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State v. Baker

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 4, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
RONNIE THOMAS BAKER

          Assigned on Briefs July 24, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2017-B-1381 Angelita Blackshear Dalton, Judge.

         Defendant, Ronnie T. Baker, was convicted by a jury of aggravated assault, domestic assault, and interference with a 911 call. The trial court sentenced Defendant to a total effective sentence of ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days. On appeal, Defendant argues that (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction of aggravated assault; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the victim's prior consistent statements; (3) the trial court erred in admitting testimony and photos concerning the interior of the victim's residence that showed destruction of the property by the Defendant; (4) the trial court erred by failing to merge the convictions for aggravated assault and domestic assault; and (5) the trial court erred in imposing the maximum sentence and by imposing partial consecutive sentencing. After conducting a full review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Martesha Johnson, District Public Defender; Jeffrey A. DeVasher (on appeal), Patrick Hakes and Stella Yarbrough (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, Ronnie Thomas Baker.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ronald L. Coleman, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn Funk, District Attorney General; and Amy M. Hunter, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE.

         On June 19, 2017, the Davidson County Grand Jury returned a five-count indictment against Defendant, charging him with aggravated burglary (Count 1), aggravated assault for intentionally or knowingly causing serious bodily injury (Count 2), domestic assault for intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury (Count 3), vandalism valued $1000 or less (Count 4), and interfering with a 911 call (Count 5). At trial, the following facts were adduced.

         Defendant and Lisa Williams had been in an on-again, off-again relationship for approximately twelve years and had lived together until Defendant left Ms. Williams's residence about two months prior to March 2017. On March 20, 2017, Ms. Williams was at home cooking dinner. She heard a car pull up outside and went to the door. Ms. Williams saw Defendant get out of the car. She asked Defendant what he wanted. Defendant "jerked the door out of [Ms. Williams's] hand and walked on in the house." Defendant asked about his belongings. Ms. Williams told Defendant they were "all in the washroom." Defendant became upset and began demanding other items, specifically clothing he gave to Ms. Williams, saying "another bitch can wear that." Defendant began cursing, screaming, throwing things out of Ms. Williams's closet and drawers, and throwing items of clothing at her. Defendant poured a can of grape soda onto Ms. Williams's bed. Defendant then ransacked Ms. Williams's kitchen. Ms. Williams testified that Defendant was "just cussing, just going off." She stated that Defendant "called me a bunch of bitches, hoes, . . . [t]old me I was messing around with somebody."

         Attempting to distance herself from the situation, Ms. Williams stepped outside so that Defendant could "have room to leave." Instead of leaving, Defendant went outside, "got off the porch and came down there where [Ms. Williams] was[, ] and he just started beating" her. Defendant punched Ms. Williams with his fists, pulled her hair, and scratched her. Ms. Williams attempted to call 911, but Defendant took her phone and smashed it on the ground twice, rendering it useless.

         "[A]s that round got through," Ms. Williams stood up and headed towards her house. She was fearful that Defendant was coming up behind her, so Ms. Williams picked up a "stick," which was actually a porch rail. Ms. Williams swung the "stick" to keep Defendant from hitting her again, "slightly hit[ting] him in his head." Defendant, unfazed by the strike, took the "stick" from Ms. Williams, threw her down, and hit her in the eye with the "stick." Defendant then left in the car in which he arrived.

         Ms. Williams's daughter arrived about five minutes after Defendant left and called 911. When Officer Kevin Reynolds from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department arrived at Ms. Williams's residence, he spoke to Ms. Williams, took photographs, and collected evidence. Officer Reynolds testified that Ms. Williams was crying and very emotional. He observed that she had a laceration to her eye and a swollen face. Officer Reynolds stated that the interior of Ms. Williams's home "was a wreck."

         The paramedics eventually transported Ms. Williams to the hospital. As a result of the assault, Ms. Williams suffered a broken nose, a broken eye socket, and various cuts, scratches, and bruises. Photographs of Ms. Williams's injuries were entered into evidence and showed a cut above Ms. Williams's left eye, a swollen shut left eye that was also black, and a cut on her neck. Ms. Williams's medical records were also entered into evidence. Ms. Williams described her level of pain as a ten out of ten. She was given multiple doses of Hydrocodone while at the hospital, and she was given a prescription for Hydrocodone to take as needed once she was discharged. Ms. Williams testified that she was still suffering from blurred vision due to the assault at the time of trial.

         The State introduced photographs of the "stick" used in the assault and Ms. Williams's damaged cell phone. The State also introduced photographs of the damage done to the interior of Ms. Williams's home, which included pictures of clothes thrown about, food thrown out of cabinets, the trash can turned over, and a soda spilled on the bed. The trial court denied the introduction of a photograph that showed blood on the floor. During cross-examination, Ms. Williams admitted that there was no permanent damage done to the interior of her home.

         Defense counsel read from the preliminary hearing transcript to point out several prior inconsistent statements that Ms. Williams had made in order to impeach her and attack her credibility. The prior inconsistent statements pertained to the timing of the incident, whether Ms. Williams was going to contact the police, whether Ms. Williams was going back into the house when she picked up the stick, and whether Defendant hit Ms. Williams with the stick or with his fist. The State, in an attempt to rehabilitate Ms. Williams's credulity, read at length from the same preliminary hearing transcript on redirect examination to point out prior consistent statements and asked Ms. Williams if the statements made at the trial were consistent with those she made at the preliminary hearing. Defendant objected to the State's use of prior consistent statements. The State argued that prior consistent statements could be used to rehabilitate a witness once a witness has been impeached. The trial court overruled the objection.

         At the end of the State's re-direct, Defendant moved for a mistrial. Defendant argued that the State improperly entered into evidence the entirety of the preliminary hearing transcript, which was hearsay that did not fall under any of the hearsay exceptions. The State responded that Defendant opened the door by admitting prior inconsistent statements and that the State is permitted to use prior consistent statements to rehabilitate a witness. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial. Defendant then asked the trial court to give the jury a limiting instruction. The following instruction was given to the jury:

The contents of the prior inconsistent statement are not to be considered as proof in the trial. However, immaterial discrepancies or differences in the statements of witnesses do not affect their credibility.
If a witness is thus impeached, the jury has the right to disregard his or her evidence, and treat it as untrue, except where it is corroborated by other credible testimony, or by the facts and circumstance proved on the trial.
Prior consistent statements are admissible to rehabilitate a witness or to respond to impeachment by a prior inconsistent statement. The prior consistent statements cannot be considered by the jury as substantive evidence and [are] to be used only in assessing the credibility of the witness. Any prior consistent statements can be used only as corroboration of the in court testimony of the witness after impeachment by opposing counsel.

         Defendant did not testify at trial and offered no proof. The jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated assault in Count 2, domestic assault in Count 3, and interference with a 911 call in Count 5. Count 1, aggravated burglary, and Count 4, vandalism for the destruction of Ms. Williams's phone, were dismissed because the jury could not reach a verdict.

         At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found Defendant had a total of four prior qualifying convictions and sentenced him as a Range II, multiple offender. The trial court sentenced Defendant to ten years on Count 2 for aggravated assault and eleven months, twenty-nine days each for Count 3, domestic assault, and Count 5, interference with an emergency call. The trial court also found that Counts 3 and 5 should be served concurrently with each ...


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