State v. Donaldson, E2020-01561-CCA-R3-CD

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJAMES CURWOOD WITT, JR., JUDGE
Decision Date21 April 2022
Docket NumberE2020-01561-CCA-R3-CD



No. E2020-01561-CCA-R3-CD

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 21, 2022

Session: January 25, 2022

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 101256 Steven W. Sword, Judge

Aggrieved of his Knox County Criminal Court jury convictions of second degree murder, the defendant, Brandon Scott Donaldson, appeals. He alleges error in the composition of the jury, arguing that the venire did not represent a fair cross-section of the community and that the State improperly used a peremptory challenge to strike an African American. He claims error in both the admission and exclusion of evidence, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence a sonogram photograph and by excluding text messages sent by the victim, certain of the victim's medical records, and prior consistent statements of a defense witness. He also asserts that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial after a State's witness offered improper testimony. He asserts that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during closing argument. He claims error in the jury instructions provided by the trial court, arguing that the trial court incorrectly defined the offense of voluntary manslaughter and that the sequential jury instruction essentially barred the jury from adequately considering voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of second degree murder. The defendant also challenges the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and the propriety of the total effective sentence. Finally, he asserts that the cumulative effect of the alleged errors prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed

Jonathan Harwell (on appeal and at trial) and Chloe Akers (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, Brandon Scott Donaldson.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Edwin Alan Groves, Jr., Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and Kevin Allen and Molly Martin, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.




The Knox County Grand Jury charged the defendant with alternative counts of the first degree murder of Marcia Crider, alternative counts of the first degree murder of Ms. Crider's unborn child, the attempted first degree murder of Ms. Crider's mother, Pebbles Renee Jones, [1] and one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony related to the February 13, 2013 shooting death of Ms. Crider and her unborn child. Following a January 2015 jury trial, a Knox County Criminal Court Jury convicted the defendant of the second degree murder of Ms. Crider and her unborn child, the attempted second degree murder of Ms. Jones, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed a total effective sentence of 68 years. The defendant appealed his convictions, and, on direct appeal, this court reversed his convictions based upon the trial court's erroneous exclusion of evidence and remanded the case for a new trial. See State v. Brandon Scott Donaldson, No. E2016-00262-CCA-R3-CD, slip op. at 1 (Tenn. Crim. App., Knoxville, July 6, 2017).

Summary of Facts

The evidence adduced at the July 2018 retrial established that the defendant and Ms. Crider began dating in December 2012 after Ms. Crider ended her long-term relationship with Andre Crutchfield. At the time, Ms. Crider was pregnant with Mr. Crutchfield's child. Although Ms. Crider lived with Ms. Jones, she frequently spent the night at the Porter Avenue residence the defendant shared with Angela Knighton, a woman to whom he referred as his aunt. The defendant moved in with Ms. Knighton, who was legally blind, "a little less than a year" before the offenses.

The sometimes querulous relationship between the defendant and Ms. Crider reached a breaking point on February 13, 2013. On that day, the couple argued. Ms. Knighton awoke to Ms. Crider's "yelling very loud" and "calling him motherf*****s . . . and t[elling] him that he was a dirty dick, motherf*****, and that's the reason why his dick was burning, and she got her situation taken care of." Ms. Knighton also heard "like two smacks" and then the defendant's telling Ms. Crider "that she wasn't going to keep putting her hands on him too many times." The argument escalated, and Ms. Crider refused the defendant's appeals to leave. Ms. Crider took her belongings out of her bag as quickly as the defendant placed them in the bag. Ms. Knighton, who had walked to the defendant's room, then placed Ms. Crider's belongings in the bag and asked Ms. Crider to leave. The


defendant lifted Ms. Crider and carried her into the living room and then tossed her bag into the yard. Ms. Crider, in turn, "put [her things] back in the bag and brought them back into [Ms. Knighton's] house." Ms. Crider warned the defendant that "she was going to call her uncles to have [the defendant] f***** up." The defendant left the Porter Avenue residence, leaving Ms. Knighton with Ms. Crider, who was "belligerent, just screaming, hollering, cursing." Ms. Knighton overheard Ms. Crider telephone the defendant and tell "him to bring her money back and that she was gonna have her uncles to f*** him up, to take care of him." Ms. Knighton telephoned the defendant to warn him "to be careful because she had somebody after him."

Ms. Crider telephoned Ms. Jones and reported that the defendant had "put his hands on her" and had taken the money Ms. Jones had given her to buy necessities for her child. After Ms. Crider relayed these allegations to her, Ms. Jones went to the Porter Avenue residence to pick up Ms. Crider. Ms. Jones also telephoned the defendant to chastise him for striking Ms. Crider and for taking her money. When Ms. Jones arrived at the residence, the defendant was not home, and Ms. Knighton let her inside. Ms. Crider gathered her belongings, and the two women were on their way out when they encountered the defendant, who was armed with a handgun. The defendant gave Ms. Jones $1, 120 dollars, and Ms. Crider argued that he owed her another $80. When it appeared that the two would argue over the money, Ms. Jones hurried Ms. Crider outside with a promise to reimburse her for the $80. At that point, Ms. Crider "cocks her little head to the side, and she said, 'Hmm, I hope that $80 is worth the Sprite I poured in your shoes, huh.'" Ms. Knighton rushed into the bedroom and found that two pairs of the defendant's shoes "were full of liquids, clear liquids, Sprite" and that "all his clothes were bleached on the bed." The defendant, still armed, also hurried to his bedroom while the two women went to Ms. Jones's car.

As Ms. Jones drove away, the defendant came out of the Porter Avenue residence and fired his gun at Ms. Jones's vehicle. Although Ms. Jones initially believed that the women had gotten away unscathed, she soon realized that Ms. Crider had been shot. Ms. Jones pulled over and telephoned 9-1-1. Ms. Crider eventually succumbed to her injuries: two gunshot wounds, one of which entered the right side of the upper back then traveled through the right third rib, the right lung, the aorta and pulmonary trunk, and the left lung before coming to rest within her left breast and the other of which entered the left side of the lower back then traveled through the left side of the pelvis, penetrated her uterus, and passed through the head of her 13-week-old male fetus before coming to rest in her bladder. Two bullets were recovered from Ms. Crider's body, and two were recovered from Ms. Jones's vehicle. Forensic testing established that the bullets and the


11 cartridge casings recovered from near the Porter Avenue residence had been fired from the same gun.

The defendant disappeared immediately after the shooting, and because both Ms. Jones and Ms. Knighton knew him only by the nickname "L," it took authorities some time to ascertain his identity. A fingerprint obtained from ammunition discovered in the room where "L" had stayed at the Porter Avenue residence was matched to the defendant. The United States Marshals Service eventually located the defendant in Cook County, Illinois, on March 8, 2013.

The defendant admitted that on the day of the offenses, he had $1, 200 that belonged to Ms. Crider and that they drove to meet friends of the defendant "on Catalpa." When one of the defendant's friends gave Ms. Crider a compliment, she "lashed out on" the friend "and called him . . . all type of names and just . . . went crazy on him." The defendant left before the situation could "escalate" and drove toward Ms. Jones's residence. Ms. Crider refused to get out of the car until the defendant took her to his house to retrieve her bag. Ms. Crider continued "bickering" with and yelling at the defendant with brief breaks for "[c]alling people on the phone, texting." The defendant said that he became so frustrated with Ms. Crider's behavior that he "turn[ed] the music up. Every time you get louder, I turn the music up louder, 'cause I don't want to talk to you." He eventually told Ms. Crider that it was time to end the relationship, which "made it worse." Ms. Crider "said, 'You're probably the motherf***er that gave me herpes, '" which shocked him and quickly escalated their argument.

Inside the Porter Avenue residence, Ms. Crider did not gather her belongings as promised but instead sat on the defendant's bed "and gets on the phone and starts calling people, starts texting people." She and the defendant continued to argue, and the defendant told Ms. Crider that she had to leave. Ms. Crider told the defendant that...

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