State v. Dotson, W2011–00815–SC–DDT–DD.

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtCORNELIA A. CLARK, J.
Citation450 S.W.3d 1
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Jessie DOTSON.
Docket NumberNo. W2011–00815–SC–DDT–DD.,W2011–00815–SC–DDT–DD.
Decision Date30 September 2014

450 S.W.3d 1

STATE of Tennessee
Jessie DOTSON.

No. W2011–00815–SC–DDT–DD.

Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Jackson.

April 9, 2014 Session.
Sept. 30, 2014.

450 S.W.3d 11

Kathleen Morris, Nashville, Tennessee, and Marty Brett McAfee, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jessie Dotson.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Acting Solicitor General; Jeffrey Dean Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; Damon Griffin, Reginald Henderson, and Raymond Lepone, 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, J., joined.


A jury convicted the defendant, Jessie Dotson, of six counts of premeditated first degree murder for killing his brother, three other adults, and two of his brother's minor sons at their Memphis, Tennessee home. The jury also convicted the defendant of three counts of attempted first degree murder for attacking with kitchen knives and wooden boards three more of his brother's minor children who were also present in the home. At the conclusion of the penalty phase of the trial, the jury imposed death sentences for the six first degree murder convictions, finding that the multiple aggravating circumstances applicable to each conviction outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. At a separate sentencing hearing on the attempted first degree murder convictions, the trial court classified the defendant as a Range II multiple offender, imposed a forty-year sentence for each conviction, and ordered these sentences served consecutively to each other and to the death sentences. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. After the case was docketed in this Court, we entered an order identifying five issues for oral argument,1 in addition to the mandatory review Tennessee Code Annotated section 39–13–206(c)(1) (2014) requires this Court to perform. We now hold that: (1) admission of the defendant's custodial statements does not constitute plain error; (2) admission of testimony regarding the defendant's invocation of his right to counsel did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial or violate his right to due process; (3) admission of testimony about a surviving victim's statements to third parties did not violate the defendant's state and federal constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; (4) admission of testimony regarding the defendant's history of imprisonment did not violate his right to a fair trial; and (5) admission of the pathologist's testimony about autopsies another pathologist performed did not violate the defendant's federal and state constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. We also hold, in accordance with section 39–13–206(c)(1), that: (1) the sentences of death were not imposed in any arbitrary fashion; (2) the evidence supports the jury's findings that the aggravating circumstances were proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the evidence supports the jury's findings that as to each first degree murder conviction the aggravating circumstances

450 S.W.3d 12

outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the sentences of death are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the nature of the crimes and the defendant. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant's convictions of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder and sentences of death and forty years are affirmed. With respect to issues not specifically addressed herein, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and include relevant portions thereof in an appendix to this opinion.

I. Factual Background

A. Guilt Phase

1. Discovery of the Crime Scene and Initial Investigation

The proof offered at the guilt phase of the defendant's trial established that in March 2008, thirty-year-old Cecil Dotson, Sr. (“Cecil”),2 Cecil's five children, ranging in age from nine years to two months, and Marissa Williams, Cecil's twenty-seven-year-old fiancee and the mother of four of his children, were living at a home located at 722 Lester Street in Memphis, Tennessee. They had been living in the home for five or six months. Cecil worked as a maintenance man at an apartment complex in Memphis.

The defendant—Cecil's brother—lived with their sister, Nicole Dotson (“Nicole”), in her apartment at Goodwill Village in Memphis and worked with their father, Jessie Dotson Sr. (“Jessie Sr.”), as a painter. The defendant had moved in with Nicole in August 2007, upon his release from prison. The defendant's family referred to him as “Junior.”

On Saturday, March 1, 2008, Jessie Sr., the defendant, and William Waddell, Cecil's and the defendant's half brother, also known as “Fat,” went to Cecil's Lester Street home to watch a televised University of Memphis basketball game with him.3 Ms. Williams and the five children were also present at the home during this time.4 The group was unable to watch the game because Cecil's television could not receive the broadcast. Jessie Sr. left Cecil's house around 6:00 or 6:30 p.m., and as he was leaving, he saw Cecil on the porch cleaning his grill and preparing to barbecue. He did not see Cecil or the defendant again that night and never again saw Cecil alive. Mr. Waddell left Cecil's home at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., and when he left, Cecil was still alive.

When Jessie Sr. arrived at Nicole's apartment the next morning, Sunday, March 2, 2008, to pick up the defendant for work, the defendant was not there, and Nicole did not know where he was. Jessie Sr. asked Nicole to tell the defendant to contact him if he wanted to keep his job. Later that evening, the defendant called Jessie Sr. and explained that he had not called because his girlfriend, Sheila Jones, had hidden his cell phone after they argued. The defendant did not explain why he had missed work. When the defendant

450 S.W.3d 13

and Mr. Waddell went to dinner that evening, the defendant asked if Mr. Waddell wanted to pick up Cecil. Mr. Waddell had called Cecil numerous times on March 2nd but had not reached him, so they did not go by the Lester Street home.

The next day, Monday, March 3, 2008, the defendant rode to work with Jessie Sr. around 8:00 a.m., but they stopped working at 11:00 a.m. due to rain. Later that same day, the defendant called Jessie Sr., telling him that Nicole wanted him to drive by Cecil's house because Ms. Smith, the mother of Cecil's two-year-old son Cecil II, feared something was wrong. Ms. Smith had been unable to reach Cecil by telephone since the very early morning hours of Sunday, March 2, 2008, and no one had answered the door at the Lester Street home when she knocked around 3:00 p.m. that day. Ms. Smith said the door was partially open, and the radio was playing, but she did not see anyone or hear the children, although she could see the television just inside the door and the photographs on the wall across from the door. On the morning of March 3rd, Ms. Smith discovered that Cecil had not shown up for work and that his relatives had not heard from him. She still could not reach him by telephone. When she called Mr. Waddell at work numerous times expressing her concerns, he told her to call the police. She took his advice and called the police in the early evening and waited outside the Lester Street home for them to arrive.

Officer Randall Davis arrived first. As he walked in the front door, he could “smell the dead bodies.” The storm door was closed, but the interior door was partially open, and he could see a person's foot lying on the floor inside. Entering the front door, Officer Davis discovered four adult bodies, later identified as Cecil, Ms. Williams, Hollis Seals, and twenty-two-year-old Shindri Roberson. All appeared to have sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Officer Davis did not check for vital signs because it was obvious to him that they were deceased.

Officer Davis, along with two other officers, continued through the house, searching for survivors and perpetrators, while another officer secured the front door. Officer Davis noticed blood throughout the house, but none of it appeared to be fresh. Officer Davis saw someone in the hallway bathroom and discovered nine-year-old C.J. in the bathtub with a knife stuck in his head. Officer Davis first believed that C.J. was deceased but then noticed the child's eyes twitch. After alerting others he had found a survivor, Officer Davis continued clearing the home.

In a bedroom on the left side of the hallway (“bedroom two”), Officer Davis discovered four-year-old Cemario, who was deceased. In another bedroom (“bedroom one”), Officer Davis discovered two-year-old Cecil II and five-year-old Cedrick, both of whom appeared deceased to Officer Davis. Meanwhile, another officer located two-month-old Ceniyah, who was still alive, and carried her out of the house.5 The officers exited just as...

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