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State v. Dodson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 13, 2020

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
AARON DALE DODSON

          Assigned on Briefs June 19, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2015-A-791 Steve Dozier, Judge

         The 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.

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

          Jay 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.

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

          OPINION

          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This 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.

         At 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.

         Mr. 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 threatened him.

         In 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.

         In the 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.

         Mr. 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.

         On 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.

         On 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]."

         Ms. 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.

         After 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.

         Kelsey 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.[1] Ms. Hill did not see either man with a weapon.

         Metro 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 ...


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