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Grooms v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

August 29, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs June 25, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hawkins County No. CC16CR60 Thomas J. Wright, Judge

         The petitioner, James Walter Grooms, Jr., appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, which petition challenged his conviction for two counts of aggravated assault, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

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

          Jonathan A. Marion, Sneedville, Tennessee, for the appellant, James W Grooms, Jr..

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Dan E. Armstrong, District Attorney General; and Ryan Blackwell, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          J. Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.


          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On direct appeal, this court summarized the facts surrounding the petitioner's conviction, as follows:

This appeal stems from an altercation that occurred on April 13, 2011, between the [petitioner], Bobby Wolf, and Tessaria Monika Childress. During the altercation, the [petitioner] hit Childress with the handle of a pistol and shot Wolf in the groin area of his right leg. The [petitioner] was subsequently indicted for attempted first degree murder of Bobby Wolf, aggravated assault of Tessaria Childress, and employing a firearm during the attempt to commit a dangerous felony.
At trial, Childress testified that in April 2011, she was in a romantic relationship with Wolf, and the couple was living together at the home of Krista Arnwhine, along with Childress's three children and Arnwhine's two children. Childress had known the [petitioner] for several years at the time of the incident. Childress told Wolf about the [petitioner's] advances, and he was present "a couple of times" when the [petitioner] made inappropriate comments to Childress. Childress rebuffed the [petitioner's] advances, but it "didn't deter him."
On April 13, 2011, Childress was cooking dinner when Arnwhine told her that Wolf was outside arguing with somebody. Childress looked outside and saw the [petitioner] with his dog on a long chain arguing with Wolf. Childress believed that the [petitioner] was intoxicated "by the way he was talking, kind of slurring his words and . . . staggering around." Childress told the [petitioner] to go home and told Wolf to return inside, and as she and Wolf walked back towards the house, the [petitioner] yelled something at her. Because she could not hear him, she stepped towards him and said, "[W]hat did you say?" At that point, the [petitioner] pulled out a gun and hit her with its handle "at least five times [.]" Childress yelled for Wolf to help her and when she turned her head, she felt the barrel of the gun pressed against the side of her head. She felt "[s]cared to death" and thought the [petitioner] was going to "blow [her] brains out[.]" The [petitioner] briefly lowered the gun when Wolf approached but raised it "halfway up" and pointed it at Wolf, who stepped back, put his hands up, and said, "[W]hoa[.]" The [petitioner] shouted, "[N]ow, mother-f*****," and shot Wolf. Wolf fell to the ground and yelled, "[H]e shot me in the [testicle], call 911." Childress told Arnwhine to call 911 while she drove Wolf to the hospital.
Childress testified that neither she nor Wolf had been drinking that evening, and Wolf was not armed with any weapons during the altercation with the [petitioner]. She stated that she was in fear for her life and suffered bruising on her neck, arms, and face from the attack by the [petitioner]. On cross-examination, she agreed that she did not seek medical treatment for her injuries, although a doctor did examine her at the hospital on the night of the incident. She also agreed that Wolf is known for being "somewhat" violent.
Wolf testified that on the night of the incident, he walked outside to take out the trash and saw the [petitioner] walking his dog. Wolf had known the [petitioner] for several years and waved at the [petitioner] as he walked by. In response to this gesture, the [petitioner] stated, "I don't associate with snitches and bitches." Wolf did not know what the [petitioner] meant by this comment but responded, "[Y]ou don't know who you are talking to," and an argument ensued between the two men. Wolf thought the [petitioner] was intoxicated because he had "slurred speech and stagger[ed] like he was drunk," so Wolf told him to go home. At that point, the [petitioner] pulled out a black pistol and told Wolf, "I'll shoot you here on the spot." Wolf responded, "[I]f you are going to point it at me, you had better use it." Wolf testified that he did not have any weapons on him and never stepped in the road towards the [petitioner].
During the argument, Childress came outside and encouraged Wolf to go back inside the house. Wolf walked inside to get his cigarettes, and when he returned outside, he saw the [petitioner] strike Childress with the handle of his pistol. Wolf stated that he was in fear for Childress and ran towards her to "jerk her away" from the [petitioner], at which point the [petitioner] shot Wolf. Wolf testified that he did not threaten the [petitioner] with any weapon and was not holding anything that the [petitioner] might have mistook for a weapon. He also stated that Childress did not do anything to the [petitioner] other than "[t]rying to get him to go home" before he began hitting her with the pistol. As a result of the shooting, Wolf had to undergo surgery and had his right testicle removed.
Dr. Daniel Anderson, a surgeon at Holston Valley Medical Center, treated Wolf on the night of the incident and testified as an expert in medical treatment. He testified that a gunshot wound to the groin area can "absolutely" create a substantial risk of death because the femoral artery and femoral vein run through the groin and, if damaged, can result in death or loss of limb. Wolf had a wound "through and through" the soft tissue in the right groin and a wound to his right scrotum, which required removal of Wolf's right testicle. Wolf's wounds were not life-threatening, but Dr. Anderson testified that he would expect Wolf "to have quite a bit of acute pain" during the episode and as he recovered.
Corporal Chad Britton and Detective Chad Evans of the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene that evening. Corporal Britton located the [petitioner] standing outside his parents' house and searched him for weapons. He found a loaded 9 millimeter handgun in the [petitioner's] back pocket and recalled that although the [petitioner] complied with his commands, he appeared intoxicated. Detective Evans likewise testified that the [petitioner] appeared "very much" intoxicated, and as a result, Detective Evans did not question the [petitioner] about the incident that evening. He and Corporal Britton searched the scene that night for weapons and other evidence but did not find anything. They returned to the scene the following morning and found a shell casing in the road near Arnwhine's home. Later that morning, Detective Evans read the [petitioner] his Miranda rights, and the [petitioner] signed a waiver of rights form. He then provided the following statement, which was introduced into evidence and read to the jury:
Last night at about dusk[, ] my dog got off his chain. I went walking and found him. I started back to the house. As I was coming back . . ., I was going by a trailer and Bobby Wolf was in the yard, [and] we got into an argument. He jumped off his porch and came to the road and started arguing. Monika [Childress] got in between us and broke us up. She made [Wolf] go in the house and started escorting me down the road. As [Wolf] was going in the house, he said ["]I've got something for you, mother f'er.["] [Childress] continued walking me down the road. We got about fifty feet and [Wolf] jumped off the porch and started running toward me, he was saying he was going to shoot me. [Childress] r[an] toward [Wolf] trying to stop him when he knocked her down and continued on toward me. I pulled up my pistol and told him to stop, he kept coming, [and] I shot him. I was just trying to hit him in the kneecap, I just wanted to wing him. He fell. I went to my mother's house and told her to call ...

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