State v Coulter, 99-00784

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Docket Number99-00784
Decision Date26 June 2001


No. M1999-00784-CCA-R3-CD


October 17, 2000 Session

Filed June 26, 2001

Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Rutherford County, No. F-43611

J. Steve Daniel, Judge

The appellant, Larry Coulter, appeals his conviction by a jury in the Rutherford County Circuit Court of one count of first degree premeditated murder. For his offense, the appellant received a sentence of life imprisonment in the Tennessee Department of Correction. In this appeal, the appellant presents the following issues for our review: (1) whether the trial court erred in failing to disqualify the office of the District Attorney General for the Sixteenth Judicial District from participating in the appellant's case; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying the appellant's pre-trial motion to suppress a statement that he made to officers of the La Vergne Police Department following his offense; (3) whether the trial court erred in denying the appellant's pre-trial motion to suppress the fruits of a warrantless search of his home by officers of the La Vergne Police Department; (4) whether the trial court erred in denying the appellant's pre-trial motion to exclude from evidence notes and letters written by the appellant to the victim prior to this offense; (5) whether the trial court erred in denying the appellant's pre-trial motion to exclude from evidence any proof of the victim's plans to move away from the Coulters' mobile home; (6) whether the trial court erred in overruling the appellant's objection to testimony by Sybil Victory concerning a telephone conversation; (7) whether the trial court erred in overruling the appellant's Tenn. R. Evid. 615 objection to testimony by Fawn Jones; (8) whether the trial court erred in overruling the appellant's objection to testimony by the State's firearms identification expert concerning a bullet recovered from the victim's body; (9) whether the trial court erred in permitting each member of the jury to "dry-fire" the murder weapon during the State's case-in-chief; (10) whether the trial court erred in permitting a State's witness to testify by deposition pursuant to Tenn. R. Crim. P. 15; (11) whether the trial court erred in permitting the State to impeach the appellant's psychologist with a "learned treatise" without satisfying the requirements of Tenn. R. Evid. 618; (12) whether the trial court erred in overruling the appellant's objection to rebuttal testimony by the State's psychologist that violated Tenn. R. Crim. P. 12.2(c); (13) whether the trial court erred in failing to charge the jury with certain special instructions requested by the appellant; (14) whether the trial court erred in permitting the State to alter or amend an exhibit immediately prior to the jury's deliberations; (15) whether the evidence adduced at trial is sufficient to support the jury's verdict; and (16) whether the cumulative effect of any errors requires the reversal of the appellant's conviction and the remand of this case for a new trial. Following a review of the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court is Affirmed.

Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

Darrell L. Scarlett and Michael A. Myers, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellant, Larry Coulter.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Lucian D. Geise, Assistant Attorney General; William C. Whitesell, Jr., District Attorney General; and J. Paul Newman, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


Factual Background

On January 6, 1998, a Rutherford County Grand Jury indicted the appellant, Larry Coulter, for first degree premeditated murder. The indictment arose from the shooting death of the appellant's wife, Robin Coulter, on December 3, 1997, at the Coulters' mobile home in La Vergne, Tennessee. At the appellant's trial, the State established that the appellant and his wife had been married for approximately two years. The Coulters had no children together, although Ms. Coulter had a son by a prior relationship who was living with his grandmother at the time of this offense. Both of the Coulters were employed, the appellant as a security guard by a local company named Brentwood Security and Patrol and Ms. Coulter as a clerk by a local market known as "The Pantry."

Tommy Thompson, the owner of Brentwood Security and Patrol, testified on behalf of the State at the appellant's trial. Thompson stated that, at the time of this offense, the appellant had attained the rank of "captain" in Thompson's company. The appellant's duties included the supervision of three or four patrol officers in addition to several officers assigned to stationary posts. Thompson further testified that, due to his employment as a security guard, the appellant possessed a "written directive" to carry a Taurus .38 Special revolver, was trained in the use of the Taurus .38 Special revolver, and was qualified as a "police sharpshooter." According to Thompson, the appellant did "an excellent job" for Brentwood Security and Patrol.

However, Thompson also recalled that, prior to the instant offense, the appellant informed Thompson that he was experiencing marital difficulties and complained to Thompson concerning his lack of sexual relations with his wife. Moreover, approximately two weeks prior to his offense, the appellant exhibited a "change of attitude" at work. Mack Rinehart, III, another employee of Brentwood Security and Patrol, specifically recalled that, during the weeks immediately preceding Ms. Coulter's murder, the appellant appeared to be "just a little bit down" and was "more or less silent."

Christopher Alexander, a lieutenant with Brentwood Security and Patrol, confirmed at the appellant's trial that, prior to Ms. Coulter's murder, the appellant was complaining of marital difficulties. According to Alexander, the appellant appeared to be very bitter about his relationship with his wife and frequently referred to his wife as a "b**ch." Alexander further recalled:

[W]ithin the last three months of [his wife's] life, [the appellant] would make statements to myself and other people to the fact that she was giving him a hard time. And the statements he would make, If she tries to take my trailer, I'll kill the b**ch. If she tries - - I'm getting tired of her. She won't leave me alone. I can't get no rest. I think I'll just go on and kill the b**ch.

Alexander stated that he was so troubled by the appellant's threats to kill Ms. Coulter that he visited the appellant's wife at her workplace one evening, informed her about the appellant's threats, and "warn[ed] her that she might not want to push [the appellant]."

Two more co-workers of the appellant, Baron Hightower and Robert Cadwallader, likewise testified that, on several occasions prior to killing Ms. Coulter, the appellant voiced his dissatisfaction with his marriage. Specifically, the appellant expressed to his co-workers doubts concerning his wife's fidelity.

Michael Hills, Ms. Coulter's fifteen-year-old son, also testified at the appellant's trial. Hills recounted that he lived with his mother and stepfather for approximately one year until June 15, 1997. He recalled that, during much of this time, his mother and stepfather communicated primarily through notes or letters, and, approximately six months prior to Hills' departure, they "discontinued sleeping together." Moreover, as a further example of the ongoing discord between his mother and stepfather, Hills testified that the appellant did not permit his mother to use the telephone in their home "freely." According to Hills, the appellant informed his wife that the telephone "was in his name and she wasn't allowed to use it."

Sybil Victory, a friend of Ms. Coulter, related to the jury that, at the time of the appellant's offense, she had known Ms. Coulter for approximately three years. During that time, Victory had never met the appellant, spoken with the appellant, nor visited the Coulters' home. However, in June or July 1997, Victory telephoned her friend "at home." A man initially answered the telephone before surrendering the receiver to Ms. Coulter. During her ensuing telephone conversation with Ms. Coulter, Victory could hear the same man screaming at Ms. Coulter in the background. Victory recalled that "[the man] was yelling at [Ms. Coulter] in the background, that she was not allowed to have phone calls, that was his phone, and he was yelling obscenities at her." According to Victory, Ms. Coulter referred to this man as "Larry" during the telephone conversation. Victory further noted that, on the day following this telephone conversation, Ms. Coulter purchased a pager by which friends and family members could contact her.

Fawn Jones, a co-worker of Ms. Coulter at the Pantry, testified on behalf of the State that, immediately prior to this offense, Ms. Coulter asked Jones for assistance in moving Ms. Coulter's belongings from the mobile home that she shared with the appellant to a new apartment. Michael Hendrickson, an employee of Wherry Housing Cooperative in Smyrna, Tennessee, confirmed that, on December 2, 1997, Ms. Coulter signed a lease for an apartment at the Cooperative, paid the necessary deposits, and paid one month's rent. Ms. Coulter listed only herself and her son as occupants of the apartment.

Additionally, the State introduced into evidence a video cassette recording of a deposition of Rob McVicker, the Director of the Legal Affairs Division of the Domestic Violence Program, Inc., in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. During the deposition, McVicker testified that, on December 1, 1997, Ms. Coulter sought assistance from the Program and, consequently, filed a petition in the Rutherford County Chancery...

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