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Simmons v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 14, 2019

JOHN SIMMONS
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs October 2, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-00653 Chris B. Craft, Judge

         The Petitioner, John Simmons, pleaded guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel and alleging prosecutorial misconduct. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. The Petitioner appeals the denial, maintaining that he received ineffective representation in violation of his constitutional right to counsel. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court's judgment.

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

          Sharon Fortner, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, John Simmons.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ronald L. Coleman, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Leslie Byrd, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE

         I. Facts

         On April 13, 2015, the Petitioner pleaded guilty to first degree premeditated murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The following summary of the facts is from the trial court's order denying the Petitioner's motion to suppress.

Brendia Westbrook Simmons, the wife of the [Petitioner], was killed by gunshot on July 19, 2012. The victim and [the Petitioner] had been leasing a home at 6390 Hunters Place Drive in Memphis, Tennessee for a couple of years, but two or three months prior to her death they had been having marriage problems and she had separated from her husband, moving into a hotel while he continued to stay at Hunters Place Drive. The day of her death, the [Petitioner]'s mother Diane Simmons had called his sister, Juwanda Simmons, stating that the [Petitioner] was threatening to kill Brendia. Around 5 or 6 pm, Brendia went to her daughter Denecia (a/k/a Cynthia and Neecie) Westbrook's home to do laundry, and during this time she left in her car to get ice at the Exxon around the corner. The Exxon was also around the corner from the house on Hunters Place Drive. The trip would have taken only 5 or 6 minutes, and so after an hour Neecie became worried because her mother had not returned and was not answering her cell phone. She and her sister Candice Westbrook drove around looking for her or her car (Walmart, etc.), including going by the house on Hunters Place Drive, knocking on the door and receiving no answer. During this search, the [Petitioner] showed up driving Brendia's car at his mother's house (Diane Simmons) with Diane's sister, his aunt, Geraldine Simmons present, and told his mother he had killed Brendia. When she asked "Where is Brendia now, John," he answered "Ma, I killed her. She's at the house." He then threw Brendia's car keys to Geraldine's fiancée/husband Willie, and he threw them back to the [Petitioner], who left in Brendia's car.

         The Petitioner did not file an appeal of his case but timely filed a post-conviction petition on April 1, 2016. The post-conviction court appointed an attorney and held a hearing on the petition.

         The Petitioner testified that his trial attorney ("Counsel") was appointed and that Counsel met with him numerous times. The Petitioner recalled that, during these meetings, Counsel would discuss the case with him. Counsel told the Petitioner about the State's proof against him, and the Petitioner provided his "side of the story." The Petitioner said that he initially believed Counsel "understood what was going on" but that, as the trial date neared, Counsel's "attention span went from one-hundred to zero." The Petitioner wanted Counsel to "pull" phone records. Counsel assured the Petitioner that he would do so, but the phone records were never "pulled." The Petitioner explained that the State alleged that he called his mother and told her he was going to kill his wife, so he wanted the phone records to refute this allegation.

         The Petitioner testified that he met with the investigator for his case and that he provided potential witnesses for her to interview. The Petitioner was unsure of what the investigator did with the list, but she told ...


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