Davidson v. State, E2019-00541-CCA-R3-PD

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtNORMA MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE
PartiesLEMARICUS DAVIDSON v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
Decision Date19 August 2021
Docket NumberE2019-00541-CCA-R3-PD

LEMARICUS DAVIDSON
v.

STATE OF TENNESSEE

No. E2019-00541-CCA-R3-PD

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

August 19, 2021


Session August 26, 2020

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 111962 Walter C. Kurtz, Judge.

The Petitioner, Lemaricus Davidson, was convicted in the Knox County Criminal Court of numerous offenses against the two victims, Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian, including multiple counts of first degree felony and premeditated murder, and the jury imposed sentences of death for each murder conviction. After this court and our supreme court affirmed the Petitioner's convictions and sentences, he filed post-conviction and coram nobis petitions, seeking relief from those first degree murder convictions and death sentences. The post-conviction court found that trial counsel were deficient for not requesting a change of venue but that no prejudice resulted from trial counsel's deficient performance and denied relief. The coram nobis court also denied relief. In this consolidated appeal, the Petitioner raises various issues, including that the post-conviction court erred by denying his request for expert services; that the post-conviction court erred by determining that a codefendant's anticipated testimony at another codefendant's upcoming trial was not relevant to the Petitioner's claim for post-conviction relief; that trial counsel were ineffective because they failed to request an out-of-county jury, improperly handled voir dire, and failed to raise certain issues on direct appeal of his convictions; and that he is entitled to coram nobis relief because a codefendant's new testimony may have led to a different verdict as to the first degree premeditated murders of the victims. Based upon our review of the oral arguments, the record, and the parties' briefs, we conclude that the post-conviction court erroneously determined that a codefendant's anticipated testimony at another codefendant's upcoming trial was not relevant to the Petitioner's claim for post-conviction relief because the testimony would have invalidated one of the four aggravating circumstances found by the jury to impose the Petitioner's death sentence for Mr. Newsom. However, we also conclude that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. We agree with the post-conviction court that trial counsel were deficient for not requesting a change of venue and that the Petitioner has failed to demonstrate he was prejudiced by trial counsel's deficient performance. Therefore, we affirm the denials of post-conviction and coram nobis relief.

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

John David Watkins, William Edgar Howell, III, and Christopher M. Minton, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lemaricus Davidson.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulam, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and Ta Kisha Monette Fitzgerald and Leland Price, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

NORMA MCGEE OGLE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., and ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JJ., joined.

OPINION

NORMA MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE

Factual Background

The crimes in this case occurred during the weekend of Saturday, January 6, 2007. The Petitioner and his codefendants, George Thomas, Letalvis Cobbins, Eric Boyd, and Vanessa Coleman, kidnapped, robbed, raped, and killed the two victims, Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian.[1] The victims were leaving a friend's apartment Saturday evening when the defendants carjacked them and took them to the Petitioner's house. The facts are summarized in our supreme court's opinion from the Petitioner's direct appeal of his convictions as follows:

Mr. Davidson and his accomplices, using guns, kidnapped Chris and Channon and stole Channon's vehicle. They tied Chris's and Channon's hands behind their backs and stole money and personal items. After raping Chris, Mr Davidson and his accomplices forced Chris to walk without shoes, socks, or pants on a January night to a desolate area beside a set of train tracks. They bound his feet with his belt. They blindfolded Chris, stuck a sock in his mouth and secured it with a shoelace, and wrapped a hooded sweatshirt around his head. They shot him three times and killed him Two of the bullets removed from Chris's body were shot from the same gun and shared class characteristics with the High Standard revolver Mr. Davidson had in his possession when he was arrested. To hide the evidence of the murder they wrapped Chris's body in a comforter, poured gasoline on him, and set his body on fire. Afterwards, Mr. Davidson was seen wearing Chris's shoes. Within an hour of the murder, Mr. Davidson tried to contact his girlfriend by using Chris's cell phone
After killing Chris, Mr. Davidson and his friends returned to Mr. Davidson's house where they beat and repeatedly raped Channon. Abusing her for many hours, they then tied her into a fetal position, secured a plastic bag tightly over her head, put her in five plastic garbage bags, and stuffed her in a garbage can to suffocate to death. While Channon was dying in the garbage can, Mr. Davidson left to spend time with his girlfriend. He gave Channon's clothes and personal items to his girlfriend.

State v. Davidson, 509 S.W.3d 156, 214 (Tenn. 2016).

On January 11, 2007, officers from the Knoxville Police Department arrested the Petitioner in a vacant house in Knoxville. Id. at 176-77. Mr. Newsom's Nike athletic shoes and a .22 caliber High Standard revolver were found in the house. Id. at 177. The Petitioner waived his rights and gave a statement to the police in which he told more than five versions of what occurred from January 6 to January 8. Id. Initially, the Petitioner claimed that he was not at his house during that time and did not know what may have occurred there. Id. Ultimately, though, he claimed that Cobbins and Thomas arrived at his house with Mr. Newsom and Ms. Christian about 10:00 p.m., "saying they had carjacked some people and they were in the vehicle." Id. The Petitioner also claimed that Cobbins and Thomas left with the victims for less than twenty minutes and returned only with Ms. Christian. Id. The Petitioner denied having sex with Ms. Christian and said that his DNA would not be found on her. Id.

The State presented the following forensic and scientific evidence at the Petitioner's trial: Mr. Newsom was anally penetrated one to two hours before he died and had "significant" injuries to his anal and genital areas. Id. at 178. He was shot three times, each time with a small-caliber bullet, and the fatal shot was fired with the muzzle of the gun against his head. Id. Mr. Newsom was found with a bandana tied around his eyes; a sock stuffed into his mouth; and bare, muddy feet. Id. His wrists had been tied together behind his back with a shoelace, and his ankles had been bound together with his belt. Id. He was wearing a shirt, t-shirt, and underwear but no other clothing. Id. Semen was in his anus, but the high temperature of the fire destroyed the DNA in the semen. Id.

Ms. Christian suffered injuries around and to her mouth in the hours before her death, including a torn frenulum, and the injuries were caused by an object, such as a penis, being forced into her mouth. Id. Her anal and genital areas suffered "tremendous" damage one to two hours before her death. Id. Some of her injuries were "so grave" that they had to have been caused by a blunt object. Id. Ms. Christian also had bruises on the back of her arms, the top of her head, the front of her legs, and her upper back close to her neck. Id. Carpet burns and scratches were on her lower back and upper buttocks. Id. She was in a "tight fetal position" in the garbage can and had a white plastic bag over her head that had been knotted in back to keep it in place. Id. at 178-79. She suffocated due to the plastic bag over her head and "due to her positioning" in the garbage can, and her time of death was estimated to have occurred between Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon. Id. at 179. She was found wearing only a camisole and a sweater. Id.

The Petitioner's DNA from sperm was in Ms. Christian's vagina and anus and was on her jeans. Id. Cobbins's DNA was in her mouth and on her camisole, sweater, and jeans. Id. Fabric found with Mr. Newsom's body and fabric used to bind Ms. Christian in the garbage bags came from curtains and fabric that had been given to the Petitioner. Id. The Petitioner's fingerprints and palm prints were found on three of the five plastic garbage bags that contained Ms. Christian's body, and a palm print on the outermost exterior garbage bag was consistent with his having lifted the bag with weight in it. Id. His prints also were on items belonging to both victims that were found in his house. Id. Two bullets recovered from Mr. Newsom could have been fired from the High Standard revolver that was in the Petitioner's possession at the time of his arrest. Id. A revolver associated with Cobbins was eliminated as the murder weapon. Id.

A Knox County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Petitioner of sixteen counts of first degree felony murder; two counts of first degree premeditated murder; two counts of especially aggravated robbery; four counts of aggravated kidnapping; nine counts of aggravated rape of Ms. Christian; three counts of facilitation of aggravated rape as a lesser-included offense of aggravated rape of Mr. Newsom; one count of theft of property valued $10, 000 or more but less than $60, 000; and one count of theft of property valued $500 or less.[2] Id. at 180. In finding the evidence sufficient to support the first degree murder convictions, our supreme court stated as follows:

Mr. Davidson and his friends could have released
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