Brown v. State, No. SC19-704

Decision Date27 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. SC19-704,No. SC19-1419
Parties Tina Lasonya BROWN, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. Tina Lasonya Brown, Petitioner, v. Mark S. Inch, etc., Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Robert Friedman, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Dawn B. Macready and Stacy R. Biggart, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Northern Region, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant/Petitioner

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Michael T. Kennett, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellee/Respondent

PER CURIAM.

Tina Lasonya Brown appeals the circuit court's order denying her motion to vacate her conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851, and she also petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), (9), Fla. Const. For the reasons below, we affirm the circuit court's denial of postconviction relief and deny Brown's habeas petition.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts of this case, including the overwhelming evidence of Brown's guilt, were set out in this Court's opinion on direct appeal. See Brown v. State , 143 So. 3d 392, 395-402 (Fla. 2014). There, we explained that the evidence presented at trial established that Brown; her daughter, Britnee Miller; and her neighbor Heather Lee lived in the same mobile home park as the victim, Audreanna Zimmerman. Id. at 395. In March 2010, Miller and the victim had an altercation during which Miller attempted to strike the victim and the victim defended herself with a stun gun. Id. Thereafter,

on March 24, 2010, Brown invited Zimmerman to her home under the guise of rekindling their friendship. Before Zimmerman arrived, Brown, Miller, Lee, and Miller's thirteen-year-old friend, [M.A.,] were inside the trailer. Brown and Lee were in the kitchen, where Lee instructed Brown on the proper use of a stun gun. Miller then pulled her friend aside and told her, "[W]e're fixing to kill Audreanna [Zimmerman]." Shortly after 9 p.m., Zimmerman entered the trailer. Brown waited several minutes and then used the stun gun on Zimmerman multiple times. When Zimmerman lost muscular control and fell to the floor, Brown continued to use the stun gun on Zimmerman, who was screaming and crying for help. Eventually, Brown pulled Zimmerman across the trailer into the bathroom. Zimmerman continued to scream and cry for help, so Miller struck Zimmerman in the face and Lee stuffed a sock into Zimmerman's mouth. Zimmerman was then forcibly escorted outside and forced into the trunk of Brown's vehicle.[n.2] Brown, Miller, and Lee then entered the vehicle and drove away.
[N.2]. During trial, Lee disputed this summation of what occurred in the trailer after Brown began to attack Zimmerman. The veracity of Lee's testimony concerning her involvement in this crime, however, was significantly challenged during trial, particularly because Lee, who claimed that she was a victim and was not involved in Zimmerman's murder, pled guilty to second-degree murder based on her involvement in Zimmerman's death.

Id. at 395-96.

The record shows that when M.A. was asked at trial why she did not intervene as Zimmerman was being attacked at Brown's trailer, M.A. testified that she was afraid that "[i]f all three of them [were] going to do it, they could do the same thing to [her]." M.A. further testified that Brown was the primary aggressor based on her observations at the trailer, although she said that Lee participated by putting a sock in the victim's mouth. According to M.A.’s trial testimony, Brown used the stun gun on the victim, held the victim's hands behind her back, led the victim to Brown's car, and forced the victim into the trunk. M.A. also testified that as Brown was attacking the victim with a stun gun, Brown screamed, "Did you call Crime Stoppers on me?"

Leaving M.A. behind at the trailer, Brown drove her car, with Miller and Lee inside and the victim in the trunk, "to a clearing in the woods about a mile and a half from the trailer park." Brown , 143 So. 3d at 396. According to Lee's trial testimony, the following events occurred once the women arrived at the clearing in the woods:

Brown exited the car and pulled Zimmerman out of the trunk. Zimmerman attempted to flee, but stumbled in the darkness and was caught by Brown and Miller. The two women wrestled Zimmerman to the ground and simultaneously attacked her. Brown used the stun gun again on Zimmerman as Miller beat her with a crowbar. Brown and Miller then switched weapons and continued to torture and beat Zimmerman. Miller eventually dropped the stun gun and repeatedly punched Zimmerman. Brown returned to the car, retrieved a can of gasoline from the trunk, and walked back toward the beaten and prone, but still conscious, Zimmerman. Brown poured gasoline on Zimmerman, retrieved a lighter from her pocket, set Zimmerman on fire, and stood nearby to watch the screaming Zimmerman burn. Lee testified that she was standing beside Miller, who exuberantly jumped up and down and screamed, "Burn, bitch! Burn!" After a few minutes, the three women returned to the car and drove away. During the ride home, Miller said, "Mom, you've got to turn around. I left my shoes and the taser." Brown, however, refused to return to the location of the event.

Id.

After Brown, Lee, and Miller left the scene of the burning, they returned to Brown's trailer. Id. at 397. There,

Brown and Miller removed their bloodstained clothing and placed it in a garbage bag. Lee removed her shoes, which were also stained with blood, and placed them in the bag. Miller informed her friend, [M.A.], who had remained at the trailer during the attack, that she had injured her hand striking Zimmerman, and that the three women had set Zimmerman on fire. Miller and [M.A.] then used Brown's car to drive to the hospital to get medical care for Miller.

Id.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman, who had not immediately succumbed to her wounds

, walked about one-third of a mile to a neighboring home and asked for assistance. Id. at 396.

At 9:24 p.m., an emergency medical technician (EMT) arrived at the scene. When the EMT approached Zimmerman, he observed her sitting on the porch, rocking back and forth with her arms straight out. Due to the extensive nature of Zimmerman's burns, the EMT testified that he could not initially identify whether she was wearing clothing. The EMT noticed that Zimmerman's skin was falling off her body, and he believed that over ninety percent of her body was burned. She had severe head trauma

, and her jaw was either broken or severely dislocated. The EMT explained that the extent and severity of the burns prevented him from providing Zimmerman medical assistance. He testified that while he generally placed sterile gauze and oxygen on burns, he did not have enough gauze to cover her entire body. He attempted to stabilize her neck, but her skin was charred to such an extent that he could not touch Zimmerman without her skin rubbing off onto his gloves.

Despite her injuries, Zimmerman was conscious and alert. She identified Brown and Lee as her attackers and told the EMT that she was "drug out of the house, tased, beaten in the head with a crowbar, and then set on fire." She also provided her address as well as the addresses of her attackers, and asked the EMT to protect her children. The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and transported Zimmerman to the hospital. Inside the ambulance, Zimmerman repeatedly asked if she was going to recover. She told the paramedic that Brown, Miller, and Lee poured gasoline on her and set her on fire. She also stated that she "thought they had made up." Zimmerman was stabilized at a local hospital and then transferred to the Burn Center at the University of South Alabama Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, where she died sixteen days later.

Id. at 396-97.

Based on the information provided by Zimmerman, Brown and Lee were arrested the night of attack, and Miller was arrested when she returned home from the hospital the next day. Id. at 397. However, all three were released while Zimmerman was still in the hospital. Id.

During that time, Brown informed her friend Pamela Valley that she, Miller, and Lee had beaten Zimmerman, forced her into a car, driven her to an open field and "lit her on fire and didn't look back." A few days later, Brown informed Valley that Zimmerman was still alive and requested Valley to finish her off. Valley declined and later reported the conversation to law enforcement.

Id.

On April 9, 2010, the day that Zimmerman died as a result of multiple thermal injuries, Brown, Miller, and Lee were rearrested. Id. The State charged Brown with first-degree murder under both theories of premeditated and felony murder with kidnapping as the underlying felony.1

At trial, Brown's jury heard that, while Brown was awaiting trial in jail, she made statements to a fellow inmate, Corie Doyle, that were indicative of her state of mind following the altercation between her daughter and Zimmerman. Id. at 395 n.1. Specifically, Doyle testified at trial that Brown told her Zimmerman had used a stun gun on her daughter, Miller, and that when Brown had heard about it, she "informed Miller, [D]on't worry, I'll take care of it.’ " Id. Doyle also testified that she and Brown had a conversation early one morning during which Brown confessed her involvement in the murder. According to Doyle, at that time, Brown admitted that "they picked up the victim and beat her up and tazed her and set her on fire." When asked who "they" were, Doyle testified that it was "[Brown] and her daughter [Miller]" and that Heather Lee was there but that "she didn't have anything to do with it." When asked if she knew who Lee was at the time of this conversation, Doyle answered, "No. I have never laid eyes on her." Doyle further testified that she was eventually transferred and ended up housed with Lee.

In addition, Brown's jury heard that law enforcement had discovered physical...

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