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State v. Shields

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 15, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
DONALD LEE SHIELDS, JR.

          Session October 15, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Warren County No. 17-CR-1576 Larry B. Stanley, Jr., Judge

         After a trial, a Warren County jury found Defendant, Donald Lee Shields, Jr., guilty of three counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of attempted aggravated assault. The trial court sentenced Defendant as a Range I standard offender to an effective sentence of eighteen years. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Robert S. Peters, Winchester, Tennessee, for the appellant, Donald Lee Shields, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Lisa S. Zavogiannis, District Attorney General; and Matthew Colvard, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, P.J., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE

         Factual and Procedural History

         In addition to Defendant, the grand jury indicted Co-Defendants Zachary Dale Turner, Jeffrey Scott Pegg, and Ashley Dawn Golden.[1] A summary of the counts charged against Defendant is as follows:

Count

Offense

Result

Victim

One

Especially aggravated kidnapping

Guilty

Mr. Dye

Two

Especially aggravated kidnapping

Guilty

Mr. Beaver

Three

Especially aggravated kidnapping

Guilty

Ms. Denson

Four

Especially aggravated kidnapping

Guilty of false imprisonment

Ms. Vanatta

Ten

Aggravated rape

Dismissed/nolle prossed

Ms. Christenson

Eleven

Aggravated assault

Dismissed

Mr. Dye

Twelve

Aggravated assault

Guilty of attempted aggravated assault

Ms. Denson

         Co-Defendant Turner submitted guilty pleas, and the trial court severed the trials of the two remaining co-defendants.

         At Defendant's trial, Lisa Denson testified that in August 2017 she went to McMinnville with her boyfriend, James Beaver, and her friends Stephanie Vanatta and Rahsaan Dye ("the victims") because Ms. Vanatta wanted "to pick up something." Ms. Denson said that she had never been to McMinnville prior to this trip and that she was "completely lost on where [she was]." The victims arrived at Co-Defendant Turner's house, which was "out in the middle of nowhere[.]" Ms. Vanatta went inside the house, while Ms. Denson, Mr. Beaver, and Mr. Dye remained in the car. Approximately thirty minutes later, Ms. Vanatta exited the house, and Defendant and Co-Defendants Pegg and Turner followed, telling the victims that they "had to come in." Ms. Denson heard the co-defendants refer to Defendant as "D.J." The victims followed the co-defendants back into the house, and "they" said that twenty-six grams of methamphetamine were missing, worth approximately $2, 000. The co-defendants told the victims that they could not leave until the methamphetamine was found. Ms. Denson stated that the co-defendants suspected that Ms. Vanatta or another of Co-Defendant Turner's customers, Jamie Christenson, had taken the drugs.

         Ms. Denson testified that, at some point after the victims went into Co-Defendant Turner's house, Defendant left. The victims sat together on a couch and were held at gunpoint by Co-Defendants Turner and Pegg. Ms. Denson stated that the co-defendants collected the victims' cell phones so that no one could contact police. The co-defendants required the four victims to write out their names, addresses, families' names, and social security numbers.

         After several hours, the victims and Ms. Christenson "all got taken outside" and were made to fight one another in an effort to produce the drugs. Ms. Denson stated that Defendant returned during this fight. Defendant told the victims to tie themselves with ropes so that he and Co-Defendant Turner "wouldn't be charged with it." Ms. Denson said that "[t]here was a big metal chain attached to the back of [Defendant's] truck to [latch them]selves onto the back[.]" Defendant told the victims that he would "take [them] for a trip around the yard." Ms. Denson testified that, once the victims were latched to the back of the truck, Defendant "jerked it in drive," and the truck pulled the rope tighter around Ms. Denson's ankles. Ms. Denson screamed, and after about ten seconds, Defendant stopped the truck, releasing Ms. Denson's rope. Ms. Denson stated that this resulted in bruising to her thigh, back, and right ankle. Ms. Vanatta then asked Co-Defendant Turner if the victims could "try to find a way to come up with $2, 000[.]" The victims each tried calling friends or family to procure the funds, and the victims were required to make calls using speakerphone so that Co-Defendant Golden could monitor the conversations. Ms. Denson stated that, when Mr. Beaver tried to tell his mother on the phone about his situation, Defendant came in and said, "I should gut you. Hang up that phone right now."

         Ms. Denson testified that, while the other victims were making phone calls, Co-Defendant Turner took her to the bathroom and raped her. Additionally, each victim underwent a "cavity search" by undressing and bending over a kitchen counter while the co-defendants checked for the drugs. During these cavity searches, Defendant was in the kitchen holding a gun. Defendant warned the victims that, if they moved, he would "shoot [their] kneecaps out." Defendant and Co-Defendant Turner took Mr. Beaver and Mr. Dye outside and forced them to do yardwork to "work off the money that was gone."

         Ms. Denson testified that, the second morning of the ordeal, police knocked on Co-Defendant Turner's front door, and the co-defendants forbade the victims to move, speak, or make any noise. Eventually, the police left. Later, Ms. Denson heard a car horn honking. The co-defendants told the victims that "the car was reported stolen" and "to run because the police were coming." Ms. Denson, Mr. Beaver, and Mr. Dye "[took] off running" to the nearest neighbor, approximately one mile away. The neighbor called the police and then told Ms. Denson that, two weeks prior, "a man was shot dead in [Co-Defendant Turner's] driveway." Ms. Denson testified that, in total, the victims were confined to Co-Defendant Turner's house for three days.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Denson admitted that Ms. Vanatta asked for a ride to McMinnville to buy methamphetamine. Ms. Denson agreed that she also used methamphetamine at that time. Ms. Denson testified that she spoke with Investigator Jody Cavanaugh on the night of August 12, 2017, and provided complete information about what had occurred, including giving him the name "D.J." Ms. Denson stated that, initially, Co-Defendant Turner carried a shotgun, but when the victims were outside latching themselves to the truck, she did not see anyone with a shotgun. Ms. Denson stated that Defendant carried a "silver, pearl-handled pistol." Ms. Denson testified that, when they were latched to the truck and Defendant "jerked it in drive," it did not go further than about "a foot and a half" because there was too much weight attached to the back of the truck. She stated that the victims were not treated "as bad[ly] until [Defendant] showed up. It got worse."

         On redirect examination, Ms. Denson testified that the victims believed that, if they tried to escape, they "would have been shot and killed" because Co-Defendant Turner said, "[I]f you try to leave[, ] it's not going to be pretty." Ms. Denson stated that, while she was held captive at the house, she observed a surveillance system with "six to eight different camera slots [with] cameras pointed everywhere outside and inside the house." She testified that, just before the victims latched themselves to the back of the truck, Defendant and Co-Defendants Pegg and Turner were "stomping" Mr. Dye "with their boots[, ]" and Defendant cut Mr. Dye with a knife on the back and side of his neck. Ms. Denson stated that, when Investigator Cavanaugh later showed her a picture of Defendant for identification, she "shook" and "cringed" because "the stuff [Defendant] put [the victims] through was really, really scary."

         Stephanie Vanatta testified that she was currently in custody in a different jurisdiction on a probation violation and drug charges. She stated that, in August of 2017, she knew that Co-Defendant Turner's house on Cherry Springs Road in Warren County was a place where she could buy drugs. Ms. Vanatta testified that, after she left Co-Defendant Turner's house, she heard someone whistle and say "come back in." Co-Defendant Turner informed her that "he had dope missing and that everybody had to come in" because Ms. Vanatta could have stolen it and then handed it to one of the car's occupants when she returned to the car. Ms. Vanatta stated that Co-Defendant Turner carried a shotgun and said, "[N]obody is f'ing leaving." Co-Defendant Turner suspected that Ms. Vanatta, Co-Defendant Pegg, or Ms. Christenson had taken the drugs because they were the only ones who had been in his bedroom. When Ms. Christenson returned to the house, Defendant was with her. Co-Defendant Turner forced Ms. Vanatta, Co-Defendant Pegg, and Ms. Christenson to fight each other to "prove that [they] didn't take it." Ms. Vanatta testified that Defendant carried a pistol and told the victims he would "shoot [their] kneecaps out" if they did not cooperate.

         Ms. Vanatta stated that Ms. Denson, Co-Defendant Pegg, and Ms. Christenson were required to tie themselves to the back of Defendant's truck. After these three were released, Ms. Vanatta was "chained up" to the truck. Defendant got into the truck and "put it in drive[.]" Ms. Vanatta testified that the ropes tightened and that she started screaming. She asked Co-Defendant Turner if the victims could "please try to call and get some money." Defendant responded by saying, "Let me take them just one time around the yard."

         Ms. Vanatta testified that the victims called friends and family asking for money. She said that, when Mr. Beaver called for help, he said "something about 'they got me' or 'they won't let me go' or something because they took the phone away from him[.]" Ms. Vanatta stated that Defendant and Ms. Christenson decided to do cavity searches on the victims and that Defendant was "[s]tanding there with a pistol" during the searches. She said, "We were forced to get naked in front of everybody that was standing there and this girl [Ms. Christenson, ] she stuck her fingers inside of me and I was on my period." Ms. Vanatta said that the co-defendants were "acting crazy, hostile" and that, every time Co-Defendant Turner would calm down, Defendant "would get him amped up again talking about . . . taking [the victims] around the yard one time."

         On cross-examination, Ms. Vanatta testified that she had no recollection of meeting Defendant or Ms. Christenson prior to the August 2017 incident.

         James Beaver testified that he was currently in custody for a probation violation. He said that, in August 2017, Ms. Vanatta asked him to drive her to McMinnville in exchange for some gas money. Mr. Beaver stated that Ms. Vanatta went into Co-Defendant Turner's house, and after she returned to the car, Defendant and Co-Defendant Turner came outside and told them to go into the house. Mr. Beaver said that he heard the other co-defendants refer to Defendant as "D.J." Co-Defendant Turner told the victims that "there was dope that came up missing" and that he would not release the victims until they gave him the money for the missing drugs.

         Mr. Beaver stated, "Couple of times I got hit. I don't know by who [sic]. People had guns. He just told us not to leave the house, not to leave the residence. And when we tr[ied] to make phone calls, they [took] the phones from us. They took everything from us." Mr. Beaver believed that, if any of the victims tried to leave, they would "get beat up" and possibly "shot." He said that the victims were forced to go outside and that Defendant and Co-Defendant Turner told the victims to tie their ankles to the back of a truck. Mr. Beaver said the truck "tugged" and "got tight." The victims were "all screaming." Mr. Beaver stated that Mr. Dye "[got] a little extra because of the fact he's black" and that Defendant and ...


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