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State v. Davenport

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

August 23, 2019


          Session: May 29, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Bradley County No. 16-CR-261 Sandra Donaghy, Judge

         A jury convicted Defendant, Sean Angelo Davenport, of first degree premeditated murder, and Defendant was sentenced to life. On appeal, Defendant argues that (1) the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to have found him guilty of first degree premeditated murder; (2) the trial court erred by instructing the jury on flight; (3) the trial court erred by failing to give Defendant's requested jury instruction on spoliation; (4) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Defendant's prior bad acts; and (5) the trial court erred by failing to order a mistrial when, during deliberations, the jury asked if Defendant had access to their personal information. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

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

          Charles P. Dupree, Chattanooga, Tennessee, (on appeal) and Kenneth Miller, Cleveland, Tennessee, (at trial) for the appellant, Sean Angelo Davenport.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Nicholas W. Spangler, Assistant Attorney General; Stephen D. Crump, District Attorney General; and Krista Oswalt and Heather Miller, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.



         Factual and Procedural Background

         On July 13, 2016, the Bradley County Grand Jury indicted Defendant for first degree premeditated murder in the death of the victim, Michael Shane Swafford.

         Rule 404(b) hearing

         After the jury was selected and opening statements were completed, the trial court held a 404(b) hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine if McKala Sednek would be permitted to testify regarding Defendant's behavior on the days preceding and the moments directly following the killing of the victim on April 14, 2015. Ms. Sednek and Defendant lived together for three years prior to the homicide, and she was the mother of one of Defendant's children. Ms. Sednek testified that, a few days before the homicide, Defendant vandalized her car and that on April 12, 2015, Defendant held a gun to her head during an argument. The trial court found

that a material issue exists that is the complete story of the crime, the Defendant's intent, and the victim's state of mind, that those are information that the [j]ury needs to hear in rendering the decision that they do, that it does not go to character trait for violence by the Defendant; that this proof is by clear and convincing evidence, and it should not be excluded as the danger of unfair prejudice does not outweigh the probative value of this evidence.

         Ms. Sednek also testified that she and Defendant lost custody of their child because she failed a drug test and Defendant refused to submit one to the Department of Children's Services ("DCS"). The trial court found it permissible for the State to question Ms. Sednek about Defendant's refusal to take a drug test because trial counsel opened the door by mentioning Ms. Sednek's drug problems during opening statement.

         Jury trial

         After stating her name, Ms. Sednek, who was handcuffed during her testimony, stated that she was being held on charges of aggravated child neglect, aggravated burglary, forgery, and theft of property. Ms. Sednek admitted that she had been previously convicted of possession of marijuana one time and shoplifting three times. She said she had a drug problem and that she was using methamphetamine in 2015.

         Ms. Sednek said that she and Defendant had been living at a leased residence for three years and that the victim had been living with them for about a week prior to April 14, 2015. On Saturday, April 12, Defendant and Ms. Sednek had a heated argument, and Defendant demanded that the victim leave. The argument escalated after the victim left. At one point during the argument, Defendant held a gun to Ms. Sednek's left temple. Defendant left the residence after the argument subsided, and Ms. Sednek called her father, who at some point called the police. Defendant then returned to the residence.

         On the morning of April 13, a police officer came to the residence, but Ms. Sednek told him nothing happened. She testified that she lied to the officer on April 13 because she was scared of Defendant. On the same day, an officer returned to the residence because Ms. Sednek reported that her Xanax and hydrocodone had been stolen. Defendant left the residence before the police arrived. The victim returned to the residence after the police left, and Ms. Sednek invited the victim back into the house. Ms. Sednek stated that she believed she told the victim about her argument with Defendant before she went to sleep that evening.

         When Ms. Sednek awoke on April 14, 2015, Defendant was at the residence. When the victim discovered that Defendant had returned, he came out of the bedroom into the living room yelling at Defendant, and he began hitting Defendant. Ms. Sednek claimed that the fight between Defendant and the victim lasted a few minutes. She did not see either Defendant or the victim with a firearm during this altercation. She said that she had never seen the victim with a firearm.

         Ms. Sednek testified that, once the physical altercation ended, Defendant went outside, and the victim went to his bedroom. The victim returned to the living room with his shoes and sat down on the couch. Ms. Sednek said that she heard Defendant run onto the porch, and then Defendant opened the front door, stepped inside, and shot the victim multiple times as he was sitting on the couch and leaning over tying his shoes. Defendant then ran out of the house but stopped, turned around, pointed his gun at Ms. Sednek, and said, "Twenty-five to life." Defendant got in his truck and drove away. Ms. Sednek said that she had seen Defendant with the pistol used to kill the victim before. She said that Defendant either wore it on his side or kept it under the bed.

         Ms. Sednek called 911 and told the operator she "woke up to gunshots, and there is a guy that's been shot inside my house and that I didn't know who shot him." Ms. Sednek stated that she initially lied to police because she was in shock but later admitted to detectives that she saw Defendant shoot the victim. She denied having told anyone that the victim had a gun during the altercation.

         Ms. Sednek said that she and Defendant had a son together but that they lost custody of their son because they both were addicted to drugs. Ms. Sednek stated that her relationship with Defendant was volatile. In the week prior to the homicide, she said Defendant slashed all four of her vehicle's tires and threw a brick through the windshield.

         Officer Anthony Cochran of the Cleveland Police Department ("CPD") testified that, when he arrived at the scene of the homicide, he observed Ms. Sednek crying and pointing to the back door of the residence. He tried to speak with Ms. Sednek, but he could not understand her because she was hysterical. Officer Cochran performed a walkthrough of the scene where he observed the victim in the corner facedown. After determining that there was no one else in the house, he signaled for Emergency Medical Services to go in the residence.

         CPD Detective Andy Wattenbarger testified that he took photographs of the scene and collected physical evidence, including shell casings. Detective Wattenbarger also attended the victim's autopsy. Detective Wattenbarger observed five entry wounds and witnessed the medical examiner remove three bullets from the victim's body, which he collected and placed in a vault at the CPD to be processed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI"). The following day, Ms. Sednek called and reported that she had found a shell casing in the couch. Detective Wattenbarger returned to the scene and retrieved the shell casing. During redirect examination, Detective Wattenbarger testified that the blood droplets discovered at the homicide scene indicated that the victim was sitting when he was shot.

         CPD Detective Daniel Gibbs testified that he interviewed Ms. Sednek at the police department. Although Ms. Sednek originally claimed she did not see who shot the victim, she ultimately admitted that she saw Defendant shoot the victim. Detective Gibbs requested testing for DNA rather than fingerprints on the firearms. He stated that the TBI lab could not perform both tests because the methods used in DNA and fingerprint testing affected the results of the other test. Detective Gibbs chose the DNA testing because it was the "newer" technology.

         Deputy Cheryl Holloway of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office ("BCSO") testified that she was driving on the APD-40 highway when she got off at the Blue Springs exit and noticed a wrecked car to her left in the grass. Deputy Holloway went to assist with this wreck and found Defendant standing outside of the driver's door. Defendant had an injury above his right eye, which he claimed he received during the wreck.

         Officer Steven Warner of the CPD testified that he arrived at the scene of Defendant's wreck after Deputy Holloway. Officer Warner believed that Defendant had tried to flee from the scene of the wreck because of the tire tracks in mud around Defendant's vehicle. Officer Warner looked into the open driver's door of Defendant's vehicle and saw the handle of a firearm sticking up from between the passenger seat and center console.

         CPD Detective Cody Hinson testified that he assisted in the investigation of Defendant's wreck, took pictures of the scene, and prepared the vehicle to be towed to the police department. Detective Hinson took custody of a revolver and some ammunition from CPD Detective Laura Lane and later transported that evidence to CPD and delivered it to Detective Wattenbarger. After Detective Hinson obtained a search warrant for Defendant's vehicle, he and Detective Wattenbarger searched the vehicle and found various household items, clothing, bedding, a television, and a .380 pistol. In addition to the items found during the search, Detective Wattenbarger testified that a .38 caliber pistol and a box of .380 rounds had been removed from the vehicle at the scene of the accident.

         Detective Laura Lane from the BCSO testified that she assisted Detective Hinson in the investigation of Defendant's wreck. Detective Lane photographed the scene and collected a revolver loaded with five live rounds, as well as a box of ammunition from the front seat of the vehicle, and placed the items in evidence bags. Detective Lane turned over custody of the items to Detective Hinson at the scene.

         Special Agent Jessica Hudson testified that she was employed as a forensic scientist with the TBI. Agent Hudson worked specifically in the Firearm and Tool Mark Identification Unit and conducted a microscopic examination of the cartridge casings and firearms collected from the scene of the homicide. Based on her examination, Agent Hudson concluded that the cartridge casings were fired from the .380 pistol recovered from Defendant's vehicle. Agent Hudson also performed tests on the bullets recovered from the victim's body, but these tests were inconclusive.

         Dr. Steven Cogswell, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner for Hamilton County, testified that he performed the autopsy on the victim. Dr. Cogswell stated that the victim's cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. One shot came from a downward angle in the left shoulder at an intermediate range. Another bullet came from a horizontal angle, which entered the victim's body past the mid-line on the victim's side at an undetermined range. Another gunshot wound entered on the left side of the victim's chest wall at an undetermined range. Another shot entered at the belt line from an undetermined range and exited through the buttocks. Dr. Cogswell concluded that the victim was sitting down at the time he was shot because of the abrasions surrounding the exit wound of the fourth bullet. Dr. Cogswell concluded that the victim's manner of death was homicide. During cross-examination, Dr. Cogswell ruled out the possibility that the victim was bending over facing the shooter when he was shot due to the angles of the entry wounds. Dr. Cogswell testified that he did not observe any injuries on the victim's hands.

         James Ervin, Defendant's and Ms. Sednek's neighbor, testified that he heard two gunshots while sitting on his front porch on the morning of April 14, 2015. Mr. Ervin said that he saw Ms. Sednek walk down the street in a northerly direction but that he never saw her return to her residence. During cross-examination, Mr. Ervin ...

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