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Watts v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 21, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs April 16, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 63CC1-2013-CR-712 Ross H. Hicks, Judge

         The petitioner, Lee D. Watts, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2015 convictions of first degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Gregory D. Smith, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lee D. Watts.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; John W. Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Arthur Bieber, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



         A Montgomery County Circuit Court jury convicted the petitioner of alternative counts of the first degree felony murder and one count of the especially aggravated robbery of Ethel Adamson, the petitioner's mother. State v. Lee Dewane Watts, No. M2015-02404-CCA-R3-CD, slip op. at 7 (Tenn. Crim. App., Nashville, Jan. 19, 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 18, 2017). After a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the first degree felony murder convictions and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. The court ordered the petitioner to serve a 25-year especially aggravated robbery sentence consecutively to the life sentence for a total effective sentence of life plus 25 years' incarceration. Id., slip op. at 7-8. On direct appeal, this court affirmed the petitioner's convictions and sentence. Id., slip op. at 12, 15.

          This court summarized the evidence at trial as follows:

Relevant to the victim's murder, the evidence . . . shows that on the night the victim was beaten, the [petitioner] came and went from her apartment multiple times to obtain money to buy drugs. Several witnesses smoking crack cocaine with the [petitioner] that night testified that he left their group and said he was going to his mother's house for more money. The [petitioner] and the victim were the only two people with access to her apartment and there were no signs of forced entry. The [petitioner] admitted to being at the victim's apartment sometime that night and eyewitnesses including the victim's neighbor saw the [petitioner] leaving the victim's apartment a short time before the victim was found by police and paramedics with serious injuries. The victim suffered blunt force trauma to her head, which caused her to lose brain function and die soon after. A hammer was found on the floor of her apartment, and medical experts testified that her injuries were consistent with being inflicted by a hammer. The victim's blood was found on the hammer, and the [petitioner's] blood was found on a shirt he was seen wearing the night before and the morning after the victim was beaten. The victim had several wounds classified by the medical examiner as "defensive." When questioned by police, the [petitioner] admitted to hitting the victim with the hammer multiple times, and he gave a written statement asking God for forgiveness.
Relevant to the robbery, witnesses testified that the [petitioner] left the group multiple times that night, saying he was going to the victim's apartment, and each time he returned with more money and purchased more drugs. In the past and in front of neighbors, the [petitioner] had discussed with the victim the fact that the victim had received a benefit check that the [petitioner] wanted the victim to share with him. A letter from the VA confirmed that the victim had received benefits of over $6, 000. The [petitioner] also discussed with the victim her life insurance policy, and asked the victim for money several times in front of her neighbor. On the morning the victim was found and while she was being treated by paramedics, the [petitioner] asked the victim's neighbor for money as well. A hammer was found inside the victim's apartment with her blood on it, and she suffered life threatening injuries consistent with being beaten in the head by a hammer.

Id., slip op. at 11.

         On June 21, 2017, the petitioner filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging that his confession was coerced, that his privilege against self-incrimination was violated, that the State failed to disclose certain evidence, that the composition of the jury was unconstitutional, that his trial counsel performed deficiently, and that newly discovered evidence existed. After the appointment of counsel, the petitioner filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief, reasserting the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and incorporating the pro se petition. Specifically, the petitioner alleged that trial counsel performed ...

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