State v. Enix, E2020-00231-SC-R11-CD

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE
PartiesSTATE OF TENNESSEE v. TYLER WARD ENIX
Docket NumberE2020-00231-SC-R11-CD
Decision Date13 September 2022

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.

TYLER WARD ENIX

No. E2020-00231-SC-R11-CD

Supreme Court of Tennessee

September 13, 2022


Session January 26, 2022.[1]

Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Knox County No. 107024 Steven Wayne Sword, Judge

In this appeal, we clarify the appropriate standard of review for claims of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument when a defendant fails to contemporaneously object but later raises the claim in a motion for a new trial. Tyler Ward Enix was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery for the 2015 killing of Kimberly Enix. Mr. Enix filed a motion for a new trial challenging his convictions. As relevant to this appeal, he alleged that four instances of improper prosecutorial closing argument, which were not contemporaneously objected to at trial, constitute reversible error. The trial court denied his motion for new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals, reviewing the claims under the plain error doctrine, affirmed the trial court's judgment. Mr. Enix sought permission to appeal, arguing that this Court should employ plenary review to address his claims because they were included in his motion for a new trial. We granted permission to appeal and now hold that plain error review is the appropriate standard, and, furthermore, that Mr. Enix is not entitled to relief. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals for the separate reasons stated herein.

Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed

Eric Lutton (on appeal) and Mark E. Stephens (at trial), District Public Defenders; and Jonathan Harwell (on appeal) and John Halstead (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, for the appellant, Tyler Ward Enix.

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Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Edwin Alan Groves, Jr., Assistant Attorney General; Charme Allen, District Attorney General; and Kevin Allen, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Roger A. Page, C.J., and Sharon G. Lee and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.

OPINION

JEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE

I. Factual and Procedural Background[2]

As a result of the October 2015 homicide of Kimberly Enix ("the victim"), Tyler Ward Enix ("the Defendant") was charged in a seven-count indictment with felony murder, first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, and carjacking. At trial, the State alleged that the Defendant stabbed the victim, his ex-wife, to death in her apartment and then fled the state with her car, her ATM card, and their two-year-old daughter. Specifically, the State presented evidence at trial that the Defendant's marriage to Ms. Enix became volatile after the birth of their daughter. The victim's grandmother described the Defendant as "very violent." The victim's first husband, Chris Morrison, testified that he heard the couple arguing and "a lot of chaos" in the background of phone calls he had with his and the victim's oldest daughter. The victim's supervisor testified that, about a year before the murder, the victim told her, "[I]f I ever don't show up to work . . . you need to come find me . . . you need to look at [the Defendant]." Similarly, the victim had expressed to her supervisor that the Defendant told her she would "be in a body bag" if she ever left him, and characterized the Defendant as "a ticking time bomb."

After the victim and Defendant divorced in April 2015, the victim lived with their daughter in a Knoxville apartment and started dating one of her co-workers. When she failed to show up for work on October 28, 2015, a Knoxville Police Department ("KPD") officer conducted welfare checks at the apartment. Although the officer did not find anything out of place outside of the apartment during the first check, later that day, he entered the victim's apartment through an unlocked back door with another KPD officer and went upstairs where he found the victim lying "in the bedroom . . . deceased[ with] blood everywhere." The officer testified that the victim "had a towel covering her upper body from around her chest up over her head and face." Given the location of the blood, a KPD investigator opined that the victim was stabbed while on the floor.

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Officers found two phones that belonged to the victim near the body, including a broken pink iPhone and a black T-Mobile cell phone. Although investigators could not extract any data from the broken iPhone, the digital contents of the T-Mobile phone were still accessible. Records showed several calls between the victim and the Defendant on the evening of October 27, 2015. In text messages exchanged between the two leading up to the murder, the Defendant criticized the victim as having "no morals" and a "drinking problem." He called the victim "heartless" and a "whore." In other messages, the Defendant threatened to send photos of alcohol in the victim's apartment to her first husband, who had previously limited the victim's contact with their daughters due, in part, to alcohol abuse. Between October 26 and 27 alone, the Defendant texted the victim upwards of sixty times, pleading with her to talk to him and to see their daughter, telling her he hated her, repeatedly asking her about her relationship with other men, and asking her to "please [not] do anything to get [him] in trouble." In nearly each one of the victim's few responses, she asked the Defendant to stop contacting her.

An assistant medical examiner for Knox County conducted an autopsy on the victim and testified that the victim had forty-seven stab wounds on various parts of her body, which caused her death. She opined that the manner of death was homicide. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recovered DNA from the victim's fingernails that was consistent with the Defendant's DNA profile. Tissues recovered from the downstairs bathroom of the victim's apartment tested positive for the Defendant's blood.

On October 28, 2015, the victim's debit card was used to withdraw $300 at an ATM in Knoxville. Photos captured during that ATM transaction showed the Defendant driving the victim's black Chevrolet Impala. The victim's ATM card was used again the next morning to withdraw $200 at an ATM in Ohio. Photos captured during that ATM transaction again showed the Defendant driving the victim's vehicle. The Defendant was arrested in Ohio on October 29, 2015, after an officer from the Morrow County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office received information that a caller saw a vehicle matching the description in an AMBER Alert. The officer confiscated approximately $305, along with a pair of jeans that had a red stain, which was later determined to be the victim's blood. According to the incident report, the Defendant was compliant when stopped and expressed concerns about the safety of his and the victim's daughter, who was in the back seat. He claimed that the two of them were headed to Cleveland, expressed that he thought it was a "matter of time" until he was stopped, and indicated that he was aware that the victim was dead. A KPD investigator testified that the Defendant had scratches on his neck and face and "[l]ooked like he had been in a fight."

At trial, the Defendant did not dispute the stabbing, but, rather, argued that it occurred while the Defendant was in a state of passion and, thus, he was unable to form the requisite intent for premeditation. The Defendant also asserted that any taking of the

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victim's property occurred separate from the killing, rather than as part of a connected plan, and, thus, was not a robbery.

Relevant to this appeal,[3] the record reveals that, during the State's closing argument, counsel stated:

And we told you at the beginning a premeditated act does not have to be in the mind of the accused for any specific period of time. It can happen in an instant. But did it happen in an instant here when you think about how long it took him to kill her: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47.
We talked about judgment, and thinking about that-I'm out of breath and I'm not even wrestling with anybody.
In his motion for a new trial, the Defendant claimed:
Error was committed when the State in their closing argument pounded the table for many of the [forty]-seven (47) stab wounds[4] and then declared himself to be out of breath and said he wasn't even wrestling with anyone while he was doing that. The State was essentially testifying to the mechanics of the homicide. This demonstration was highly prejudicial and violated Mr. Enix's rights to due process and a fair trial.

In regard to the broken iPhone that was found at the victim's apartment, during closing argument, the State suggested:

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And so when he sees in that iPhone, what do you think he sees? Do you think there's more communication . . . with [the man the victim was dating]? We'll never know, because [the Defendant] smashed that iPhone. He-he got rid of that evidence. Just like he did all the other things to cover up his crime here.
In his motion for a new trial, the Defendant argued:
Error was committed in the State's closing argument when the State speculated that [the Defendant] may have seen [the victim's] texts with [the man the victim was dating], with the inference being that this is what enraged him. The State then followed up saying that we will never know because [the Defendant] destroyed her phone. This was pure speculation on two fronts. First, did [the Defendant] see the texts and second, was he the one who broke [the victim's] phone. This
...

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