Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs October 29, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 305431 Thomas
C. Greenholtz, Judge
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
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
Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
John Everett Williams, P.J. and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J.,
ROSS DYER, JUDGE
and Procedural History
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. 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
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,
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
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
 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
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
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
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
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
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] ...