United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Quinzell La'Won Grasty, an inmate proceeding pro se, has
filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254 challenging the legality of his confinement under
Tennessee judgments of conviction for felony murder,
second-degree murder, attempted especially aggravated
robbery, and aggravated burglary. Having considered the
submissions of the parties, the State-court record, and the
law applicable to Grasty's claims, the Court finds that
the petition should be denied.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
La'Won Grasty shot and killed Steven Matthew Coyle during
a home invasion and attempted robbery that occurred on April
16, 2009 [See Doc. 9-1 at 5-7]. Sarah Gill, who
lived with Coyle at the time of his murder, testified that
she and Coyle were awakened by a "crashing noise"
at approximately 9:00 a.m. on April 16, 2009 [Doc. 9-2 at
156, 164-166]. Coyle stated to her that he thought someone
had broken into the house and opened the bedroom door to go
investigate [id. at 166]. He was immediately shot in
the head [id. at 167]. Gill saw Coyle on the floor
with "a hole in his face" and called 911
[id. at 169].
Police Detective James Holloway, the lead investigator on the
case, testified that at approximately 7:30 p.m. on April 16,
2009, he received a phone call from police dispatch advising
him that an Officer Tyrone Williams had requested that
Detective Holloway call him [Doc. 9-3 at 109]. Detective
Holloway called Officer Williams, who told him that an
individual named Cordarious Holloway had approached him and
stated that "he may have transported the suspects"
to the crime scene [id.]. Detective Holloway
interviewed Cordarious, who gave Detective Holloway names and
nicknames of persons who might have been involved in the
victim's death [id. at 111-12]. Based on these
statements, in conjunction with a later-conducted
surveillance operation, the police developed Grasty as a
suspect [id. at 112-15]. Grasty was brought in for
questioning, where he gave an initial statement to police
[id. at 117-18].
his initial statement, Grasty related conflicting accounts of
his whereabouts at the time of the murder, including being
dropped off at a Steak-n-Shake near the victim's
residence, waiting at a nearby apartment complex, and waiting
outside the victim's home while others went inside [Doc.
9-10 at 35-122]. Grasty finally admitted, however, that he
was at the victim's house, that he had a shotgun in a
bookbag, and that, after checking one of the rooms in the
home, he heard the door open behind him [id. at
116-17]. Grasty stated "the gun went off. . . My hand
wasn't just, I wasn't doing like this . . . I'm
saying I know I didn't mean to kill the man, but it
happened" [id. at 118-19]. The following
exchange between the detective and Grasty then transpired:
A. Yeah, he opened the door and then I was just turning
around, know what I'm saying, and the gun went off. And I
looked at him like, Oh, and just they took it, and then they
took the gun and just dipped.
Q. Who took it?
A. Everybody that was in the car, they took the gun to the
house and . . .
Q. I mean you ran out with it, I guess, or no?
A. Yeah, I had it in my hand when I ran out.
Q. So when the dude opened the door, it scared you and you
shot by accident?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You didn't mean to kill the guy?
A. No, sir.
Q. And you don't know where the gun is now?
A. No, sir.
Q. Is everything that you've told us, here toward the
end, the truth?
A. Yes, sir.
[Doc. 9-10 at 119-121]. Prior to giving his statement, Grasty
signed a form waiving his rights [Doc. 9-10 at 33].
then gave a second statement to police on May 6, 2009, where
he recanted his earlier admission, stating he had only
promised to "take the charge" because he was not
facing any charges at the time of the murder, and the real
perpetrator was already on house arrest [id. at
138-140]. Audio recordings of both statements were played for
the jury at Grasty's trial [Doc. 9-3 at 127-30; Doc. 9-4
Mark Dunlap, a special agent forensic scientist in serology
DNA for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
("TBI"), testified that a backpack found at the
crime scene showed a mixture of genetic material from at
least four different individuals, and that Grasty could not
be excluded as a contributor [Doc. 9-4 at 76, 84, 91-92].
Agent Steve Scott, an expert in firearms, testified that he
analyzed shot shell waddings taken from the crime scene and
determined that the wadding was consistent with a Winchester
12-gauge, AA type [id. at 125, 128-130, 138]. Agent
Scott also reviewed portions of Grasty's statement where
he described the weapon as 16 to 18 inches long with a
sawed-off stock and muzzle [id. at 142-43]. Based on
that description and the recovered wadding, Agent Scott
produced a replica firearm as a demonstrative exhibit at
Grasty’s trial [id. at 143]. The weapon was
obtained from a reference collection of firearms maintained
at the Nashville TBI facility, which is a collection
maintained to borrow parts or produce exhibits for
demonstration purposes in court [id. at 150-51].
Agent Scott testified that the purpose of sawing off a
shotgun is to maneuver in an enclosed space and for
concealment [id. at 147-48]. He demonstrated how the
weapon could have fit within the backpack recovered from the
murder scene [id. at 148].
did not testify at trial [Doc. 9-5 at 8-9]. A Hamilton County
jury convicted Grasty of felony murder, second-degree murder,
attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated
burglary [id. at 92-100]. He received an effective
sentence of life imprisonment [id. at 101; Doc. 9-6;
see also Doc. 9-1 at 101-104]. On appeal, the
Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”)
affirmed his convictions and sentence. See State v.
Grasty, No. E2012-00141-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 1458660
(Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 10, 2013), perm. app. denied
(Tenn. Sept. 16, 2013) (“Grasty I”). The
Supreme Court of Tennessee denied Grasty’s application
for discretionary review on September 16, 2013. Id.
October 30, 2013, Grasty filed a petition for post-conviction
relief [Doc. 9-18 at 3-10]. Counsel was subsequently
appointed, and both Grasty and post-conviction counsel filed
an amended post-conviction petition [id. at 12-13,
14-20]. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction
court denied relief [id. at 96-115]. The TCCA
affirmed the post-conviction court’s decision on
February 17, 2017. Grasty v. State, No.
E2015-02075-CCA-R3-PC, 2017 WL 656905 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb.
17, 2017), perm. app. denied (May 18, 2017)
(“Grasty II”). The Supreme Court of
Tennessee denied Grasty’s application for discretionary
review on May 18, 2017 [Doc. 9-27].
Grasty filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus on
September 7, 2017, asserting the following grounds for
relief, as paraphrased by the Court:
I. Whether Grasty received the ineffective assistance of
II. Whether the trial court erred in denying Grasty’s
petition for ...