State of Tn v. Godsey, E1997-00207-SC-R11-DD

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Citation60 S.W.3d 759
Docket NumberE1997-00207-SC-R11-DD
Decision Date29 November 2001



No. E1997-00207-SC-R11-DD

September 5, 2001 Session


Filed November 29, 2001

Appeal by permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals

Criminal Court for Sullivan County, No. S38648, R. Jerry Beck, Judge,

Bobby G. Godsey was convicted of first degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse. Following a sentencing hearing, the jury imposed a sentence of death upon finding that the single aggravating circumstance, "[t]he murder was committed against a person less than twelve (12) years of age and the defendant was eighteen (18) years of age, or older," (FN1) outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant was also convicted of aggravated child abuse, and the trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of twenty-five years for this conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Godsey's conviction for aggravated child abuse, concluding that the General Assembly did not intend to permit a separate conviction and punishment for aggravated child abuse when the defendant has been convicted of first degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Godsey's conviction for first degree murder. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals found the sentence of death comparatively disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases and modified Godsey's sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Both Godsey and the State filed applications for permission to appeal, which were granted by this Court. After carefully reviewing the record and the relevant legal authorities, we affirm that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision finding the sentence of death disproportionate and modifying the defendant's sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision finding dual convictions for felony murder by aggravated child abuse and aggravated child abuse inappropriate and reinstate the defendant's separate conviction and sentence for aggravated child abuse. In all other respects, the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.

Tenn. R. App. P. 11; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General & Reporter; Michael Moore, Solicitor General; Alice B. Lustre, Assistant Attorney General; H. Greeley Wells, District Attorney General; and Barry Staubus, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee/appellant, State of Tennessee.

BR Stephen M. Wallace, District Public Defender, Blountville, Tennessee and James T. Bowman, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellant/appellee, Bobby G. GodseyBR BR OPINIONBR BR FRANK F. DROWOTA, III, CHIEF JUSTICEBR BR Guilt Phase ProofBR BR The proof offered during the guilt phase of the trial demonstrates that during the fall of 1995, the defendant, twenty-two-year-old Bobby Godsey, moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, Robin Marshall, and her three children: five-year-old Ginger, four-year-old Dylan, and seven-month-old Evan Price, the victim in this case. On January 1, 1996, Ms. Marshall spent the day with her children and her friend, Christy Christian, and Christian's children. Godsey arrived home from work around 4:30 p.m. A short time later, Ms. Marshall left the victim alone with Godsey while she drove Christian to her apartment on the other side of the complex. (FN2) When Ms. Marshall returned a short time later, (FN3) the victim was lying on her bed. She offered to put the victim to bed in his crib, but the defendant said he would do it. Ms. Marshall went downstairs and began preparing dinner. Godsey came downstairs a short time later, and Ms. Marshall and Godsey watched a videotaped movie for approximately one hour. When Godsey went upstairs around 7:15 p.m. to wake the victim for dinner, he discovered the victim was not breathing. Godsey brought the victim downstairs, and while Ms. Marshall called 911, the defendant attempted CPR. Because the hospital was next door to the apartment complex, Ms. Marshall decided to drive the victim to the hospital herself. (FN4) When Ms. Marshall arrived at the hospital, the victim was not breathing and his heart was not beating. He had vomit on his face, and small bruises on his jaw, forehead, and ear, but he was not bleeding externally. After approximately 27 minutes, medical personnel successfully resuscitated him and inserted an endotracheal tube. X-rays revealed a "twist-type" fracture of the victim's arm above the right elbow and suggested a skull fracture. X-rays also revealed that the endotracheal tube was not properly positioned and therefore was not properly ventilating both lungs. The tube was retracted to correct the problem.BR BR Because further tests were needed, the victim was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at the Johnson City Medical Center. A CAT (FN5) scan revealed three skull fractures, two on one side and one on the other side of the back half of the victim's skull. The scan also showed moderately severe to severe brain swelling. Further medical examinations revealed bilateral retinal hemorrhages.BR BR Ms. Marshall and the defendant spent the night and most of the next day at the hospital waiting for news about the victim. At noon on January 2, Detective Darla Anderson of the Kingsport Police Department came to the hospital and interviewed Godsey about the victim's injuries. He told Detective Anderson that for approximately five months he had lived with Ms. Marshall and her three children. He stated that he provided care for the children in the evenings from 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. until approximately 10:45 or 11:00 p.m., while Ms. Marshall worked. Godsey admitted that he had put the victim down for a nap before going downstairs to watch a movie with Ms. Marshall, but Godsey said the victim was fine at that time. When Godsey returned an hour later, he noticed the victim was not breathing. Godsey suggested that the victim's arm may have been injured when Godsey moved him onto the toddler bed and unsuccessfully attempted CPR. Godsey said some "yellow stuff" came out of the victim's mouth, but the victim was not breathing. Godsey then carried the victim downstairs and asked Ms. Marshall to call 911.BR BR Later that afternoon, Detective Anderson drove to the victim's apartment and met Godsey as he was returning to the hospital. Godsey drove back to the apartment and allowed Detective Anderson to inspect and photograph the victim's bedroom, even though Detective Anderson did not have a search warrant. Detective Anderson photographed the room and noted that the crib was located approximately two feet from the toddler bed and that the toddler bed was approximately six inches from the floor. Detective Anderson found toys scattered inside the crib and stains on the sheet. Detective Anderson did not notice any blood or damaged items in the room. Godsey also allowed Detective Anderson to remove the crib sheet and blanket from the victim's bed, and Godsey gave Detective Anderson the t-shirt he had worn the previous day. Godsey explained that the victim had been teething, his gums had been bleeding, and the t-shirt had the victim's teething blood on it. Godsey also told Detective Anderson about the victim vomiting in the car on the way to the emergency room, and Detective Anderson photographed the stains. Detective Anderson stated that the defendant freely provided information and described him as cooperative at the time she examined the apartment. At trial, the State offered DNA test results to show that the stains on the crib sheet and on the defendant's t-shirt were blood stains and that the blood had come from the victim. However, hospital personnel testified that the victim was not bleeding externally when he arrived at the emergency room, and the autopsy showed no signs of external bleeding.BR BR Godsey returned to the hospital after speaking with Detective Anderson, and later that evening, around 6 p.m., life support was withdrawn because the victim was brain dead. Hospital personnel testified that both Ms. Marshall and Godsey were distraught and upset about the child's death.BR BR An autopsy revealed that the victim had suffered a severe blow to the back of his head, causing skull fractures, brain swelling, and a lack of oxygen to the brain, which led to his death. Bleeding into the soft tissue of the scalp around the fractures was also discovered, but no intracranial bleeding was present, and no bone displacement was detected. The autopsy confirmed that the skull fractures and the arm fracture occurred at approximately the same time. In addition, the autopsy revealed a laceration of one of the victim's intervertebral discs. The autopsy also revealed that the victim was suffering from hypostatic pneumonia, which occurs when the brain is so damaged that it cannot produce coughing or clear secretions. In this case, the condition was worsened because a small amount of vomit had been inhaled into the victim's lungs. The autopsy revealed no evidence of prior injuries or abuse.BR BR Ms. Marshall and Godsey returned to their apartment after the victim died, and shortly thereafter, officers of the Kingsport Police Department arrived and asked them to come to the police department for further interviews. After being advised of his Miranda (FN6) warnings, Godsey signed a waiver, agreeing to talk to police. Godsey's recollection of the events leading up to Ms. Marshall's departure from the apartment was consistent with his earlier statement. He again initially denied any wrongdoing. Eventually, however, Godsey revealed that, during the short time Ms. Marshall had been gone, he had become angry and had physically abused the victim because he would not stop crying.BR BR Godsey, however, gave the police several differing accounts...

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