State v. Cribbs

Decision Date13 April 1998
Citation967 S.W.2d 773
CourtTennessee Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee, Appellee, v. Perry A. CRIBBS, Appellant.

A.C. Wharton, District Public Defender, W. Mark Ward, Assistant Public Defender, Ron Johnson, Betty Thomas, Assistant Public Defenders, Memphis, for Appellant.

John Knox Walkup, Attorney General and Reporter, Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General, John P. Cauley, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, John W. Pierotti, District Attorney General, James Wax, David Shapiro, Assistant District Attorneys General, Memphis, for Appellee.

OPINION

DROWOTA, Justice.

In this capital case, the defendant, Perry Cribbs, was charged with premeditated first degree murder, first degree murder during the perpetration of an aggravated burglary, and first degree murder during the perpetration of aggravated robbery for killing the victim, Linda Harris, in her home on January 2, 1994. The jury found the defendant guilty on all three counts. 1 In the sentencing hearing, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: (1) "[t]he defendant was previously convicted of one or more felonies, other than the present charge, whose statutory elements involve the use of violence to the person;" and (2) "[t]he murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in committing or was attempting to commit, a burglary." Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(2) and (7) (1991 Repl.). Finding that the two aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury sentenced the defendant to death by electrocution.

At the hearing on the motion for a new trial, conducted some weeks after the jury rendered its verdicts, the trial court set aside the jury's verdicts of guilt on the charges of premeditated first degree murder and first degree murder during the perpetration of aggravated robbery. The trial court entered a judgment upholding the jury's verdict of guilt on the charge of first degree murder during the perpetration of an aggravated burglary and the sentence of death by electrocution.

On direct appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant challenged both his conviction and sentence, raising nine claims of error, some with numerous subparts. After fully considering the defendant's claims, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. Thereafter, pursuant to Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-13-206(a)(1) (1997 Repl.), 2 the case was docketed in this Court.

The defendant raised numerous issues in this Court, but after carefully examining the entire record and the law, including the thorough opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals and the briefs of the defendant and the State, this Court, on September 2, 1997, entered an Order, limiting review at oral argument to seven issues and setting the cause for the November, 1997, term of this Court in Jackson. See Tenn. S.Ct. R. 12. 3

After reviewing the record, we have determined that none of the alleged errors require reversal. Moreover, the evidence supports the jury's findings as to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the sentence of death is not arbitrary or disproportionate to the sentence imposed in similar cases, considering the nature of the crime and the defendant. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant's conviction for first degree murder and sentence of death by electrocution is affirmed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The proof presented by the State at the guilt phase of the trial established that sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. on the morning of January 2, 1994, the victims, Sidney Harris, and his wife, Linda Harris, returned from a visit with friends to their home located at 4378 Cottonwood, in Memphis. As was his habit, Sidney Harris backed his car onto the carport, and then opened the door for his wife to enter the house. As she came through the kitchen door, Linda Harris was attacked and knocked to the floor by an unknown assailant. Sidney Harris struggled with this man, who was armed with a pistol, for approximately fifteen seconds, and had wrestled him to the floor when a second assailant, armed with a double barrel sawed-off shotgun, intervened and ordered Harris to release the first man.

With guns leveled upon him, the two intruders ordered Harris to sit in a chair located in the den of his home, which was just off the kitchen, about five feet from where his wife was located. At some point, the intruders asked Harris, "where is the dope?" and they told Harris they intended to shoot him. Though the lights were not on in the house during this time, Harris said the carport light shone through the open kitchen door and provided sufficient illumination for him to observe the facial features of the intruders. Harris observed the assailants for twenty to thirty seconds before the second assailant fired the shotgun, striking Harris in the left shoulder and hand. Harris lost consciousness for a time after he was shot. When he regained consciousness, the assailants were gone. Harris observed his wife's body lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the kitchen where she had been initially assaulted. Based upon the discovery of wadding material on the left side of her neck and powder burns on her body, the medical examiner testified that Linda Harris had sustained a contact shotgun wound to the left side of her head which would have resulted in instantaneous death. Harris made his way to a neighbor's house, where he was able to summon assistance before again losing consciousness.

When the police arrived at the scene they found the house in disarray. The intruders apparently had gained entry to the house through an open bedroom window. Toys belonging to the victim's daughter were in that bedroom and visible on the videotape of the scene made by police. 4 The videotape also showed the body of Linda Harris in the kitchen, shotgun shells on the den floor, and bloodstains on the chair in which Sidney Harris had been sitting when he had been shot. There were several bullet holes in the wall to the left of the chair in the den.

Officer Donald Crow, a Memphis policeman, rode with Harris as he was transported to the hospital shortly after the shooting. Officer Crow testified that Harris described the first assailant in some detail, but stated that the man had been wearing a black ski mask. With respect to the second assailant, Harris, according to Officer Crow, said only that he was tall, thin, and wore a black ski mask. Sergeant Ronnie McWilliams of the Memphis police directed the investigation and interviewed Harris the day after the shooting. At that time, Harris said that he could not identify either of the two suspects because they had been wearing black ski masks. About a week later, Harris told a police officer that he could not get the "complexion" of the man with the shotgun. Sergeant McWilliams described Harris as being heavily sedated on the day after the murder and said that he had been in serious condition when the second statement had been taken. Harris could not remember speaking to police on the night of the murder and recalled being sedated when he spoke with police the next day. Thereafter, and at trial, Harris described the first assailant as a black man, wearing a light-colored sheer stocking mask, a denim jumpsuit, and gloves, approximately 6'1" in height, 240 pounds in weight, with a moustache, large round nose, thick eyebrows, and hair about one inch in length. 5 Harris said the second assailant, who had shot him, also had been a black man, wearing a light-colored sheer stocking mask, a dirty light green or gold mechanic's jumpsuit and gloves. Harris said this man was taller and thinner than the first assailant, approximately 6'3" or 6'4" in height, and about 220 pounds in weight

At the time of this murder, the defendant was residing with Jacqueline Cannon, the mother of his daughter. Cannon stated that on the night of the murder, the defendant, wearing blue jeans and a blue denim shirt, left their residence at approximately 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. When he returned sometime around 1:00 a.m., Cannon said he was covered in blood from a "hit." Cribbs told her that he had shot a man and a woman. Cribbs explained that he had been hired to kill the man by another man who had been having an affair with the female victim. Cribbs said that he had killed both victims and claimed that he would be paid for the "hit" soon. The next day, Cannon discovered at her residence a gold-faced Mickey Mouse watch with a leather wrist band with the words "genuine leather" imprinted on the back. When she asked Cribbs about the watch, he explained that he had taken it from the home of the couple he had killed.

Shortly thereafter, Cannon learned from news reports that a man and woman had been shot, as Cribbs claimed, on the night of January 2, 1994. The woman had been killed but the man survived the shooting. Because she feared Cribbs, Cannon did not relay her knowledge about the murder to the police at that time. Some four to six weeks later, however, Cribbs became angry with Cannon because he suspected she had told a neighbor about his role in the murder. Cribbs assaulted and beat Cannon, and she was hospitalized for three days, suffering, among other things, a punctured lung. Fearing for her life, Cannon related to her brother what Cribbs had told her about the murder. Her brother notified Crime Stoppers, and as a result, the police located and interviewed Cannon. Cannon eventually received $900 from Crime Stoppers, and her brother received $100.

Upon learning of the gold-faced Mickey Mouse watch from Cannon, police asked Sidney Harris if his wife had owned such a watch. Harris had been hospitalized for twenty-two days following the shooting and had not discovered the watch missing. When questioned by police, Harris confirmed that his wife had owned such a watch and that it had been among the items missing from the house after the...

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