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State v. Follis

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 18, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs August 27, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anderson County No. B2C00092A Donald Ray Elledge, Judge

         Defendant, Norman Lee Follis, appeals his convictions of first degree murder and theft of property, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Defendant challenges the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress his statement and the sufficiency of the evidence to support the first degree murder conviction. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to suppress and the evidence was sufficient to support the first degree murder conviction, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Tracey Vought Williams (on appeal), Petros, Tennessee; Wesley Stone and Susan Jones (at trial and sentencing), Knoxville, Tennessee; and Mart Cizek (at trial and motion for new trial), Clinton, Tennessee; and, for the appellant, Norman Lee Follis, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Dave Clark, District Attorney General; and Anthony Craighead and Emily Abbott, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



         The Anderson County Grand Jury indicted Defendant and Tammy Sue Chapman in February of 2014 for the first degree murder of his uncle, Sammie J. Adams, the victim, and theft of property belonging to the victim valued at more than $1000. The grand jury also indicted Defendant for one count of forgery. Prior to trial, the State filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

         Defendant was the victim's nephew and lived in an apartment with his girlfriend, Ms. Chapman, on Pat Lane in the same building as the seventy-nine-year-old victim. Defendant's father Norman Follis, Sr., and stepmother, Sandra Follis, lived down the street from Defendant and the victim in a house. The victim was last seen sometime in early December of 2011. In early to mid-January of 2012, someone called the police to report the victim missing. The police performed a welfare check at the victim's apartment on January 22, 2012. The police did not find the victim during the initial search of the apartment. Several days later, the victim's body was discovered in a closet at the apartment. The victim had been dead for some time. According to the medical examiner, the victim had suffered blunt trauma to the neck, which was caused by either impact blows to the neck or by strangulation. Despite the lack of ligature marks, the medical examiner determined that the manner of death was strangulation.

         Motion to Suppress

         During the police investigation surrounding the victim's disappearance and death, Defendant gave several statements to police. Prior to trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing that he was "improperly subjected to custodial interrogation" and made involuntary statements to authorities. Defendant filed a second motion to suppress his second statement on the basis that it was the "fruit of [an] illegal arrest and illegal seizure." The trial court denied both motions after two separate hearings.

         At the first hearing, Detective Shawn D. Flinn with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office testified that the office received a call reporting the victim missing on January 22, 2012. The caller requested a welfare check of the victim, so Detective Flinn went to the victim's apartment. Once he arrived at the apartment, he entered the residence and searched all the rooms. The victim was not located inside the apartment at that time.

         When Detective Flinn arrived at the victim's apartment, he saw Defendant and Ms. Chapman standing outside across the street. Detective Flinn spoke to Defendant and Ms. Chapman after the search because officers were aware that they had "prior contact with [the victim]" and had received information that both Defendant and Ms. Chapman "had been seen driving [the victim's] car." Detective Flinn read Defendant his Miranda rights prior to initiating the conversation with Defendant and explained to Defendant that he was not in custody at that time. Defendant agreed to talk to him. Detective Flinn testified that the conversation lasted "less than five minutes." The conversation was recorded. As a result of the conversation, Defendant was not taken into custody or arrested. Detective Flinn explained that Defendant was not a suspect at that time. At this point in the investigation, police did not know the victim's whereabouts or condition.

         During this conversation, Defendant claimed that he had taken the victim to "St. Mary's North" hospital in December because the victim was feeling sick. Once at St. Mary's North hospital, the victim refused to pay his insurance deductible. Defendant then took the victim to "St. Mary's downtown" where the victim got "irate." Defendant left the victim at the hospital. Defendant claimed that at some point after that, the victim was transferred to "Lakeshore" for a twenty-one day evaluation. Defendant told officers that he called Lakeshore on probably the 15th or 16th of December and was told that the victim needed to be in an assisted living facility when he was released from the hospital. On the date of the welfare check, Defendant claimed that he did not know the victim's whereabouts. Defendant had a "feeling" that the victim could possibly be in the "VA" hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Defendant explained that the victim's car was at his "shop" in Knoxville.

         Several days after the welfare check, Detective Donald Scuglia spoke to Ms. Chapman, who was being held in custody on an aggravated burglary charge. As a result of his conversation with Ms. Chapman, Detective Scuglia determined that he needed to talk to Defendant again. At that time, the police had still not located the victim.

         On January 24, 2012, Defendant voluntarily came to the Sheriff's office to give "assistance in Ms. Chapman's arrest." Because he did not have transportation, Defendant was brought to the station in a police cruiser. "[P]er [Sherriff's office] policy, Defendant was handcuffed" during the transport. Once Defendant arrived at the Sherriff's office, the handcuffs were removed, and Defendant was read his Miranda rights. Defendant signed a waiver of rights form. At this time, Detective Scuglia explained that Defendant was not free to leave as part of "an investigatory detention due to the statements made by Ms. Chapman and the fact that we had a person who we do not know his whereabouts." Detective Scuglia explained that Defendant was aware he was not free to leave and, in fact, made no attempts to leave.

         Detective Scuglia again recorded this interview with an audiotape. He described Defendant as "very nervous and agitated at the beginning of the interview." After about one hour and nineteen minutes of conversation, Defendant asked if he needed a lawyer. Detective Scuglia explained to Defendant "that wasn't [the detective's] decision to make." The detective testified at the hearing that Defendant never requested a lawyer and that "[t]his portion of the interview concluded with [Defendant] implicating himself in the disappearance of [the victim]." Defendant requested and was granted a smoke break. When the interview continued, Defendant was again reminded of his rights but continued to speak with Detective Scuglia. Defendant implicated himself in the disappearance and death of the victim. From that interview, a written statement was generated in which Defendant admitted that he killed the victim and shoved him in a closet at the apartment. Detective Scuglia acknowledged that the written statement did not contain Defendant's signature but testified that it was "in his handwriting." After Defendant gave the written statement, he consented to a DNA test and was arrested. The victim's body was located later that evening in the closet of the apartment underneath a pile of blankets.

         At the conclusion of the first hearing on the motion to suppress, the trial court found that both Detective Flinn and Detective Scuglia were credible witnesses. Moreover, the trial court determined that Defendant was properly advised of his rights on January 22 and January 24. The trial court commented that it was "the first time [the trial court] had ever seen an officer go to the extent that [Detective] Scuglia did in terms of reading and having the defendant to read and recording his advisement of rights to [Defendant]." The trial court deemed the advice of rights "appropriate" whether Defendant "volunteered to come in on his own" or not. The trial court noted that after the break in the interview that took place at the Sherriff's office, Defendant was again reminded of his rights before he continued to talk to the police. The trial court explained that the "only possible issue is the question that was asked [by ...

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