State v. Carruthers

Decision Date11 December 2000
Citation35 S.W.3d 516
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Tony V. CARRUTHERS & James Montgomery.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court







Stephen R. Leffler and Lee A. Filderman, Memphis, TN, for the appellant, Tony V. Carruthers.

Robert C. Brooks and Edward W. Chandler, Memphis, TN, for the appellant, James Montgomery.

Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; Amy Tarkington, Senior Counsel; Phillip Gerald Harris; Assistant District Attorney General; and J. Robert Carter, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

DROWOTA, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which ANDERSON, C.J., HOLDER, and BARKER, JJ., joined.

Tony Carruthers and James Montgomery were each convicted of three counts of first degree premeditated murder and were sentenced to death on each conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences of both Carruthers and Montgomery. Thereafter, the cases were docketed in this Court. After carefully reviewing the record and the relevant legal authorities, we conclude that none of the errors raised by Tony Carruthers require reversal, that the evidence is sufficient to support the jury's findings of the aggravating circumstances, and that the sentences of death are not excessive or disproportionate considering the circumstances of the crimes and the defendant. With respect to James Montgomery, we conclude that the trial court erred in denying him a severance and that the error resulted in Montgomery being deprived of a fair trial. Accordingly, we reverse Montgomery's convictions and sentences and remand for a new trial.


The defendants, Tony V. Carruthers and James Montgomery, were each convicted of first degree murder for killing Marcellos "Cello" Anderson, his mother Delois Anderson, and Frederick Tucker in Memphis in February of 1994.1 All of the victims disappeared on the night of February 24, 1994. On March 3, 1994, their bodies were found buried together in a pit that had been dug beneath a casket in a grave in a Memphis cemetery.2

The Guilt Phase

The proof introduced at the guilt phase of the trial showed that one of the victims, Marcellos Anderson, was heavily involved in the drug trade, along with two other men, Andre "Baby Brother" Johnson and Terrell Adair.3 Anderson wore expensive jewelry, including a large diamond ring, carried large sums of money on his person, and kept a considerable amount of cash in the attic of the home of his mother, victim Delois Anderson. When his body was discovered, Anderson was not wearing any jewelry and did not have any cash on his person. Anderson was acquainted with both defendants, and he considered Carruthers to be a trustworthy friend. The proof showed that Anderson's trust was misplaced.

In the summer of 1993 Jimmy Lee Maze, Jr., a convicted felon, received two letters from Carruthers, who was then in prison on an unrelated conviction. In the letters, Carruthers referred to "a master plan" that was "a winner." Carruthers wrote of his intention to "make those streets pay me" and announced, "everything I do from now on will be well organized and extremely violent." Later, in the fall of 1993, while incarcerated at the Mark Luttrell Reception Center in Memphis awaiting his release, Carruthers was assigned to a work detail at a local cemetery, the West Tennessee Veterans' Cemetery. At one point, as he helped bury a body, Carruthers remarked to fellow inmate Charles Ray Smith "that would be a good way, you know, to bury somebody, if you're going to kill them.... If you ain't got no body, you don't have a case."

Smith also testified that he overheard Carruthers and Montgomery, who also was incarcerated at the Reception Center, talking about Marcellos Anderson after Anderson had driven Carruthers back to the Reception Center from a furlough. According to Smith, when Montgomery asked Carruthers about Anderson, Carruthers told him that both Anderson and "Baby Brother" Johnson dealt drugs and had a lot of money. Carruthers said he and Montgomery could "rob" and "get" Anderson and Johnson once they were released from prison.

When Carruthers was released from the Department of Correction on November 15, 1993, he left the Reception Center with Anderson. Carruthers accompanied Anderson to Andre Johnson's house, and received a gift of $200 cash from Anderson, Johnson, and Terrell Adair, who was present at Johnson's house.

One month later, on December 15, 1993, Smith was released from the Department of Correction. Upon his release, Smith warned Anderson and Johnson of Carruthers' and Montgomery's plans to "get them." According to Smith and Johnson, Anderson did not take the warning or the defendants' threats seriously.

In mid-December 1993, Maze, his brother and Carruthers were riding around Memphis together. They came upon Terrell Adair's red Jeep on the street in front of Delois Anderson's home where a drive-by shooting had just occurred. Adair had been injured in the shooting and was in the hospital. Jonathan "Lulu" Montgomery, James Montgomery's brother, was at the scene of the shooting, and he joined Carruthers in the back seat of Maze's car. According to Maze, Carruthers remarked to Jonathan that, "it would be the best time to kidnap Marcellos," and Jonathan asked, "which one Baby Brother or Marcellos?" Carruthers then nudged Montgomery with his elbow and said "it" was going to take place after James Montgomery was released from prison. About two weeks later, on December 31, Maze saw Carruthers loading three antifreeze containers into a car, and Carruthers indicated to Maze that the containers were filled with gasoline.

On January 11, 1994, James Montgomery was released from prison. After his release, Montgomery told "Baby Brother" Johnson that he, not Johnson, was in charge of the neighborhood. Montgomery said, "It was my neighborhood before I left, and now I'm back and its my neighborhood again." Montgomery asked Johnson if he wanted to "go to war about this neighborhood." When Johnson said, "no," Montgomery replied "You feeling now like I'm about to blow your motherf___g brains out" and "you all need to get in line around here or we're going to war about this." Near the end of January or the first of February 1994, Johnson and Adair saw the defendants sitting together in an older model grey car down the street from Johnson's mother's home. It was late at night, between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. When the defendants approached Johnson and Adair, Montgomery asked why they thought he was trying to harm them. Montgomery told them, "Look, I told you, we ain't got no problem with nobody in this neighborhood. We already got our man staked out. If we wanted some trouble or something, we got you right now. We'd kill your whole family." Confirming Montgomery's statement, Carruthers told them, "We already got our man staked out. You all right. If it's any problem, we'll deal with it later." Montgomery explained that he intended to take the "man's" money and drugs, and said, "if the police didn't have no body, they wouldn't have no case."

On February 23, 1994, Marcellos Anderson borrowed a white Jeep Cherokee from his cousin, Michael Harris. Around 4:30 on the afternoon of February 24, 1994, witnesses saw Marcellos Anderson and Frederick Tucker riding in the Jeep Cherokee along with James and Jonathan Montgomery. About 5 p.m. that day, James and Jonathan Montgomery and Anderson and Tucker arrived in the Jeep Cherokee at the house of Nakeita Shaw, the Montgomery brothers' cousin. Nakeita Shaw, her four children, and Benton West, also her cousin, were present at the house when they arrived.

The four men entered the house and went downstairs to the basement. A short time later, James Montgomery came back upstairs and asked Nakeita Shaw if she could leave for a while so he could "take care of some business." Nakeita Shaw told West that she thought "they" were being kidnapped, and then she left the house with West and her children. West agreed to care for Nakeita Shaw's children while she attended a meeting.

When Nakeita Shaw returned home after the meeting, she saw only Carruthers and James Montgomery. Montgomery asked her to go pick up her children and to "stay gone a little longer." Nakeita Shaw returned home with her children before 10 p.m. The Jeep Cherokee was gone, but James Montgomery and Carruthers were still present at her home. Montgomery told Nakeita Shaw to put her children to bed upstairs and remain there until he told her he was leaving. Sometime later, Montgomery called out to Nakeita Shaw that he was leaving. She returned downstairs and saw James Montgomery, Carruthers, and the two victims, Anderson and Tucker, leave in the Jeep Cherokee. Prior to trial, Nakeita Shaw told the police that Anderson's and Tucker's hands were tied behind their backs when they left her house. While she admitted making this statement, she testified at trial that the statement was false and that she had not seen Anderson's and Tucker's hands tied when they left her home.4

In the meantime, around 8 p.m. on February 24, Laventhia Briggs telephoned her aunt, victim Delois Anderson. When someone picked up the telephone but said nothing, Briggs hung up. Briggs called "a couple of more times" but received no answer. Briggs was living with Delois Anderson at the time and arrived at her aunt's home around 9:00 p.m. Although Delois Anderson was not home, her purse, car, and keys were there. Food left in Anderson's bedroom indicated that she had been interrupted while eating. Briggs went to bed, assuming her aunt would return home soon. A co-worker, whom Delois Anderson had driven home around 7:15 p.m., was the last person to have seen her alive.

Chris Hines, who had known the defendants since junior high school, testified that around 8:45 p.m. on...

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