
her husband came to his office, and the Defendant asked why
her daughter "would need to change her normal
pattern." Principal Claxton explained to the Defendant
that he "was just trying to help." He believed that
the Defendant did not "like the offer" to park in
the rear of the school because her daughter liked walking up
the hill with her friends to where they get into their cars.
He clarified that this was not "an order" to the
Claxton also noted that he had taken other steps to keep the
two girls separated while at school. For example, he had
arranged to have a class exit through a different hall to
prevent the girls from coming into contact with one another.
Gary Frazier of the Knox County Sheriff's Office
testified that, in April 2016, he was working at West Valley
Middle School. On April 11, 2016, Officer Frazier initiated a
conversation with the Defendant after seeing her park behind
the victim's mother. Officer Frazier was aware of the
order of protection being in place, so he explained to the
Defendant that she could not park there. Officer Frazier
advised the Defendant to pick up her daughter behind the
school in the area where Principal Claxton had given her
permission to park. Officer Frazier indicated that the
Defendant's daughter could walk out of the rear entrance
of the school and get into the car and that they could then
leave using the bus entrance. According to Officer Frazier,
the Defendant "was a little upset" by their
conversation, and she "had a little attitude"
because she "didn't feel like she needed to
leave." Officer Frazier described that the Defendant
"just sort of sped off." He was unsure where the
Defendant went that day.
following day, the Defendant returned to the same area and
parked in front of Officer Frazier. Officer Frazier then
contacted a detective, who after speaking with the judge who
issued the order of protection, instructed Officer Frazier to
again tell the Defendant that she could not be present there
and advise her to park behind the school. Officer Frazier
went and spoke with the Defendant. He relayed the judge's
instruction to the Defendant to park behind the school, but
the Defendant responded that she was not going to interrupt
her daughter's routine "for whatever." Officer
Frazier warned the Defendant that he would have to arrest her
if the victim approached. Officer Frazier saw her "pull
down again," but he did not "catch her
Officer Frazier executed a warrant for the Defendant's
arrest on May 5, 2016. After the Defendant dropped her
daughter off at school, Officer Frazier, who was accompanied
by another officer, pulled the Defendant over as she was
leaving. Both officers approached the Defendant, and Officer
Frazier told the Defendant to get out of her car because he
had a warrant for her arrest. After a bit of coaxing, the
Defendant complied, and he placed her in handcuffs and put
her in the back of his police car. Officer Frazier testified
that the Defendant seemed to think it was a "joke."
According to Officer Frazier, the Defendant complained that
she was bored and asked for a book to read. She also asked
Officer Frazier to use her phone to take a photograph of her
being transferred "to the transportation wagon[.]"
Officer Frazier declined both requests.
Frazier described the school campus and indicated that there
were several other areas for the Defendant to park to pick up
her daughter instead of at the "top of the hill"
where she was parking. Officer Frazier explained that the lot
behind the school where the Defendant had been given
permission to park was about seventy steps from the back
entrance, whereas the top-of-the-hill area was about 500
steps from the front entrance. Officer Frazier confirmed that
there was also a crossing guard present during pick-up time.
Tammy Brummit of the Knox County Sheriff's Office was the
lead investigator in this case. She testified that, on
December 14, 2015, she began an investigation into the
Defendant for stalking allegations and that she remained the
lead investigator through the time of the Defendant's
arrest on May 5, 2016. During her investigation, Detective
Brummit interviewed the Defendant. The Defendant waived her
Miranda rights and agreed to provide her side of the
Defendant provided Detective Brummit with several names
during the interview, claiming that those individuals would
support her claims about the victim's family. The
Defendant insisted, "I have never done anything to this
child except for call her a b---h." When Detective
Brummit indicated that she had reviewed the recording in
which the Defendant called the victim "a w--re,"
the Defendant replied, "Okay, I might have called her a
w--re." The Defendant confirmed that she said to the
victim's mother, "You f--cked up my life, I'm
going to f--k yours." The Defendant further agreed that
she had told the victim's mother that if she wanted to
mess up her life, she could do so. The Defendant indicated
that, although she listed actions she could take, like
disseminating naked pictures of the couple, she did not
follow through with any of those. The Defendant claimed that
the messages she had sent were all taken out of context and
that they had been altered. Also during the interview, the
Defendant refused to turn over her cellphone for a search
despite being told that the victim's mother had done so.
speaking with Detective Brummit, the Defendant asserted that
she and her family were the ones that had been victimized.
The Defendant claimed that her daughter did not want to be
picked up at another location and showed Detective Brummit a
text message from her daughter to that effect. The Defendant
adamantly believed that the order of protection did not
prohibit her from being on school property to pick up her
daughter. She asserted that the trial judge that issued the
protection order told her that it was not a problem as long
as everyone stayed in their cars. She said that, if the