Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs June 19, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2015-A-791
Steve Dozier, Judge
Defendant, Aaron Dale Dodson, was convicted by a jury of one
count of first degree felony murder; one count of especially
aggravated robbery, a Class A felony; and one count of
aggravated kidnapping, a Class B felony. See Tenn.
Code Ann. §§ 39-13-202, -304, -403. The trial court
imposed an effective sentence of life imprisonment. On
appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain his felony murder and especially
aggravated robbery convictions. Following our review, we
affirm the judgment of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
Umerley (on appeal); and Nicholas McGregor (at trial),
Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Aaron Dale Dodson.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth
Anne Thompson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R.
Funk, District Attorney General; and Chandler Harris and J.
Wesley King, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the
appellee, State of Tennessee.
Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which John Everett Williams, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway,
Jr., J., joined.
KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE
case arises from the September 21, 2014 shooting death of the
victim, Ricky A. Burgett, Jr., at his apartment. On March 27,
2015, the Davidson County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant
and his co-defendant, Oral Patterson, for the first degree
felony murder and especially aggravated robbery of the victim
and the aggravated kidnapping of the victim's roommate,
Thomas Moreno. The Defendant's case was severed for
trial, Mr. Moreno testified that the victim was his longtime
friend and roommate and that at the time of the victim's
death, they had been living in Nashville for about nine
months. Mr. Moreno acknowledged that he had a 2015 felony
conviction for forging a driver's license and a prior
felony conviction for "some other type of [assault]
offenses against police[.]" On September 21, 2014, Mr.
Moreno and the victim planned to go to a cell phone store to
buy new phones. Mr. Moreno arrived home from work first. When
the victim arrived, he gave Mr. Moreno some food he picked up
and then went into the bathroom. Five to ten minutes after
the victim went into the bathroom, Mr. Moreno was sitting on
his bed eating when the Defendant entered the front door of
the apartment. The Defendant pointed a gun at Mr. Moreno,
ordered Mr. Moreno to get on the floor, and asked him where
"the money was." Mr. Moreno noted that the
Defendant's voice "wasn't too loud." Mr.
Moreno laid chest-down on the floor and noted that an
African-American man, later identified as Oral Patterson,
entered the apartment. The Defendant stood over Mr. Moreno
and pointed the gun at him; Mr. Patterson searched the house.
Mr. Moreno stated that he did not have any money to give the
men and that both men were unknown to him.
Moreno testified that he heard the victim's cell phone
ring inside the bathroom, that the Defendant handed the gun
to Mr. Patterson, and that Mr. Patterson tried to open the
bathroom door. Mr. Moreno could see the bathroom door from
his vantage point on the floor. The Defendant continued to
stand above Mr. Moreno; Mr. Patterson opened the bathroom
door; and Mr. Moreno heard "some tussling" and a
gunshot. Mr. Moreno did not see the shooting. A couple of
seconds later, Mr. Patterson walked backwards out of the
bathroom, and the victim, who had been shot once, came out
and fell onto the floor. Mr. Patterson resumed searching the
apartment, and Mr. Moreno noted that "they were going
through everything." Mr. Moreno did not know if the men
spoke to one another, and he did not see them take anything.
Mr. Moreno agreed that the Defendant "did all of the
talking" and denied that Mr. Patterson spoke to him or
order to get the men out of his apartment, Mr. Moreno told
them that he had money "stashed" in another
apartment. The Defendant told Mr. Moreno to take them to it.
As Mr. Moreno led the men downstairs, the Defendant walked
behind Mr. Moreno and told him, "[D]on't do nothing
stupid[.]" Mr. Patterson had the gun and walked behind
the Defendant. When asked whether Mr. Moreno felt free to
leave, Mr. Moreno answered negatively.
apartment courtyard, Mr. Moreno encountered two friends,
LaNise Scott and Kelsey Hill, whom he attempted to signal by
putting up his hands and giving "a look." The
Defendant told Mr. Moreno to put his hands down and not to
"be stupid." Mr. Moreno saw the women stop
"because they knew something wasn't right." Mr.
Moreno led the Defendant and Mr. Patterson to a vacant
apartment and knocked on the door.
Moreno continued knocking at the door, and after an interval
Mr. Patterson said, "[F]orget this[, ] we got to get out
of here right now." The Defendant and Mr. Patterson ran
away. Mr. Moreno ran back to the apartment, passing Ms. Scott
and Ms. Hill. Mr. Moreno told the women that the victim had
been shot and to call the police and an ambulance. When Mr.
Moreno reached the victim, Mr. Moreno "could hear him
trying to breathe[, ]" although the victim could not
communicate. Mr. Moreno dragged the victim outside, and some
neighbors helped Mr. Moreno carry him down the stairs.
Although Ms. Scott and Ms. Hill called 9-1-1, they were put
on hold, and the women ultimately drove the victim and Mr.
Moreno to the hospital. Mr. Moreno spoke with the police in
the hospital waiting room. Mr. Moreno did not know why the
Defendant and Mr. Patterson came into the apartment; to his
knowledge, the victim did not know the men either. Mr. Moreno
acknowledged that the police found "an amount of
marijuana" in the apartment, although they did not find
any scales or "small sandwich bags." He noted that
he did not own a weapon. Mr. Moreno denied being a drug
dealer. Mr. Moreno identified the Defendant and Mr. Patterson
in photographic lineups on September 26, 2014.
cross-examination, Mr. Moreno agreed that the Defendant did
not point the gun at or threaten the victim, take anything
from the victim, or shoot the victim. Mr. Moreno further
agreed that Mr. Patterson shot the victim. When asked whether
the Defendant directed Mr. Patterson to shoot the victim, Mr.
Moreno responded, "I don't know what they were
talking about." Mr. Moreno did not recall the
Defendant's yelling at Mr. Patterson to shoot the victim.
Mr. Moreno agreed that Mr. Patterson shot an unarmed man. Mr.
Moreno also agreed that Mr. Patterson kicked the bathroom
door, which was locked, until it opened, and that Mr.
Patterson was holding the gun during this process. Mr. Moreno
denied that Mr. Patterson appeared "shocked or
surprised" after shooting the victim. After Mr.
Patterson shot the victim, Mr. Patterson did not
"indicate they needed to leave right away[.]" When
Mr. Moreno stood up after the shooting, Mr. Patterson did not
point the gun at him. Mr. Patterson attempted to conceal the
gun as the three men left the apartment. Mr. Moreno knew Mr.
Patterson still had the gun, and Mr. Moreno expected the gun
to be loaded after the victim was shot. Mr. Moreno stated
that when he was on the apartment floor, he looked toward the
door and not at the ground. Mr. Moreno stated that the
Defendant did not take anything from him or injure him. The
Defendant did not have a weapon when they were outside the
apartment after the shooting.
redirect examination, Mr. Moreno testified that when the
Defendant and Mr. Patterson entered his apartment, they did
not search the other rooms and seemed to think Mr. Moreno was
home alone until the victim's cell phone rang from the
bathroom. The Defendant gave Mr. Patterson the gun and told
him to "go check it out[.]" When asked who was
"running the show," Mr. Moreno responded, "I
would say [the Defendant]."
Scott testified that on September 21, 2014, she lived in an
apartment two floors below Mr. Moreno and the victim. She had
known Mr. Moreno for seven or eight months and considered the
victim, whom she had known for four months, to be her best
friend. On September 21, 2014, around two or three
o'clock in the afternoon, Ms. Scott was walking into the
apartment complex's courtyard with her roommate, Ms.
Hill, when she saw Mr. Moreno walking down the stairs from
the third floor with a Caucasian man and an African-American
man following behind him. Mr. Moreno was "acting
completely different," and Ms. Scott had never seen the
two men accompanying Mr. Moreno before. Neither man wore a
mask or disguise. Mr. Moreno put his hands up in greeting,
but one of the men told Mr. Moreno to put his hands down. Ms.
Scott did not remember which man spoke. Mr. Moreno walked to
an apartment and began "ferociously" knocking on
the door. Ms. Scott noted that the apartment at which Mr.
Moreno knocked was empty. Ms. Scott stared at the three men
because she "felt like something was wrong, it
wasn't normal[, ]" and the two unknown men
"took off running." Ms. Scott estimated that the
entire encounter lasted three to five minutes. Although Ms.
Scott did not see a weapon, she noted that the
African-American man kept his hands "in his shorts"
the entire time.
the men fled, Mr. Moreno turned around, told Ms. Scott that
"they" shot the victim, and Mr. Moreno, Ms. Scott,
and Ms. Hill ran upstairs. When they entered the apartment,
the victim, who was "super pale" and "foaming
at the mouth," was on the floor inside the doorway. Ms.
Scott called 9-1-1 and was placed on hold. Ms. Hill retrieved
Ms. Scott's car, and Ms. Scott and Mr. Moreno carried the
victim downstairs before driving him to a nearby hospital.
Ms. Scott identified the Defendant and Mr. Patterson in
photographic lineups on September 23, 2014, and October 8,
2014, respectively. Ms. Scott agreed that she identified the
Defendant in court at the preliminary hearing, and she
identified the Defendant in the courtroom. On
cross-examination, Ms. Scott stated that she did not witness
the shooting and that she was not robbed or threatened.
Hill testified that on September 21, 2014, she was living
with Ms. Scott and that she worked with Ms. Scott and Mr.
Moreno. Ms. Hill had known both the victim and Mr. Moreno for
about one month. Ms. Hill was walking through the courtyard
with Ms. Scott when she saw Mr. Moreno walking down the steps
with a Caucasian man and an African-American man. Mr. Moreno
looked "worried" and "distressed" and did
not speak to Ms. Hill and Ms. Scott as he would normally. Mr.
Moreno walked to an apartment door and knocked on it; the two
men "ended up taking off running"; and Mr. Moreno
"announced" that the victim had been shot. Ms. Hill
and Ms. Scott followed Mr. Moreno upstairs to his apartment,
where the victim, who was pale and foaming at the mouth, was
lying on the floor. After unsuccessfully attempting to call
9-1-1, Ms. Hill retrieved her car, and the group took the
victim to the hospital. Ms. Hill was not able to later
identify the African-American man, but she identified the
Defendant to the police and in court. Ms. Hill did not see either
man with a weapon.
Nashville Police Sergeant Kevin Taylor testified that in
2014, he was a detective and investigated the victim's
murder. Sergeant Taylor noted that the victim's injury
did not produce any quantity of external bleeding and that at