State v. Brown

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtDAUGHTREY; REID
Citation836 S.W.2d 530
Decision Date01 June 1992
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee, Appellee, v. Mack Edward BROWN, Appellant.

Page 530

836 S.W.2d 530
STATE of Tennessee, Appellee,
v.
Mack Edward BROWN, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Tennessee,
at Knoxville.
June 1, 1992.
Rehearing denied Aug. 3, 1992.

Randall E. Reagan, Leslie A. Nassios, Knoxville, for appellant.

Charles W. Burson, Atty. Gen. and Reporter, James W. Milam, Asst. Atty. Gen., Nashville, for appellee.

OPINION

DAUGHTREY, Justice.

This capital case arose from the death of four-year-old Eddie Eugene Brown and the subsequent conviction of his father for first-degree murder, as well as for child neglect. 1 After careful review, we have reached the conclusion that the evidence introduced at trial is not sufficient to support a conviction for first-degree murder. We therefore hold that the defendant's conviction must be reduced to second-degree murder.

1. Factual Background

The victim in this case, Eddie Eugene Brown, was born in early February 1982, the son of defendant Mack Edward Brown and his co-defendant, Evajean Bell Brown, who were not living together at the time of Eddie's birth and were later divorced. Evajean was not able to nurse Eddie immediately after his birth because she was hospitalized with hypotoxemia.

According to his pediatrician, this hospitalization and inability to nurse may have contributed to Eddie's being, as the doctor described him, a "failure to thrive baby." When the physician first saw Eddie on March 17, 1982, at a little more than five weeks old, the infant was in good health but smaller than the median for his age. Mack and Evajean were still separated at that time, and relations between them eventually worsened to the point that Evajean asked the pediatrician to change Eddie's name on his records to Justin Michael Brown. Because Eddie had not begun to talk by age two-and-a-half, he was referred to the University of Tennessee Speech and Hearing Clinic. The clinic's report indicates that by age three years and four months, he was not yet toilet-trained and could speak single words, but not whole sentences. Evajean brought Eddie to see his pediatrician on November 5, 1984, because, as the doctor testified, she said he had fallen down fifteen carpeted stairs the night before. Although the physician found no injuries consistent with such a fall, he did note that Eddie's penis was red, swollen, and tender to the touch. His medical records do not give a reason for this condition. Eddie's last visit to his pediatrician's office was on October 16, 1985,

Page 534

with his mother and father, who by that time had reconciled.

According to a Department of Human Services social worker who had investigated the Brown home, Eddie was a hyperactive child with a severe speech problem. She reported that he also had severe emotional and behavioral problems. As an example of his behavior, she reported that during her visit, he ran down the hall directly into a wall.

Defendant Mack Brown's relationship with Evajean Brown appears to have been influenced by his dependent personality, a condition confirmed by the diagnoses of the staff of the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute and the Helen Ross McNabb Center. In describing Mack and Evajean's relationship, Mack's mother stated that he appeared to do everything Evajean wanted him to do and that he seemed to be afraid of her. A witness who visited them when Eddie was taken to the hospital on April 10, 1986, indicated that they sat close to one another holding hands and that whenever Evajean got up, he followed her. Mack's mother testified that they remarried in the summer of 1985.

Mack had been living with his wife and his son for less than a year when Eddie died. The Brown's next-door neighbor testified that, at around 3:40 a.m. on April 10, 1986, she heard yelling and screaming in their apartment. She distinctly heard a man's voice say, "Shut up. Get your ass over here. Sit down. Shut up. I know what I'm doing." She also heard a woman's voice say, "Stop, don't do that. Leave me alone. Stop don't do that." She testified that the fight went on for 30 minutes and that she heard a sound which she described as a "thump, like something heavy hit the wall." The only other evidence introduced concerning the events of that morning was the tape of Evajean's call for an ambulance. At 8:59 a.m. she telephoned for help for her son, stating that he "fell down some steps and he's not breathing."

The paramedics who answered the call tried to revive Eddie but were unsuccessful. His heartbeat was reestablished at the hospital, but as it turned out, he was already clinically brain-dead. One of the treating nurses later testified that at that point, Eddie was being kept alive only for purposes of potential organ donation.

Various examinations indicated that the child had suffered two, and possibly three, skull fractures. The CT scan revealed a hairline fracture in the front right temporal portion of his skull, as well as a blood clot and swelling in that area of the head. The scan also revealed the possibility of a second fracture in the middle of the frontal bone. 2 Finally, blood coming from Eddie's ear indicated that he had a fracture at the base of his skull which had caused an injury to the middle ear. Although no basiliar skull fracture appeared on the X-rays or CT scan of Eddie's skull, expert testimony established that such fractures generally are not revealed in these ways.

The CT scan showed a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, which was more pronounced on the right side of the brain than the left, and which had shifted the midline of Eddie's brain toward the left. The pathologist who performed the autopsy noted the presence of vomit in Eddie's lungs and explained that swelling in the brain can cause vomiting. He theorized that repeated blows to Eddie's head caused cerebral hemorrhages and swelling. According to the expert, this pressure in the skull resulted in Eddie's aspiration of his own vomit and his ultimate death. He testified further that the swelling process could have taken as long as four or five hours to a day, or as little as 15 minutes. 3

A neurological surgeon testified that Eddie's brain injuries were, at least in part,

Page 535

consistent with contrecoup 4 injuries, which occur when the head is violently shaken back and forth. The surgeon explained that there is a limited amount of fluid between the brain and the skull. That fluid generally serves as a shock absorber, but when the skull and brain are moving at a sufficient velocity and the skull suddenly stops, the fluid is not an adequate buffer between the delicate brain tissue and the hard skull surface. As he described this phenomenon at trial, "when the skull stops the brain slaps up against it," resulting in severe bruising and swelling of the brain.

In addition to his cranial and cerebral injuries, Eddie had several internal injuries. When Eddie's internal organs were removed for donation, the county medical examiner observed hemorrhaging in the duodenum section of his intestine. He testified that such localized hemorrhaging was consistent with a blow by a fist to the upper portion of the abdomen. Additionally, blood was found in the child's stool and urine, and his liver enzymes were elevated. There was testimony to the effect that these conditions may have resulted from cardiac arrest, but that they are also consistent with blows to the abdomen, liver, and kidneys.

Finally, Eddie had bruises of varying ages on his face, scalp, ears, neck, chest, hips, legs, arms, buttocks, and scrotum. He had a large abrasion on his shoulder, scratches on his neck and face, and a round, partially healed wound on his big toe which, according to one of his treating nurses, was consistent with a cigarette burn. 5 He had lacerations on both his ears at the scalp. He had linear bruises consistent with being struck with a straight object. The autopsy revealed an old lesion at the base of his brain which was evidence of a head injury at least two weeks before his death. X-rays revealed a broken arm which had not been treated and which had occurred three to five weeks before his death. The injury to his arm was confirmed by a witness who had noticed his arm hanging limply and then later noticed it in a homemade sling.

The defendant's statement to the police verified the fact that Eddie's broken arm was never properly treated, but Mack Brown also told them that he had tried to help Eddie by making a splint for his arm himself. He explained that he did not take Eddie for medical treatment because he was terrified that no one would believe that he and his wife had not inflicted this injury on the child. He could not explain the old bruises on Eddie's body. He stated that although sometimes they disciplined Eddie by spanking him, they did attempt to discipline him in, as he described it, "alternative ways" such as sending him to his room to let him know that they were upset and wanted him to mind.

Brown's statement indicates that around two or three o'clock on the morning of April 10, 1986, he and his wife both spanked Eddie because Eddie had urinated and defecated on the floor. The defendant admitted to another spanking, after he had sent Eddie to bed, and after he and his wife had a fight over money. As the defendant described it, it was during this spanking that his "mood began to kind of snap and let go." He said that he remembered going to Eddie's bedroom and remembered ordering Evajean out of the room. Although he denied remembering anything other than spanking Eddie's bottom with the open part of his hand, he stated that he was afraid he had beaten Eddie during the time that everything "went blank." The only thing he clearly recalled before that point was Eddie "staring at [him] mean" and saying, "I hate you! I hate you!" He stated that his next memory was of going downstairs and hearing Eddie behind him, falling onto the landing and into the door.

When the police questioned the defendant, his right hand was badly swollen. He...

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650 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Garcia, Docket No. 03-1407-CR(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 21 Junio 2005
    ...testimony `results from a process of reasoning which can be mastered only by specialists in the field'" (quoting State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 549 The purpose of this final foundation requirement is to prevent a party from conflating expert and lay opinion testimony thereby conferrin......
  • Cleveland v. Groceryworks.com, LLC, Case No. 14-cv-00231-JCS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 4 Agosto 2016
    ...which can be mastered only by specialists in the field." Fed. R. Evid. 701 advisory committee note (citing State v. Brown , 836 S.W.2d 530, 549 (Tenn.1992) ). According to the advisory committee note:[C]ourts have permitted the owner or officer of a business to testify to the value or ......
  • State v. Copeland, No. E2002-01123-CCA-R3-DD (TN 8/22/2005), No. E2002-01123-CCA-R3-DD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 22 Agosto 2005
    ...The death penalty was imposed based upon the (I)(2) factor. In State v. Martin, 702 S.W.2d 560 (Tenn. 1985), overruled by State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530 (Tenn. 1992), the 33-year-old African American male defendant shot and killed the 45-year-old African American male victim.6 The victim wa......
  • State v. Carruthers
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 11 Diciembre 2000
    ...958 S.W.2d at 660. These elements may be established by proof of the circumstances surrounding the killing. Id.; see also State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 539 (Tenn.1992). As we stated in Bland, there are several factors which tend to support the existence of these elements including: the us......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
647 cases
  • U.S. v. Garcia, Docket No. 03-1407-CR(L).
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • 21 Junio 2005
    ...expert testimony `results from a process of reasoning which can be mastered only by specialists in the field'" (quoting State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 549 The purpose of this final foundation requirement is to prevent a party from conflating expert and lay opinion testimony thereby conferr......
  • Cleveland v. Groceryworks.com, LLC, Case No. 14-cv-00231-JCS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 4 Agosto 2016
    ...of reasoning which can be mastered only by specialists in the field." Fed. R. Evid. 701 advisory committee note (citing State v. Brown , 836 S.W.2d 530, 549 (Tenn.1992) ). According to the advisory committee note:[C]ourts have permitted the owner or officer of a business to testify to the v......
  • State v. Copeland, No. E2002-01123-CCA-R3-DD (TN 8/22/2005), No. E2002-01123-CCA-R3-DD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 22 Agosto 2005
    ...The death penalty was imposed based upon the (I)(2) factor. In State v. Martin, 702 S.W.2d 560 (Tenn. 1985), overruled by State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530 (Tenn. 1992), the 33-year-old African American male defendant shot and killed the 45-year-old African American male victim.6 The victim wa......
  • State v. Carruthers
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 11 Diciembre 2000
    ...958 S.W.2d at 660. These elements may be established by proof of the circumstances surrounding the killing. Id.; see also State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 539 (Tenn.1992). As we stated in Bland, there are several factors which tend to support the existence of these elements including: the us......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • THE LIVING RULES OF EVIDENCE.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 Nbr. 4, March 2022
    • 1 Marzo 2022
    ...FED. R. EVID. 701 advisory committee's note to 2000 amendment ("The amendment incorporates the distinctions set forth in State v. Brown, 836 S.W.2d 530, 549 ([Tenn.] 1992), a case involving former Tennessee Rule of Evidence 701, a rule that precluded lay witness testimony based on 'special ......

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