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State v. Dodd

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 23, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs December 3, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 16-06940 Lee V. Coffee, Judge

         A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Donald Dodd, of second degree murder as charged, and the trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-five years at one hundred percent release eligibility. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-210, 40-35-501(i). On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Earnest J. Beasley (on appeal) and Joseph A. McClusky (at trial), Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Donald Dodd.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Samantha L. Simpson, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Marianne L. Bell and Patrick Newport, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         At trial, James Pool, commonly known as "J.P., "[1] testified that he met Rachel Pool, the victim, in 2004 when he was twenty years old and the victim was sixteen years old, and they began dating. J.P. said that the victim was seventeen years old when she moved in with him and that the victim liked to drink alcohol and take prescription pills.

         After the victim and J.P. had their first child, they began having relationship problems because of the victim's substance abuse issues. They later reconciled, and the victim gave birth to their second child. The victim and J.P. married in 2012. J.P. said that he, the victim, and their children lived with his mother, Renee Pool, at her home ("the Pool Residence").

         After getting married, J.P. said the victim continued to have substance abuse problems, and in April 2013, the victim received thirty days of in-patient treatment at Lakeside Behavioral Health System ("Lakeside"). At some point, the victim told J.P. that "if she ever was to commit suicide, . . . she would [overdose] on medication like Marilyn Monroe." He acknowledged that this was the only time the victim talked to him about suicide. When the victim relapsed a second time, she returned to Lakeside for sixty days. In 2014, J.P. filed for divorce, which was finalized on April 15, 2015. Pursuant to the divorce, J.P. received full custody of the couple's children, and the victim received supervised visitation with the children.

         J.P. said that in December 2015, he and the victim began having contentious conversations about her seeing the children, although the victim was able to see the children the day after Christmas. During this visit, the victim was "sober," looked "healthy," and said she "wanted her family back."

         J.P. stated that in January 2016, the victim visited their children at the Pool residence three times. During these visits, the victim looked good, did not seem depressed, and "enjoyed every minute of" the time she spent with their children. The victim was not drinking and was taking her prescription medication as directed. During this time period, J.P. informed the victim that she needed to be a mother to their children before he could consider a reconciliation.

         On January 20, 2016, J.P. spoke to the victim, who was staying at her parent's home. He said that the victim "sounded good" and "was excited to come back and see the children." On January 21, 2016, J.P. and the victim discussed their upcoming court date, which concerned issues of custody and the victim's unpaid child support payments. That day, the victim spoke to her children on the phone. At 9:01 p.m. on January 21, 2016, the victim texted J.P. that she loved him, which was her last communication with him prior to her death.

         J.P. said the victim was left-handed. He noted that although the Defendant claimed the victim committed suicide, the victim did not like guns, and he had never seen the victim holding or shooting a gun. J.P. said the victim refused to go hunting with him and did not like the fact that he had guns in their home during their marriage.

         J.P. said he did not know that the victim was seeing the Defendant until January 2016. When he confronted the victim about the Defendant, she denied having a relationship with him. J.P. acknowledged that in December 2015, the victim had said she was depressed about not seeing the children. Although the victim did not drink alcohol around the children, she had admitted during some of their telephone conversations that she was still drinking. J.P. acknowledged that the victim would go from being completely fine to using drugs and alcohol again. However, J.P. asserted that the victim never said she wanted to kill herself in December 2015 or January 2016. He also said that by late 2015 and January 2016, there were no signs that the victim was still drinking or using drugs. J.P. said that by January 21, 2016, the victim was in good spirits because she had been able to see her children and seemed "completely fine."

         Renee Pool, J.P.'s mother, testified that on December 26, 2015, she picked up the victim from her father's home and brought her to the Pool residence to visit her children. During this visit, the victim was "really, really excited" to see her children, and her children were thrilled to see her. Renee said that the victim was "very attentive with the kids" during this visit.

         Renee said that between January 16-19, 2016, the victim again visited with her children and cared for them by feeding them breakfast, bathing them, cleaning their rooms, making their lunches, and riding with them to school. Renee said that the victim told her that she wanted her family back during this visit. She said the victim was "in very, very good spirits" and was "clearheaded." Although the victim said she was afraid that she would go to jail because of her unpaid child support, Renee assured her that J.P. would not allow her to go to jail. On the afternoon of January 19, 2016, Renee said the victim told her that she would visit again the next weekend. Renee confirmed that the victim was left-handed.

         April Ganong testified that she considered the victim to be her sister because her parents had obtained custody of the victim when the victim was sixteen years old. Ganong said she talked to the victim on the phone in April 2015. During this conversation, the victim "sounded great" and did not seem depressed. Ganong asserted that she had never seen the victim shooting a gun and that the victim did not like guns. When Ganong heard about the victim's death, she thought it "was a joke" because the victim "never [would] have shot herself in the face." She said that if the victim had decided to commit suicide, she "would have overdosed" because "[s]he was very particular about the way she looked" and would not have "want[ed] to mess her face up." Ganong confirmed that the victim was left-handed and that the victim slept with her hands under her face and with her head on her shoulder. Ganong acknowledged that the victim went through good periods and then bad periods when she was drinking and using drugs.

         Frank Sprague, the victim's father, testified that the Defendant moved into the victim's home, where he rented a room. Sprague said that although the Defendant said he had fallen in love with the victim and wanted to marry her, the victim told Sprague that "she didn't need another man in her life." He said the victim eventually moved out of her home because the rent was too high and later moved into the Defendant's apartment.

         After moving in with the Defendant, the victim would talk to J.P. on the phone, and the Defendant "would get upset" and would argue with her. Toward the end of 2015, J.P. began allowing the victim to have supervised visits with their children. When the victim went to the Pool residence to visit her children, the Defendant would often call Sprague looking for her. Around Thanksgiving 2015, Sprague and his wife spent time with the victim and the Defendant at their apartment. During this visit, J.P. called the victim on the phone, and the Defendant "got upset." Later in that visit, the Defendant told Sprague he "took a bunch of pills" because seeing the victim talking to J.P. "made him want to kill hi[m]self."

         Sprague said that on January 21, 2016, the victim came to his house after staying at the Pool residence for three or four days. During this visit, the victim asked Sprague if he thought she should reconcile with J.P., and Sprague told her that he "had no problem with it" and that "it was up to her." He said the victim "was going to go back with [J.P., ] but she wanted them both to go to counseling. Sprague believed that J.P. also wanted to reconcile with the victim. On January 21, 2016, the victim "seemed fine" and planned to visit her children the next day. Sprague said the Defendant had texted the victim that "whole afternoon before he got off work," asking the victim to return to his apartment, even though she did not want to go back there. Around 7:00 p.m. on January 21, 2016, the Defendant picked up the victim, and Sprague rode with them to the store. When Sprague returned to the Defendant's car after completing his shopping, he "could see and hear" the Defendant and the victim arguing, although he could not tell what was being said. He noted the victim "snapped" at him ...

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