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Hughes v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 19, 2019


          Session October 15, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Williamson County No. CR-170485 Michael Binkley, Judge

         A Williamson County jury convicted Petitioner, Willie Lee Hughes, Jr., of aggravated robbery, for which he received a sentence of twenty-five years' incarceration.[1] Petitioner filed for post-conviction relief, which was denied following an evidentiary hearing. Petitioner appeals, asserting that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel's failure to: (1) explore racial bias during jury selection; (2) challenge the lack of diversity in the venire; (3) advise Petitioner of his right to allocution at sentencing; and (4) argue on appeal that the trial court erred by failing to declare a mistrial after being advised of an interaction between jurors and Petitioner's son. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Vakessha Hood-Schneider, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Willie Lee Hughes, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General; and Mary Katharine White, 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.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On direct appeal, this court summarized the evidence at trial as follows:

[Petitioner's] aggravated robbery case proceeded to trial in May 2014. The State's proof at trial established that, at approximately 6:00 a.m. on August 18, 2011, Maria Jaimes was drinking coffee outside her place of employment, Brentwood Magic Cleaners, when a black male accosted her with a large knife. The assailant placed the knife against Ms. Jaimes's stomach and demanded that she "give [him] everything" before taking her iPod, cellular telephone, and handbag. The assailant then ran to a light-colored Chevrolet Blazer parked in front of a nearby hotel and fled the scene; a white shirt concealed the vehicle's license plate. Ms. Jaimes reported the robbery to her manager, who in turn called the police.
Brentwood Police Department ("BPD") Officer Stanley Boyd responded to the scene and spoke with Ms. Jaimes, who provided a description of the assailant and his vehicle. Upon learning that the assailant had stolen Ms. Jaimes's cellular telephone, Officer Boyd requested that the cellular carrier "ping" the telephone's location. The "ping" returned a location in north Nashville, and Officer Boyd advised officers with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department ("Metro"), who responded to the location.
Metro Officers Kevin Cooley and Andrew Johnson arrived at the location at approximately 7:30 a.m., and about 30 minutes later, they observed a grey Blazer pull into the driveway of 1806 Elizabeth Road. The officers approached the driver of the vehicle, who identified herself as Lynne Edmonds. While the officers were speaking with Ms. Edmonds, [Petitioner] walked out of the house and identified himself to the officers. [Petitioner] admitted to Officer Cooley that he had been driving the Blazer earlier that morning. Ms. Edmonds gave officers consent to search the Blazer, and Officer Johnson discovered a large folding knife in the rear of the vehicle. At that point, Metro officers contacted BPD detectives and informed them that "we may have got your guy."
Shortly thereafter, BPD Detective James Colvin arrived at the scene and spoke with [Petitioner]. After Detective Colvin provided [Petitioner] with his Miranda warnings, [Petitioner] stated that he had been at the Elizabeth Road residence "[a]ll morning" and adamantly denied any involvement in the robbery. Eventually, [Petitioner] admitted that someone named "K.C." was driving the Blazer that morning, that K.C. had parked in front of the hotel, and that K.C. returned to the Blazer holding a woman's handbag. [Petitioner] insisted that he had never gotten out of the Blazer.
Detective Colvin attempted to locate K.C. without any success, and in his subsequent interview with Ms. Jaimes, she stated that [Petitioner] was the only person she saw in the Blazer.
On August 22, 2011, [Petitioner] requested to speak with Detective Colvin at the Brentwood Police Department. Detective Colvin again administered Miranda warnings to [Petitioner], and [Petitioner] signed a waiver of his rights. Initially, [Petitioner] maintained that the robbery had been K.C.'s idea and that he had remained in the Blazer while K.C. committed the robbery. Upon further questioning by Detective Colvin, [Petitioner] eventually admitted, "It was me, me by myself." [Petitioner] confessed that Ms. Jaimes's cellular telephone and iPod were at the Elizabeth Road residence. Although he was unable to find Ms. Jaimes's handbag, which [Petitioner] stated he had thrown out of the Blazer following the robbery, Detective Colvin recovered the telephone and iPod from the Elizabeth Road residence and returned the items to Ms. Jaimes.
With this evidence, the State rested. Following a Momon colloquy, [Petitioner] elected not to testify and chose not to present any proof. Based on the evidence presented, the jury convicted [Petitioner] as charged of aggravated robbery.
Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced [Petitioner] as a Range III, persistent offender to a term of [twenty-five] years' incarceration.

State v. Willie Lee Hughes, Jr., No. M2015-01207-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 6956804, at *1-2 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 29, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 16, 2017). This court affirmed Petitioner's judgments of conviction, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied further review.

         Thereafter, Petitioner filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief. Following the appointment of counsel, Petitioner filed an amended petition. At an evidentiary hearing, Petitioner testified that trial counsel was first appointed as "elbow counsel" because Petitioner intended to represent himself. However, Petitioner eventually asked for trial counsel to fully represent him because Petitioner felt that he "didn't have all the legal material [he] needed to represent [him]self[.]" Petitioner stated that he met with trial counsel "maybe once or twice" before trial. He said that they discussed trying to get Petitioner's statement to police suppressed but that they did not discuss trial strategy. Petitioner agreed that trial counsel discussed with him the evidence that would be presented at trial and that trial counsel wrote letters to him in response to Petitioner's letters.

         Petitioner recalled that, after jury selection, trial counsel approached the trial court and said that Petitioner "might have an issue not having a black juror to select from." Petitioner stated that his trial was not fair because trial counsel did not do anything to follow up on the issue of the lack of any black jurors in the venire. Petitioner stated that trial counsel asked questions of the potential jurors and discussed with him which jurors to strike. Petitioner said that he could not recall how many challenges trial counsel actually used to strike jurors.

         Petitioner testified that trial counsel failed to make him aware of his right to allocution before the sentencing hearing. Petitioner stated that, if he had known he could make an allocution statement, he would have asked the trial court to "have sympathy on [him] for the fact that [Petitioner] only did what [he] did to try to pay rent[.]" Petitioner agreed that he told Detective Colvin that his motive behind the robbery had been that he "had bills to pay[.]" Petitioner acknowledged that the trial court was aware of his statement to Detective Colvin regarding why he committed the offense, even though he did not make an allocution statement at sentencing.

         Petitioner testified that trial counsel failed to preserve several issues that should have been presented on appeal. Petitioner said that trial counsel did not discuss with him the issues to be raised on appeal even though Petitioner sent trial counsel letters regarding "things [he] thought [trial counsel] should have raised[.]" Petitioner stated that he was not given the opportunity to review the appeal before it was filed. He acknowledged that trial counsel filed a motion for new trial but stated that trial counsel did not raise the same issues Petitioner mentioned in his letters to trial counsel.

         On cross-examination, Petitioner agreed that he robbed the victim and that she was able to provide police with a description of a vehicle that Petitioner had borrowed from a family member. Petitioner further agreed that the family member testified that Petitioner was driving the vehicle at the time of the offense. Petitioner explained that he eventually confessed to committing the robbery and that he told police where some of the stolen items could be found. Petitioner agreed that trial counsel talked with him about the weapon used in the robbery.

         Regarding trial counsel's representation, Petitioner recalled that trial counsel "said he was going to try to get that weapon suppressed because he [did not] feel like it was a deadly weapon." Petitioner acknowledged that, if trial counsel had been able to convince the jury that the weapon was not a "deadly weapon," he could have been convicted of a lesser offense. Petitioner agreed that trial counsel attempted to get his statement to police suppressed and that trial counsel was successful in having portions of the statement redacted.

         Petitioner's girlfriend, Cintrelle Reed-Colbert, testified that she was present for Petitioner's trial and that she had an interaction with two male jurors during a break in the trial. She stated that, as she and Petitioner's son were going to lunch, they saw two jurors in the parking lot who could not get their car to start. Ms. Reed-Colbert asked the jurors if they needed help, and they said, "Yes, we think our car won't start, we don't know what's wrong with it[.]" Ms. Reed-Colbert replied, "Well, I can give you a jump, and I have a gallon of water in my car; [it] sounds like it could be the battery." She explained that she helped them get their car started and recalled that her conversation with the jurors was limited to "the battery ...

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