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Jennings v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 20, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs October 29, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 305431 Thomas C. Greenholtz, Judge

         The petitioner, Rodney Jennings, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

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

          Rodney Jennings, Wartburg, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and Cameron Williams, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          J. Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, P.J. and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., joined.


          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE

         Facts and Procedural History

         After a Hamilton County jury convicted the petitioner of second degree murder, the trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-five years to be served in the Tennessee Department of Correction.[1] The petitioner appealed his conviction, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the same, several of the trial court's evidentiary rulings, and the manner in which the State impeached the petitioner during cross- examination. In denying relief, this Court provided a thorough recitation of the evidence presented at trial:[2]

This case arises from a domestic dispute over visitation with the [petitioner] and Cheslei Thompson's children, which resulted in the [petitioner] shooting and killing Ms. Thompson's cousin, Raphael White. A grand jury indicted the [petitioner] for second degree murder and possession of a firearm with a violent felony conviction. One of the issues the [petitioner] raises on appeal[] is the admission of testimony about a 2013 domestic assault. As such, we separately summarize the testimony from the 404(b) hearing before providing the summary of the trial testimony.
A. 404(b) Hearing
The State sought to introduce proof of a June 2013 domestic assault conviction, involving Ms. Thompson and the [petitioner's] children. The State submitted that the evidence was relevant to show the [petitioner's] intent related to the second degree murder charge, demonstrating similarities between the 2013 episode and the 2014 shooting. The State, through Jean Rogers, a Hamilton County 911 Record Specialist, introduced two 911 calls made from a neighbor's residence recorded at 1:11 a.m. on June 5, 2013. The defense, through the same witness, introduced two 911 calls placed from Waffle House on East 23rd Street. These calls were made by a man who identified himself as "Rodney" at 4:22 a.m. and 5:02 a.m. on June 5, 2013.
Brian Angel, a Chattanooga Police Department officer, testified that, in June 2013, he was dispatched to a residence on 6th Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at approximately 1:30 a.m. When he arrived, he observed a female, Ms. Thompson, outside who appeared "very hysterical." There was blood "all over her," and he noticed a broken window on the front of the apartment. Ms. Thompson explained to the officer that her "child's father," later identified as the [petitioner], had broken the window and there was "some kind of struggle" during which she was cut on the broken glass. The [petitioner] made entry but fled prior to the officer's arrival. Officer Angel testified that Ms. Thompson had cuts on her forearms. He also observed two small children inside the residence.
Officer Angel testified that, within a couple hours of his initial contact with Ms. Thompson, the [petitioner] arranged to turn himself in to the police at a Waffle House parking lot located on 23rd Street. On cross-examination, Officer Angel was asked about whether there was "a lot of gang activity" in the 6th Avenue apartment complex, and he replied, "Sure."
Ms. Thompson testified that she and the [petitioner] had been in a relationship and had two children together. The couple had never married but had lived together intermittently. Ms. Thompson explained that the [petitioner] lived with her at the 6th Avenue residence for "a couple of months" before he moved out due to an argument. In June 2013, after the [petitioner] had moved out, he returned to "visit." During the visit, a Chattanooga Housing Authority employee appeared at the residence and issued the [petitioner] a citation for "yelling in [Ms. Thompson's] face" and banned the [petitioner] from the property.
Ms. Thompson testified that several days later, on June 5, 2013, a friend of hers was spending the night. She recalled that Kionna Glenn and Ms. Thompson's two children were at the residence that night when the [petitioner] came to the door. Ms. Glenn let the [petitioner] inside and, once inside, he instigated an argument with Ms. Thompson. The [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson were in an upstairs bedroom with their children, and the [petitioner] accused Ms. Thompson of engaging in a sexual relationship with [Ms. Glenn]. The argument escalated to an assault during which the [petitioner] hit and pushed Ms. Thompson. The [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson moved their altercation downstairs where the [petitioner] hit [Ms. Glenn]. The children began crying, and the [petitioner] grabbed their older son, then four years old, and pushed him against the wall. "[F]inally" the [petitioner] exited out the front door.
Ms. Thompson testified that the [petitioner] could not re-enter the residence because she quickly locked the front and back door after his departure. Because he was unable to enter through a door, the [petitioner] broke the kitchen window. As the [petitioner] entered through the window, Ms. Thompson tried to push him back out, cutting her hands and arms on the broken glass in the process. The [petitioner] entered through the window and hit Ms. Thompson in the kitchen before walking to the living room area where he paced. According to Ms. Thompson, the [petitioner] dropped his phone, told Ms. Thompson to call the police, and then left. Ms. Thompson used the [petitioner's] cell phone to call the police. Ms. Thompson was transported by ambulance to the hospital where she was treated for her injuries. The [petitioner] was later arrested and served six months in jail for this incident.
. . .
After hearing this evidence, the trial court granted the [petitioner's] motion seeking to exclude any testimony about the June 2013 domestic assault. In further discussions about potential testimony, the trial court advised defense counsel that, if the defense "open[ed] the door to the [2013] domestic assault, the rest of it comes in."
B. Trial Testimony
During the trial, the parties presented the following evidence: Larry Ellis and Matthew Bond, Chattanooga Police Department ("CPD") officers, were the first responders to a homicide scene located at East Lake Court housing project on 6th Avenue. As Officer Ellis approached the entryway to the unit, he saw the victim lying on the floor near the door, and three females and one male who were "very emotional and screaming." The officers separated the witnesses from the victim by moving the witnesses into the living room area. The officers also conducted a protective sweep of the unit and other than the previously mentioned adults and one child, found no one else present. Officer Ellis testified that the witnesses identified the shooter and described the truck that he left in. The victim was transported to the hospital, and the witnesses were transported to the police station for questioning.
James Metcalfe, the Hamilton County Chief Medical Examiner and Forensic Pathologist, testified as an expert witness in the field of forensic pathology. After examining the victim's body, Dr. Metcalfe concluded that the victim's manner of death was homicide and that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest. . . .
Tirrea Tony testified that she was present in Ms. Thompson's apartment ("6th Avenue unit") at the time of the shooting. She said she was in the living room when the [petitioner] knocked on the door. Ms. Thompson opened the door to him, and the two argued in the kitchen about the [petitioner] seeing the children. Ms. Tony recalled that the younger child was asleep in the apartment, but the older child was not there. According to Ms. Tony, Ms. Thompson told the [petitioner] he should leave. The victim came into the kitchen and reiterated that the [petitioner] needed to leave, saying "I don't want no problems." The [petitioner] responded that he did not want "no problems" either and walked out the door. The victim walked to the door to shut it, and the [petitioner] shot the victim in the chest. Ms. Tony testified that she did not see the victim with any weapon that night and did not hear him threaten the [petitioner].
. . . Ms. Tony confirmed that she did not see the gun or the gunfire.
Ms. Tony testified that, at the time of the shooting, the victim had "[h]is flag" in his pocket and his cell phone. After playing the 911 recording again, Ms. Tony agreed that she did not tell the 911 operator, when asked, who shot the victim and that she also denied knowing where the victim was shot. Ms. Tony, however, maintained that she was certain it was the [petitioner] who shot the victim.
. . .
Ronald White testified that Ms. Thompson was his sister and that the victim was his cousin. Mr. White recalled that he had stayed at his sister's residence the night of January 27, 2014, and was still there on January 28 when the [petitioner] came by asking to see his children. The [petitioner] knocked on the door, and Ms. Tony called upstairs to Ms. Thompson, who was in her bedroom with a "male friend . . . [Richard Morris]." Ms. Thompson went downstairs and opened the door to the [petitioner]. The victim knocked on the door of the room Mr. White was in and "told him to come down the steps" with the victim. The victim and Mr. White went downstairs and into the living room.
Mr. White testified that he overheard the [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson talking about their children. At some point, Mr. Morris came downstairs, and the [petitioner] asked Mr. Morris if he "was [] messing with [Ms. Thompson] now." Mr. Morris denied "messing with" Ms. Thompson, stating that she was "[j]ust [his] home girl." The [petitioner] told Mr. Morris that he had "no problem" with him, Mr. Morris left, and the [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson resumed their conversation about their children. The conversation between the two turned "loud," and Mr. White urged the [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson to "calm down" for the sake of their children.
Mr. White testified that the conversation between the [petitioner] and Ms. Thompson again escalated, so the victim walked into the room, opened the door for the [petitioner], and said, "we don't want no problems." The [petitioner] said that he did not want "no problems either" and then the shooting occurred. Mr. White said he was standing behind the victim and did not see the [petitioner] fire the gun but noted that the [petitioner] was the only person standing in the doorway. After the gunfire, the victim fell backward toward Mr. White, and Mr. White "pulled him in." Mr. White said that the victim grabbed his chest and was shaking. When Mr. White lifted the victim's shirt, he saw the gunshot wound and immediately ordered the others to call 911. He said that everyone was in shock and "flipping out," so he grabbed a phone and called 911.
Mr. White testified that, before the shooting, the victim did not threaten the [petitioner] or make any threatening gestures toward the [petitioner]. He said that the victim was closing the door when the [petitioner] shot him.
. . .
Ms. Thompson testified that in January 2014 she lived in the 6th Avenue unit with her two children, who were two and four years old at the time. Ms. Thompson explained that the victim was her cousin and Mr. White was her brother.
Ms. Thompson testified that she and the [petitioner] had been in a relationship for six years and, at one point, the [petitioner] had lived in the 6th Avenue unit with her but had moved out in June 2013. In the late afternoon of January 28, 2014, Ronald White, Raphael White, Ms. Tony, Mr. Morris, and "Lanesha" were present at the apartment. The [petitioner] came to the residence to "chill." She recalled that Ms. Tony heard the knock at the door and yelled upstairs to Ms. Thompson that the [petitioner] was at the door. Ms. Thompson was in her upstairs bedroom with her youngest son and Mr. Morris.
Ms. Thompson testified that she went downstairs and opened the door for the [petitioner]. Around that time, Mr. Morris was leaving. The [petitioner] and Mr. Morris exchanged a few pleasantries and then Mr. Morris left. The [petitioner] asked to see their youngest child, and Ms. Thompson explained that he was sleeping. The [petitioner] urged Ms. Thompson to go and wake the child so he could see him, but Ms. Thompson declined, suggesting the [petitioner] come over to see their children another time. The [petitioner] asked Ms. Thompson for a cigarette, and she told him she did not have any. She continued to encourage him to leave, acknowledging that as she did so, she became "kind of loud." The victim then approached the [petitioner] saying "we don't want no problems," and the [petitioner] reiterated the same and began walking toward the door with his "hands up." As he walked out the door, he put his hand back in his pocket. The victim took hold of the door to shut it, and then Ms. Thompson heard gunfire. Ms. Thompson said that she did not see the gun but that the [petitioner] was the only person in the public hallway. After the gunfire, the [petitioner] took off running. Initially, she did not realize that the victim had been shot, but when the victim's shirt was lifted, she saw a gunshot wound.
. . . Ms. Thompson stated that, before the shooting, she did not hear the victim threaten the [petitioner] nor did the victim have a gun on his person.
. . .
Tim Pickard, a Chattanooga Police Department officer, testified that he was assigned to the fugitive unit and became involved in this case in February 2014 after other officers were unable to locate the [petitioner]. Officer Pickard said that typically, members of the unit will conduct interviews with relatives, close family members, or other people associated with a suspect in order to gain information on the suspect's location. After investigating numerous possible connections to the [petitioner], the fugitive unit obtained information that the [petitioner] was no longer in the Chattanooga area. Information about the [petitioner] ...

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