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Ghormley v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 15, 2019

ANTHONY TODD GHORMLEY
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs June 25, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Blount County No. C-24084 Don R. Ash, Senior Judge

         The Petitioner, Anthony Todd Ghormley, appeals the Blount County Circuit Court's denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of two counts of attempted first degree murder, one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of especially aggravated burglary, and three counts of aggravated assault and resulting effective sentence of one hundred five years. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the trial court was impermissibly biased against him. Based upon the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Gerald L. Gulley, Jr., Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anthony Todd Ghormley.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Assistant Attorney General; Michael L. Flynn, District Attorney General; and Ellen L. Berez and Tyler B. Parks, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE

         I. Factual Background

         The Petitioner's trial began on September 15, 2009. On direct appeal of his convictions, this court gave the following factual account of his crimes:

[O]n September 17, 2007, Ghormley and his wife, Karen Van Dyke, had an argument while they were at the home of Gaynell Head, Van Dyke's grandmother. Ghormley returned to his residence, and Van Dyke remained at Head's home, spending the night with Head and Candy Bussey, Van Dyke's cousin. Early in the morning of the next day, while the women were asleep, Ghormley returned to the home. He forced his way through the locked front door and attacked the three women. He struck them each repeatedly with a baseball bat and cut them with a knife. Van Dyke escaped by jumping out a window, and she called police from a neighbor's house. Bussey fled out the front door, which Ghormley had blocked with a chair to prevent entry into the house. When police arrived, Ghormley took Head hostage and locked himself in the bathroom. After a standoff that lasted several hours, Ghormley surrendered and was arrested.

State v. Anthony Todd Ghormley, No. E2010-00634-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 171940, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. at Knoxville, Jan. 20, 2012).

         The jury convicted the Petitioner of two counts of attempted first degree premeditated murder, a Class A felony; one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, a Class A felony; one count of especially aggravated burglary, a Class B felony; and three counts of aggravated assault, a Class C felony.[1] After a sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered that he serve an effective sentence of one hundred five years in confinement.

         On direct appeal of his convictions to this court, the Petitioner argued that the trial court erred by refusing to conduct a competency hearing or reset the trial when his competency to stand trial was questioned two weeks before the trial date. Id. at *1. The Petitioner also claimed that the trial court erred by allowing him to represent himself for several months during the pretrial proceedings and by allowing the State to amend the indictment on the first day of trial. Id. This court held that the trial court erred by not holding a hearing to determine the Petitioner's competency to stand trial and remanded the case for a retrospective competency hearing. Id. at *4-5. This court noted that if the trial court determined that the Petitioner was competent at the time of trial, then the trial court's failure to hold the hearing was harmless error; however, if the trial court determined that the Petitioner was not competent at the time of trial, then the trial court was required to vacate the judgments and grant a new trial. Id. at *5. As to the Petitioner's remaining issues, this court held that he was not entitled to relief. Id. at *6-9.

         The trial court held the retrospective competency hearing on June 14, 2013. State v. Anthony Todd Ghormley, No. E2013-01932-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 5699517, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. at Knoxville, Nov. 5, 2014), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Feb. 19, 2015). At the hearing, the Petitioner testified that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, that he was prescribed Paxil and Depakote, and that he refused to take any medication in the two weeks before trial. Id. The Petitioner said he thought his trial was a conspiracy that involved trial counsel, the trial court, the prosecutor, and "a woman who worked for the DA's office designed to 'railroad [him] on through the system.'" Id. at *2. He also said that during the trial, he began seeing "'shadow people.'" On cross-examination, the Petitioner acknowledged filing a petition for an order of protection to prevent jail officials from making him take his medication. Id. Moreover, in the summer of 2008, he filed "a number of pro se motions, each of which was titled aptly and filed in the correct court and each of which cited appropriate legal authorities and asked for specific legal relief." Id. He also filed a pro se motion on August 15, 2008, requesting a forensic evaluation. Id.

         Dr. Rokeya Farooque, a forensic psychiatrist from the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute (MTMHI), testified that she evaluated the Petitioner in 2007 and diagnosed him with "'intermittent explosive disorder'" because "'he is not able to control his behavior. He gets upset, he gets agitated. . . . [H]is practice is that he [loses] his temper.'" Id. She did not find that the Petitioner had any psychotic disorder, including bipolar disorder. Id. The Petitioner was of average intelligence with no cognitive impairments, was aware of the charges, and understood that he would likely be incarcerated for the rest of his life if convicted. Id. He also "showed the ability to work with his attorneys and to recognize and distinguish inculpatory and exculpatory evidence, as well as an 'adequate understanding of the adversarial nature of the adjudication process and the roles of the participants.'" Id.

         Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who presided over the Petitioner's trial, testified that the Petitioner had been evaluated at MTMHI and declared competent; therefore, he did not order another evaluation two weeks before trial. See id. at *4. Judge Blackwood "'never had any doubt that [the Petitioner] was [anything] but competent'" and thought the Petitioner was "'very intelligent, very articulate.'" Id. Judge Blackwood allowed the Petitioner to represent himself for a period of time, but then the Petitioner wrote a letter to the trial court stating that he would accept appointed counsel. Id. Judge Blackwood said that the Petitioner named well-known criminal defense attorneys in Knoxville that he would accept to represent him and that the Petitioner "had enough sense about that to know that he wanted one of the best [attorneys] in Knox County.'" Id. The Petitioner also "asked to be transferred to the penitentiary so that he would be afforded a better law library for legal research."[2] Id.

         Staci Lawhorn, the Blount County Jail Medical Unit Supervisor and a nurse practitioner, testified at the hearing about the Petitioner's refusal to take his medication. Id. at *5. She described the Petitioner as "'always cooperative and alert, oriented'" and said that he did not appear to be depressed, delusional, or out of touch with reality. Id. On July 28, 2008, the Petitioner asked to see a mental health doctor. Id. The clinical social worker at the jail, who acted as a clearing house for those requests, wrote that the Petitioner had a history of demanding medications and then refusing them. Id. The Petitioner was taken off the mental health waiting list on December 11, 2008. See id.

         On July 23, 2013, the trial court ruled that the Petitioner was competent at the time of trial. The Petitioner challenged the trial court's ruling, and this court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Id. at *7. As this court explained,

Doctor Farooque testified that the defendant was competent and that he did not require medication to maintain his competence. The defendant presented no evidence to the contrary. No evidence indicated that the defendant was, at any time, unable "'to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him [or her], to consult with counsel[, ] and assist in preparing his [or her] defense.'" [State v. Johnson, 401 S.W.3d 1, 17 (Tenn. 2013) (quoting State Reid, 164 S.W.3d 286, 306 (Tenn. 2005)).] Evidence concerning the defendant's behavior and demeanor evinced his competence, as did all of the medical testimony. Finally, the defendant's pro se pleadings, though vituperative, suggested a familiarity with the legal system and an above average ability to assist in the preparation of his defense.

Id.

         On February 22, 2016, the Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, claiming, in pertinent part, that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel because trial counsel ("Counsel") failed to file his notice of insanity defense in a timely manner; failed to prepare a defense and discuss that defense with him; failed to investigate possible witnesses and subpoena them for trial; and failed to investigate his case.[3] The Petitioner also alleged that "Judge Blackwood was clearly biased against [him]" because Judge Blackwood "made many decisions out of spite or anger ...


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