State v. Climer

Decision Date19 April 2013
Docket NumberNo. W2010–01667–SC–R11–CD.,W2010–01667–SC–R11–CD.
Citation400 S.W.3d 537
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. David Hooper CLIMER, Jr.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court


C. Mark Donahoe and Andrea D. Sipes, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, David Hooper Climer, Jr.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney General; Garry G. Brown, District Attorney General, Larry Hardister and Stephanie J. Hale, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


CORNELIA A. CLARK, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GARY R. WADE, C.J., and JANICE M. HOLDER, WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., and SHARON G. LEE, JJ., joined.


We granted this appeal to determine whether the trial court erred by denying the defendant's motion to suppress his statements to the police on the grounds that they were elicited in violation of his constitutional right to counsel and were involuntary. We have determined that the defendant did not unequivocally request counsel and therefore did not invoke his constitutional right to counsel. Nevertheless, we have also determined that the State failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant waived the rights enumerated in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Thus, we hold that the defendant's statements were erroneously admitted into evidence, but the physical evidence discovered as a result of his statements was properly admitted because the totality of the circumstances shows that the defendant's statements were voluntary and not coerced. We also hold that the State failed to establish that the erroneous admission of the defendant's statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the defendant's convictions of second degree murder and abuse of a corpse are vacated, and this case is remanded for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural History

David Hooper Climer, Jr. (Defendant) was charged with and convicted of first degree premeditated murder and abuse of a corpse arising from the 2007 death of his sixty-two-year-old mother, Doris Anne DeBerry, and the dismemberment of her corpse.1 The circumstances leading up to and surrounding the victim's disappearance and Defendant's custodial interrogation, as well as the proof introduced at trial, are summarized below.

Emily Fisher, the victim's younger sister and Defendant's aunt, called the victim a few days before Thanksgiving 2007 and invited her to Thanksgiving dinner. The victim declined, explaining that she planned to cook at home for her grown grandson, Daniel Mangles. However, that did not happen. When, instead, that holiday passed without word from the victim, Tracy Davis—the victim's daughter, Defendant's sister, and Mr. Mangles's mother—called the victim's residence to ask why she had not contacted Mr. Mangles. Defendant, who lived with the victim in 2007, answered and told Ms. Davis that the victim had “left with a Mexican man named Ray” to visit Ray's family. Defendant gave Ms. Davis no other information about Ray and seemed unconcerned by his mother's sudden departure.

Ms. Fisher also called the victim's home five or six times between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2007, but no one answered the phone and no one responded to the messages she left. Eventually, Ms. Fisher received a Christmas card from the victim, which was unusual. Ms. Fisher had always sent the victim Christmas cards, but she had never before received a Christmas card from the victim. Ms. Fisher recognized the name on the card, “Anne,” as the name her sister used, but she knew the handwriting and signature were not that of the victim. On Christmas Day, Ms. Fisher again called the victim's residence. When no one answered, Ms. Fisher left a message asking the victim to call her, but she did not hear back from anyone.

Still concerned about her mother's disappearance, Ms. Davis talked with Defendant near the end of 2007 about filing a missing person's report. Ms. Davis recalled that Defendant did “not really” express concern for the victim's safety and told Ms. Davis that he was getting pushed in a corner.”

On New Year's Eve, Ms. Fisher received a call from Ms. Davis, who was crying. The following day Ms. Fisher called the victim's residence. When no one answered, Ms. Fisher left the following message: “If I don't hear from someone today I'm calling the police.” Later that day, Defendant called Ms. Fisher and told her that the victim had taken all of her clothing and medications and “gone off with a Mexican looking guy named Ray.” Defendant said he had last seen the victim on December 11, 2007. Defendant denied knowing where the victim had met Ray, or where the couple had gone, but he “guess[ed] they had gone to Mexico.

Ms. Fisher did not believe the victim “would go off with anybody, a man,” because the victim had given up on men after her third marriage ended in divorce. She called Defendant the next day, January 2, 2008, and inquired again about the victim. When Defendant said he had not heard from the victim, Ms. Fisher asked him to let her know if he did. Ms. Fisher did not hear back from Defendant. She subsequently contacted the police and reported the victim missing.

On January 7, 2008, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation alerted the Gibson County Sheriff's Department that the victim had been reported as missing. Detective Steve Grooms began investigating her disappearance. On January 24th, Detective Grooms decided to interview Defendant and had a hidden camera installed in his office for that purpose before leaving to pick up Defendant at the house he shared with the victim. When Detective Grooms and other officers arrived at the residence, two vehicles were in the driveway, but no one answered the door.

The officers left, obtained a search warrant, and returned at approximately 2:00 p.m. to execute the warrant. When they arrived, Defendant exited the house, and officers handcuffed him, placed him in a patrol car, and a short time later, transported him to the Gibson County Sheriff's Department, where he was “booked” into the jail at 2:37 p.m.2

Meanwhile, officers executed the search warrant at the victim's residence. The initial search of the property took several hours. Officers collected samples from what appeared to be blood stains in several places in the home. Officers found cleaning supplies and latex gloves in the kitchen. The victim's bedroom was empty of furniture and contained none of her belongings—only some tools. Eventually, the officers located the victim's Bible and hairbrush, but found no clothing or furniture. Officers discovered the victim's bloodstained watch in the glovebox of a blue car registered to the victim and parked on the property.

Eighteen items recovered in the search of the residence were eventually tested for blood stains. Blood stains matching the victim's DNA profile were discovered on pieces of paneling from the hallway and main bathroom, on cabinet doors from under the kitchen and main bathroom sinks, on a “telescopic handle” found in the kitchen, on carpet from the victim's bedroom, and on the victim's watch. Officers found a hacksaw in the living room, but it tested negative for the presence of blood. Officers excavated a recently used burn pile in the backyard of the residence and found mattress springs but unearthed no human remains. Additionally, a portion of a box located at a storage unit Defendant rented also tested positive for the presence of blood that matched the victim's DNA profile.

While officers completed the search, Defendant remained confined in a holding cell, known as the “drunk tank,” of the Gibson County Jail. Around 10:30 p.m., officers escorted Defendant to Detective Grooms's office for an interrogation that lasted approximately four hours and comprises one hundred pages of transcript. The interrogation began with the following exchange.3

Detective Grooms: You ever met me before David?

Defendant: I don't think so.

Detective Grooms: Have you not?

Detective Grooms: My name is Steve Grooms, I am the chief detective here for the Sheriff's office okay. And I want to talk to you okay. I need to talk to you about some things and I believe deep down you want to tell or talk to me about some things, I believe you do and before I do, technically you are not under arrest at this time and you are not being charged with anything, OK and I just want to talk to you about some things and before I do I need to read your rights to you, OK. That's something we do to everybody that comes in here and you can make a statement about anything ... that's our policy ... thats our procedure we done that for years.

Defendant: Alright.

Detective Grooms: Yea. Listen up okay, before I ask you any questions you must understand your rights, you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in court, you have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before I ask you any questions, and have him with you during questioning. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish, if you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present you still have the right to stop answering at any time, you also have the right to stop answering at any time until you speak to a lawyer. Do you understand your rights? Do you understand what I have read you?

Defendant: Well I can't afford a lawyer I can tell you that.

Detective Grooms: Okay, I just read it to you, if you can't afford a one, one will be appointed to you. Okay UH you want to look this over before your sign it and by signing this you are not admitting to anything. You are just saying that you want to talk to me.

Defendant: I don't really have anything to say I mean I don't know.

Detective Grooms: OK. I mean do you want to talk to me to see what I got...

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