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State v. Davidson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 14, 2020


          Assigned on Briefs June 19, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for White County No. 2016-CR-7976 David A. Patterson, Judge.

         The Defendant, Steven Dale Davidson, Jr., was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Thereafter, the trial court merged the counts and imposed an effective ten-year sentence, to run consecutively to a previous sentence for which probation had been revoked due to the convictions in this case. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by excluding the complete police interview of a defense witness and in its consideration during sentencing of enhancement and mitigating factors. Upon review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Michael J. Rocco (on appeal), and David Barnes (at trial), Sparta, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven Dale Davidson, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Katherine C. Redding, Assistant Attorney General; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; and Bruce MacLeod and Philip Hatch, 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.


          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE.


         This case arises from the April 15, 2016 death of the victim, Nick Culver. From the proof adduced at trial, the events were as follows:

         At the time, the Defendant was in a romantic relationship with Christy Flewellen, [2]who was separated from her then-husband Joshua Flewellen. Early on the morning of April 15 around 4:00 a.m., the Defendant went with Mrs. Flewellen and Jayce Passons to Mr. Flewellen's house in order to retrieve Mrs. Flewellen's green GMC truck. Mr. Passons wore a black ski mask. The testimony indicated that Mr. and Mrs. Flewellen had a volatile relationship, with multiple individuals stating that they were concerned for the safety of both Mrs. Flewellen and Mr. Flewellen.

         When they arrived at Mr. Flewellen's house, Lacey Davidson, who was the Defendant's sister, Mr. Flewellen, and the victim were present at the house. Mrs. Flewellen started the truck, and Mr. Flewellen, alerted to her actions, jumped off of the house's roof and climbed into the passenger seat through the truck's window. Mrs. Flewellen drove to the parking lot of Bear Cove Baptist Church. The Defendant, Mr. Passons, Ms. Davidson, and the victim followed in their respective vehicles. The Defendant drove a yellow Dodge Dakota pickup truck, and the victim drove a white Toyota sedan.

         At the church, Mr. Flewellen and Mrs. Flewellen argued, and the confrontation became physical. Mrs. Flewellen testified that Mr. Flewellen "pull[ed] his knives and stuff out," but she was the only one to testify as to the presence of a knife during the confrontation. At this point, the Defendant intervened, and the two men fought until the Defendant pinned Mr. Flewellen to the ground and held him by his throat. The victim separated the Defendant and Mr. Flewellen by pushing the Defendant with his foot, and all the witnesses at trial agreed that the Defendant did not fight with the victim. Although Mrs. Flewellen did not see the Defendant get hit, she stated that the Defendant was injured on "his mouth and stuff, [he was] was bleeding on top of his head and stuff." There was some testimony indicating that Ms. Davidson, who admitted she had smoked marijuana and consumed a small amount of alcohol, wielded a "maul" and hit the hood of the Defendant's truck, although she denied having done so. There was a documented hole in the Dodge's hood of the approximate diameter of the maul, and the maul was found on the road near the crime scene.

         The group began to leave the parking lot. Mrs. Flewellen drove the GMC, the victim drove the Toyota, and it was an issue at trial whether the Defendant or Mr. Passons drove the Dodge. Mr. Flewellen again got into the passenger seat of the GMC, and Ms. Davidson jumped into the GMC's truck bed. Mrs. Flewellen drove away from the church and after a short distance, the victim's car sped ahead of the truck, pulled in front of it, and stopped. The GMC braked, "tossing" Ms. Davidson about in the truck bed, and Mrs. Flewellen drove around the victim's car.

         From the accident reconstruction testimony, Ms. Davidson's testimony, and the physical evidence, it appeared that at this point, the victim exited his car and was standing inside the hinge of the open driver's side door when the Dodge accelerated and swerved toward him. The Toyota was struck by the Dodge and pushed some distance before the vehicles separated, and the Dodge went onto the grass on the opposite shoulder. The driver of the Dodge course corrected and swerved to the right to come back onto the road, and the Dodge hit the Toyota a second time before driving away. The victim was struck by the Dodge during one or both collisions. No brake marks from a truck were evident near the location of either impact.

         Ms. Davidson saw the crash occur as she looked backward from the GMC truck bed. She yelled at Mrs. Flewellen to stop and jumped out of the truck bed before running to the victim, who was "suffocating on his own blood." She turned the victim to clear his airway and eventually began CPR. The Dodge drove away from the scene without stopping, passing Ms. Davidson as she ran down the road. Ms. Davidson saw that the Defendant was driving. Mrs. Flewellen also saw the Dodge drive past her after she stopped the truck, but the windows were too dark for her to see who was driving.

         The autopsy reflected that the victim's extensive blunt force injuries were consistent with having been struck and dragged by a motor vehicle for some distance. The victim suffered from fatal contusions at the base of his skull and spinal injuries that would have left him paralyzed. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries and that the manner of death was homicide.

         Mrs. Flewellen testified that when she made her way back to Mr. Passons's house, she found the Defendant lying on a couch inside the house; he was bleeding and unresponsive; and eventually he began to speak but it "was quiet and . . . a jumble." The Defendant had a seizure about one hour later. The passenger compartment of the Defendant's truck was spray-painted black after the accident and placed in some woods down a hill behind Mr. Passons's house. Mr. Passons evidently participated in the painting as well as the Defendant. The Defendant stated in his police interview that he painted the driver's side door. The arresting officers documented black paint on the Defendant's hands.

         The audio recording of the Defendant's police interview included in the record is of poor sound quality. However, our review of the recording reflects that the Defendant initially denied having driven the Dodge truck, but about halfway through the interview admitted having driven the truck during the crash. He stated that after hitting the victim's car, he stopped, and Mr. Passons drove the rest of the way to Mr. Passons's house.

         Multiple witnesses testified regarding their personal knowledge that the Defendant had suffered a brain injury in an accident one year prior to the victim's death and that as a result of the injury, he suffered from seizures and was not permitted to drive. The Defendant also discussed his injury during his police interview. Ms. Davidson specifically testified that the Defendant's seizure medications made him tired and forgetful. Trista Atnip, the Defendant's cousin's fiancée, testified that she had witnessed the Defendant's seizures and the after effects, which could last two to three days. The Defendant would suffer from severe headaches and dizziness, want to be in a dark room, and be "very forgetful." Ms. Atnip added that the Defendant had generally forgotten things since the accident.

         Casey Fraze testified for the defense that he worked with Mrs. Flewellen and that on April 15, 2016, he was at his then-girlfriend's house between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. when he heard a "commotion" and went outside to smoke a cigarette. He walked down the street and up a hill, and he saw a yellow truck in the parking lot of Bear Cove Baptist Church that he was able to identify as a Dodge Dakota. He saw two men, a taller blonde man and a "dark-haired guy" who was six to ten inches shorter than the blonde man.[3] He could not identify either man. He estimated that he was between one hundred fifty and two hundred yards away from the men. The blonde man entered the driver's side of the truck and the darker-haired man entered the passenger's side, and they drove away from the church. Mr. Fraze agreed that he did not hear a crash or screaming and that he did not see any other cars. Mr. Fraze agreed that he, the Defendant, and Mrs. Flewellen were ...

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