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State v. Vincent

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 8, 2019


          Session August 20, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Putnam County No. 2016-CR-30 Don R. Ash, Senior Judge

         A jury convicted the Defendant, Shaun Michael Vincent, of aggravated robbery after he brandished a baseball bat and took property from the victim, who was attempting to pay the Defendant's girlfriend for sexual contact. The Defendant was sentenced to serve eleven years in confinement. On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and asserts that the trial court erred in limiting cross-examination of the victim, excluding evidence implicating the victim in prior sexual misconduct, and excluding a video of the victim's interactions with police. The Defendant further argues that the court erred in denying him jury instructions regarding defense of a third person and special instructions on aggravated robbery and that he is entitled to relief pursuant to cumulative error. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Douglas K. Dennis, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Shaun Michael Vincent.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; and Beth E. Willis and Victor Gernt, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.




         The victim in this case, Mr. Jaramiah Hruska, was an attorney who had been implicated in prior sexual misconduct and arrested for patronizing prostitution. The State attempted to demonstrate that on October 8, 2015, the Defendant and his co-defendant, Ms. Britny Thompson, who were romantically involved, had schemed to place the victim in a sexually compromising position and then to rob and extort him in the hopes that his fear of professional reprisal would prevent him from reporting the crimes.[1] The defense attempted to show that the Defendant was aware of the victim's past misconduct, that by wielding the bat, he was merely protecting the co-defendant from being coerced into sexual activity, and that he lacked the intent to deprive the victim of his property, which the victim offered up in an attempt to escape a jealous boyfriend. In an unforeseen clarification of the events, the interaction between the three was video recorded by the co-defendant, although much of the video is focused on empty space and provides only audio of the incident.

         The trial court held a pretrial hearing on the State's motion to exclude evidence of the Board of Professional Responsibility's ("BPR") investigation into the victim and to exclude the testimony of the victim's former neighbor and the victim's former client regarding the victim's past sexual misconduct. Detective Bobby Anderson of the Cookeville Police Department testified that in July 2015, he investigated allegations that the victim's neighbor met the victim at his office, where he paid her for sex. The victim initially denied having paid for sex. He ultimately acknowledged that there was an understanding that his neighbor would have sex with him in exchange for money for her car payments. He denied that he represented her as an attorney, but the neighbor told the detective that the victim had given her legal advice.

         The trial court made an oral and subsequent written ruling regarding the evidence it would allow of the victim's past misconduct. The trial court stated that it would permit the Defendant to inquire into any leniency the victim may have received in his pending matters or otherwise, including any agreement with the BPR and including the fact that he was not charged with either patronizing prostitution or making a false police report in relation to the robbery. The court also found that the Defendant could impeach the victim with any prior statements the victim had made involving the robbery. However, the court excluded evidence regarding the victim's "prior prostitution activity" and the documents produced in the BPR investigation. The court found that under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403, the probative value was outweighed by unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and misleading the jury. The court asked the prosecutor if she objected to the Defendant's testifying that he attacked the victim knowing that the victim had sexually exploited other women, and the prosecutor said, "We have no problem with that."

         Prior to the introduction of any proof at trial, the trial court permitted the defense to make an offer of proof regarding the testimony of two witnesses who stated they had been exploited by the victim. The victim's former client testified that the victim was appointed to be her attorney in 2012 or 2013. Despite the fact that he was her attorney and knew she was homosexual, the victim made sexual comments to her, and the victim's former client told him she was in a long-term relationship. The victim's former client later asked the victim if he could help her with money for her child as she reported to jail, and he offered to and ultimately did pay her for sex. She acknowledged she was taking a medication related to opiate addiction at the time of her testimony. The victim's neighbor likewise testified that the victim paid her for sex after providing her legal assistance. She testified that the victim lived next to her in public housing and that he had offered her legal services if she should need them. He gave her free legal advice at one point regarding a custody issue. The victim then began to send her sexual text messages and to offer financial help at a time when she was struggling financially, and she performed a sex act for money at his law office. She testified that she felt the victim had taken advantage of her desperate circumstances and that she was still angry with him.

         After the offer of proof, the trial proceeded with the testimony of the victim, who stated that he was a licensed attorney currently practicing law. The victim was appointed to represent the co-defendant in a criminal matter in 2011, and he subsequently represented the co-defendant's then-boyfriend, Mr. Jacob Snyder, in a limited hearing on a furlough issue. The victim stated that he charged the co-defendant $100 for his work on Mr. Snyder's case and that she never paid him but had suggested "that there were other ways to pay." He asserted that he declined her offer and denied that he forgave the debt in exchange for sex.

         The victim claimed that he was aware the co-defendant had worked as a prostitute in the past and that, some months prior to the robbery, she had proposed exchanging sex for money. According to the victim, he later contacted her, and they exchanged messages through text and Facebook for approximately a week before the robbery. The victim acknowledged that, on the day of the robbery, he went to the co-defendant's home planning to have sex with her in exchange for $150. He had previously told the co-defendant through messages that they should make a video because he believed it would be a legal way to pay for sex.

         The video of the robbery was played for the jury, and the jury was given a transcript to assist them. The video showed the co-defendant setting up the camera immediately prior to the arrival of the victim. The camera was pointed at a wall, and the co-defendant and victim were not visible for much of the recording. The co-defendant asked the victim for the money, and he responded that it was for the video. The co-defendant procured a condom for the victim and began to discuss her methamphetamine charges. She asked the victim how much he would charge to represent her, and he stated it would be "a couple of thousand" dollars, depending on the facts, but noted that they "couldn't do this anymore." They discussed the facts of her cases, and the victim instructed the co-defendant to bring him the discovery once she received it and said they could discuss the matter. The co-defendant then offered the victim oral sex and told him she was "about to be doing a lot better."

         At that point, the Defendant entered with a baseball bat, asked the victim if he was preparing to have sex with the co-defendant, and ordered the victim, "Drop your sh*t. Drop it all, money[, ] watch, everything." The co-defendant picked up the camera, allowing the viewer to see the Defendant attacking the victim. The victim repeatedly shouted, "Ow!" The co-defendant then placed the camera so that it was aiming mostly at the ceiling, and little was visible after that point. The Defendant asked the co-defendant for a knife, and the victim protested, offering the Defendant his watch. The Defendant told him to set the watch down. The victim stated he would put on his pants and leave, but the Defendant told him to get his wallet out and warned him, "You see the camera?.... It's all recording…." The victim asserted he had no money and urged the Defendant to look in his wallet.

         During the interaction, the Defendant made several statements related to the victim's property. The victim asked for the return of his identification cards, and the Defendant told him that he would not get anything and should leave. The victim stated that he could not leave without his possessions or his car, and the Defendant told him to "[b]ack the f*ck back." The Defendant accused the victim of being a sexual deviant and told him, "Touch that wallet and credit cards and I'll beat your motherf***ing brains out." The Defendant observed that the victim had credit cards and that the Defendant was "fixing to burn them up." The co-defendant asked about the victim's telephone, prompting the Defendant to assert, "Okay, that's mine now."

         The Defendant and co-defendant attempted to elicit incriminating statements from the victim on tape. The Defendant accused the victim of having told the co-defendant that he would represent her in exchange for sex, which the victim denied. The Defendant then questioned the victim regarding Mr. Snyder's case, and after some prodding, during which the victim said, "Ow," the victim stated that he and the co-defendant had had sex in relation to Mr. Snyder's case. The Defendant twice described the victim as "soliciting prostitution," once after the co-defendant asked the victim, "What [were] you giving me one-fifty for?" The Defendant accused the victim of being a rapist and stated, "You were raping my girlfriend when I c[a]me in here." The victim denied it. The co-defendant told the Defendant that the victim had wanted sex. The Defendant asked the co-defendant if she was being raped, and she responded, "I didn't want it." The Defendant then described the situation as "two on one" and advised the victim to "pay up" in exchange for "all the files," assuring him, "It will be a one-time deal and it will be over with." The Defendant noted he had the victim's "Facebook pictures" and referenced a picture of the victim's penis which the victim had sent to the co-defendant.

         The Defendant asked the victim what the victim wanted to do to avoid having his wife or the BPR find out about his plan to patronize prostitution, and the victim responded that he was filing bankruptcy and had nothing to offer. The Defendant demanded that the victim take out a personal loan for $5, 000, and the victim stated he would try to get money but would have to explain things to his wife. The Defendant advised him to concoct a story and threatened to accuse him of rape if he went to the authorities, noting, "And I understand you're already under investigation for this sh*t once." The victim asked for his keys and assured the Defendant that he would tell police an unidentified man mugged him, noting that the Defendant had "all this … evidence" against him. The Defendant reiterated that he and the co-defendant would accuse the victim of rape and that his prior misconduct would weigh against him.

         The victim testified about the recorded events. He asserted that he did not know that he was being recorded. According to the victim, he and the co-defendant had not engaged in any sexual activity when the Defendant appeared, wielding a bat and demanding that he "drop everything" including his keys, wallet, and telephone. Prior to the Defendant's appearance, the co-defendant had left the room twice, but the victim did not hear any indication that someone else was in the house. However, according to the victim, the front door had made a loud noise when he entered, and he also did not hear the door open while he was there. The victim stated that he was able to wrestle the bat away from the Defendant during the attack, but the Defendant threatened to use a knife and the victim returned the bat. The victim never saw a knife. The Defendant hit the victim with the bat and with his fists in the knees, legs, arms, hip, and head. The victim's injuries were not serious and consisted of a knot appearing later on his knee and head.

         The Defendant demanded the victim's possessions, including his keys, wallet, and watch. The victim said the Defendant "may have made fun of" him for his Rugged Warehouse credit card. The victim stated that when he gave his possessions to the Defendant, the Defendant was standing between him and the door and had recently hit him with the bat. The victim stated that the Defendant would not "yield" and that his choice was either to try to fight his way out of the room or to negotiate with his property. As he walked out, the Defendant told him that if he tried to touch his wallet, the Defendant would "bash [his] … head in." The victim was afraid.

         The victim testified that he had not had sex with the co-defendant as payment for legal services for Mr. Snyder but that he confessed to doing so because the Defendant had hit him with the bat when he denied it. The Defendant threatened to accuse the victim of rape and report him to the BPR if he attempted to go to the authorities, and the victim ultimately agreed to give the Defendant several thousand dollars at a later date.

         The victim was able to keep his car keys and drove away. He immediately intercepted a police officer and reported the robbery. He acknowledged that he did not tell police that he was at the co-defendant's residence for the purpose of patronizing prostitution but instead told them that he went there to make a video. He admitted he was not honest, was "disingenuous," and that the agreement to make a video was merely as a ruse to avoid a prostitution charge. He agreed that he repeatedly told police that the Defendant had tried to get him to say things that were not true, and he explained that he meant stating he had sex with the co-defendant in exchange for representing Mr. Snyder and raping the co-defendant.

         The victim agreed that he took the bat from the Defendant but stated that he was still at a disadvantage because he was naked, trapped, and afraid of being stabbed. He acknowledged telling a police officer that he could have killed or beaten the Defendant but declined to do so. The victim agreed that he told police that the offenders took his cash and wallet, but he acknowledged that he gave the co-defendant $150 voluntarily and that he may have had his wallet and $20 in a video recorded by police equipment.

         The victim agreed that the Defendant came in accusing him of raping the co-defendant and that the co-defendant told him she "didn't want it." He agreed that he told the BPR that the co-defendant was trying "to fuel [the Defendant] on" by confirming the Defendant's belief she was being attacked.

         The victim acknowledged that he had previously been charged with prostitution when he gave his neighbor money "and we had sex as well." On cross-examination, he agreed he could be disbarred for exchanging sex for legal services. He agreed he gave his neighbor free legal advice and then had sex with her in exchange for money. He knew that she was in financial difficulties and was physically disabled. He acknowledged that during that investigation, he initially denied wrongdoing and that he did not immediately report his arrest for patronizing prostitution to the BPR but only reported it after a newspaper article detailed the events over three weeks later. He acknowledged that he was not "forthcoming" with the BPR, that he was not sure he admitted he had patronized prostitution, and that he probably told the BPR he was receiving diversion. He testified that the Defendant was aware of the incident and felt the Defendant was relying on it "to be able to get away with this."

         The victim stated that he had reported his conviction to the BPR and was currently attending counseling, working with a monitor in his professional life, and taking medication for his mental health issues. He agreed that he did not initially disclose to the BPR that the offense at issue involved prostitution and that he put the "best possible spin" on his actions. The victim explained, "I gave the best possible version of events the way it could be interpreted. Lie? No. Being disingenuous or dishonest? Yes." He agreed that he told the BPR that he did not give the co-defendant legal advice but ...

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