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State v. Parker

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 17, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs August 27, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 291602 Barry A. Steelman, Judge

         The Defendant-Appellant, Christopher Levi Parker, was convicted by a Hamilton County jury of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. In this appeal as of right, he raises the following issues for our review: (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to support the Defendant's conviction of first-degree premeditated murder; and (2) whether the trial court erred in allowing the State to admit proof that the Defendant stole a gun that was consistent with the murder weapon the night before he shot and killed the victim. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Donna Miller (on appeal), and Andrew S. Basler (at trial), Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Christopher Levi Parker.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and Andrew Coyle and Lance Pope, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Timothy L. Easter, and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         On February 1, 2014, the Defendant shot the victim, Robbie McClure, one time in the head, resulting in his death. The Defendant admitted that he shot and killed the victim, but he argued that he lacked the necessary mental state to establish premeditation because he was highly intoxicated on methamphetamine.

         Prior to trial, the Defendant filed a motion to exclude allegations of other crimes or bad acts; specifically, that the Defendant stole a gun the day before he shot and killed the victim. On October 24, 2016, the trial court held a Rule 404(b) hearing. Dale Craghead testified that he travelled from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, on January 31, 2014, to meet Jessica Ridley, whom he had met previously and communicated with online and by phone. He said that he brought his laptop, his cell phone, his personal belongings, and a Springfield XD-9 pistol with him. The pistol was loaded with Federal Plus P Plus ammunition. He met Ridley downtown, and they got a hotel room at the Days Inn on Carter Street. He stated that he checked into the hotel room in the early afternoon, Ridley came over, and he fell asleep. When he woke up, the Defendant was in his hotel room with Ridley. He testified that three additional people came to his hotel room that evening, that they all left before he fell asleep again that night, and that his laptop and cell phone were still in the room when those people left. He asserted that he did not use any drugs that night, but he did have a "couple small drinks." When Craghead awoke in the early morning hours of February 1, 2014, he was alone in his hotel room, and he discovered that his laptop, his cell phone, and his pistol had been stolen. He tried to text and email his phone without success and subsequently called the police. Craghead stated that he had never met the Defendant prior to that night.

         On cross-examination, Craghead admitted that he never saw the Defendant take his gun and that he was not sure if he still had his gun when the three, unidentified people left his hotel room. He asserted, however, that those three people never went near his jacket, which was where he stored his gun. Craghead stated that he sent pictures of the ammunition that he had loaded into the Springfield XD-9 pistol before it was stolen to the Chattanooga Police Department, and he brought a round of that ammunition to the hearing, which was introduced as an exhibit. Craghead compared the photograph of the spent shell casing from the crime scene, which was also introduced as an exhibit, with the round that he brought to the hearing. He testified that they were the same. Craghead also testified that he had only bought this type of ammunition one time, as compared to thousands of rounds of other 9 milli-meter ammunition that he had purchased in the past.

         Jessica Ridley testified that she was good friends with both the Defendant and the victim prior to the victim's death. She stated that she met Craghead at the Days Inn in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on January 31, 2014. The Defendant came to the hotel room at Ridley's request. She testified that she and the Defendant were drinking and using methamphetamine and marijuana but that Craghead did not use any drugs. She stated that she fell asleep after Craghead and that she awoke to the Defendant "tapping on [her]" with a gun. The Defendant told Ridley, "Let's go[, ]" and he dropped her off at a friend's house. She admitted on cross-examination that she had probably been awake for ten days at that time, and she believed that the Defendant had been awake for a while as well. She described the Defendant as "out of it[, ]" and she stated that she had never seen him like that before.

         The State introduced the lab report from the firearms examiner, as well as the shell casing that was recovered from the victim's house after he was shot. The trial court compared the spent shell casing with the live round that Craghead brought to the hearing, and he determined that they were "apparently identical." The trial court found "clear and convincing evidence that [the Defendant] had taken the firearm belonging to…Craghead." The trial court also found "that the evidence that [the Defendant] possessed the murder weapon goes to his identity." The trial court explained that it did not find "that the theft of the pistol while under the great influence of methamphetamine [was] more prejudicial than just the fact that [the Defendant] was under the influence of methamphetamine." Therefore, the trial court found that the probative value of this evidence was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

         Trial. The following proof was adduced at the Defendant's trial, which occurred October 25-28, 2016. Dale Craghead testified consistently with his testimony from the 404(b) hearing. The trial court also revisited its 404(b) ruling and determined that the Defendant's prior bad act of stealing Craghead's gun could be used by the jury to establish the Defendant's intent in addition to his identity. The trial court found that there was clear and convincing evidence that the Defendant committed the theft. Jessica Ridley also provided testimony at trial that matched her testimony from the 404(b) hearing. In addition, Ridley stated that the Defendant had talked to her about the victim that night after they left the hotel room. She said that the Defendant had asked her why she was friends with the victim and that "[a]pparently they had something going on." She also stated that the Defendant called the victim "a bitch." On cross-examination, Ridley admitted that she and the Defendant had previously used marijuana and methamphetamine together and that they had used methamphetamine in Craghead's hotel room on January 31, 2014. She admitted that the Defendant appeared "agitated" and "spaced out" and that he never said anything about using a gun or hurting the victim. Ridley said that she felt pressured to cooperate with the police.

         Jean Rogers, the custodian of records at the Hamilton County 911, testified that she pulled two calls related to the Defendant's case.[1] Marion Everest Roberson testified that he had lived on Hixson Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for 56 years. He described the layout of Hixson Avenue, particularly that, in February of 2014, there were two trailers uphill on the road. Roberson testified that he was sitting in his house on February 1, 2014, when he heard a gunshot come from the trailer across the street. He stated that he saw "three boys come out of the trailer and go walking up the street to those two old trailers up in the circle."

         Officer Samuel Booker of the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) testified that he received a call on February 1, 2014, to respond to 1334 Hixson Avenue. When he arrived at the residence, he located the victim's body with an "apparent gunshot wound to the head." Officer Booker did not locate anyone else at the victim's trailer when he arrived. He stated that he saw the victim upon approaching the front door. The victim's dog was standing next to the victim inside the trailer. The State then introduced a series of photographs, which depicted the outside of the victim's trailer, as well as the victim's body inside the trailer. On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited testimony from Officer Booker that the homicide investigator that responded to the crime scene had been terminated from CPD.

         Officer Joseph Montijo, a CPD crime scene investigator, testified that he responded to 1334 Hixson Avenue on February 1, 2014. Based on Officer Montijo's investigation, the State admitted a red soda can found outside of the victim's trailer, a photograph of the deceased victim, a 9-millimeter spent shell casing, and several cigarette butts. Officer Montijo also collected several swabs from the residence.

         Special Agent Chad Johnson, the quality assurance manager for the forensic services division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), testified that he conducted DNA testing on the soda can and the cigarette butts that were collected from the scene. These tests showed the presence of the victim's DNA, as well as DNA from unknown contributors. The "touch swabs" conducted on the interior and exterior door handles also revealed the presence of only the victim's DNA. Special Agent Johnson also tested the Defendant's shoes for the presence of blood, and those tests were negative. He was also able to exclude the Defendant as a contributor to DNA under the victim's fingernails.

         Andrew Biro, also known as "Bundy," was called as a witness by the State, but he refused to testify. The trial court found that Biro was unavailable pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 801(a)(2), and the State introduced his testimony from the preliminary hearing in this case. At the preliminary hearing, Biro testified that he and the Defendant were "lifelong friend[s]." He had also known the victim for several years. On February 1, 2014, Biro was walking his girlfriend to her mother's car from the trailer he was staying at on Hixson Avenue when a white truck pulled up, and the Defendant jumped out. The Defendant went into the trailer next to the place where Biro was staying. Biro testified that, when he went into the trailer, he saw that the Defendant had a pistol in his hand and was talking about going to the victim's house. On cross-examination, Biro stated that the Defendant told him that he got the gun the night before. Biro then walked to the victim's trailer with the Defendant and Jacob Keel, also known as T.Y. Biro stated that he decided to go to the victim's house because he knew there was "supposed to be a one-on-one fight" between the Defendant and the victim.

         Biro went into the victim's trailer first, followed by Keel and the Defendant. The Defendant then asked the victim, "Why do you have my name in your mouth?" The victim responded, "I don't know what you're talking about, dude." Biro pleaded with the Defendant, saying "Please chill, Chris, chill, chill, chill, chill[, ]" when the Defendant pulled the trigger and killed the victim. Biro testified that he panicked, went out the back door, and tried to call his mom. He said that the Defendant threatened him, saying "[I]f anybody finds out and anybody knows anything and tells anything, that [he] would be shot and killed next." He said that the victim's "hands were down" when the Defendant shot him. When Biro's mom picked him up, they called 911.

         Jacob Keel was called by the State and also refused to testify. Kimberly Fisk testified that she was in a relationship with the Defendant in February 2014. She stated that the Defendant had two phones at the time. She said that the Defendant came to her house on the morning of February 1, 2014, left to take his son to his aunt's house, and came back later that night. She told the Defendant to leave her house because she had seen him on the news for murder, and the Defendant left with his mother. The State introduced photographs of the phone that the Defendant had when he was arrested. On cross-examination, Fisk testified that the trailers on Hixson Avenue were known as "dope house[s]." She admitted that the Defendant was a drug addict, and they were all using drugs "pretty heavily." She testified that the Defendant had never said anything to her about killing the victim. She also did not know the Defendant had a gun.

         Tim Pickard, a fugitive investigator with CPD, testified that, on February 1, 2014, he was asked to assist the police department in locating the Defendant. Investigator Pickard and two other investigators responded to the Defendant's girlfriend's address, where they observed a running car parked in the driveway. When the car drove off, Investigator Pickard conducted a traffic stop on the car in the parking lot of a gas station. The Defendant's mother was identified as the driver of the car, and officers located the Defendant in the passenger seat. Investigator Pickard arrested the Defendant and collected several items from the car, including the Defendant's cell phone and his jacket. The Defendant's cell phone was entered as an exhibit, and Investigator Pickard stated, "It appears the phone has been broken and the battery has been removed from the cellphone." He said that the phone had been "taken apart" when he recovered it from the passenger side of the car.

         Investigator William Salyers, a latent fingerprint examiner with CPD, testified that he was employed in the crime scene unit of the CPD on February 1, 2014. Investigator Salyers performed gunshot residue tests on the Defendant and Biro, which he photographed. He also collected a buccal swab from the Defendant, and he collected all of the Defendant's clothing. Mark Lawrence Hamilton, a technical forensic scientist with CPD, testified that he downloaded the information from the Defendant's cellphone and created an extraction report. This report was entered as an exhibit at trial. Hamilton testified that the software used to complete this report could recover deleted information from the cellphone. Hamilton said that there were items on the extraction report that said "deleted[, ]" and he was able to recover the deleted information.

         Special Agent James Russell Davis, II, a forensic scientist with the TBI, testified that he did not find elements indicative of gunshot residue on the Defendant's hands. However, he did find elements of gunshot primer residue on the Defendant's jacket.

         Dr. Steven Cogswell, the deputy chief medical examiner for Hamilton County, testified that he performed the autopsy of the victim. He determined that the victim's cause of death was "gunshot wound of [the] head." Dr. Cogswell also determined from the toxicology report that the victim had a lethal concentration of methamphetamine in his system. However, he concluded that methamphetamine overdose was not the cause of the victim's death. Dr. Cogswell testified that the bullet entered the victim's head above his left eyebrow and became lodged under the scalp behind the victim's left ear. He found that, due to the pattern of the victim's injuries, the victim had been shot from only a few inches away. The State then questioned Dr. Cogswell about his experience with firearms and re-introduced a photograph of the Defendant's hands. The photograph showed that the Defendant was missing his index finger on his right hand. Dr. Cogswell testified that someone with a missing index finger could still fire that type of weapon with what remained of the index finger or with their middle finger. On ...

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