State v. Middlebrooks

Decision Date08 September 1992
Citation840 S.W.2d 317
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee, Plaintiff/Appellee, v. Donald Ray MIDDLEBROOKS, Defendant/Appellant.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Lionel R. Barrett, Jr., Richard McGee, Paul G. Whetstone, Nashville, for defendant-appellant.

Charles W. Burson, Atty. Gen. & Reporter and Kathy M. Principe, Asst. Atty. Gen., Nashville, for plaintiff-appellee.

OPINION

ANDERSON, Justice.

In this capital case, the defendant, Donald Ray Middlebrooks, was found guilty of first-degree felony murder and aggravated kidnapping, but found not guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated sexual battery. In the sentencing hearing, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: (1) that the murder was heinous, atrocious or cruel in that it involved torture; and (2) that it was committed while defendant was engaged in committing a felony. Tenn.Code Ann § 39-2-203(i)(5) and (7) (1982). The jury found the aggravating circumstances sufficiently substantial to outweigh the mitigating circumstances and sentenced the defendant to death by electrocution. The defendant was also sentenced to 60 years for aggravated kidnapping.

On appeal, the defendant raises numerous issues for our review, which involve alleged errors occurring at trial in both the guilt and sentencing phases. We have carefully considered the defendant's contentions as to the guilt phase and find no error. We, therefore, affirm the defendant's guilt. 1 With respect to the sentence, we wish to address an issue not directly raised by the parties--the constitutionality of the death penalty as punishment for felony murder. A majority of the Court--Justices Anderson, Drowota, and O'Brien--conclude that it is constitutional under both the state and federal constitutions to impose the death penalty for felony murder under Tennessee's death penalty statute. Justices Daughtrey and Reid dissent. A majority of the Court--Justices Anderson, Daughtrey, and Reid--have determined, however, that the statute as applied in this case does not sufficiently narrow the population of death-eligible felony murder defendants under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Article I, § 16 of the Tennessee Constitution, because the aggravating circumstance set forth in Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(7) (1982), that the defendant was engaged in committing a felony, essentially duplicates the elements of the offense of first-degree felony murder set out in Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-202(a) (1982) and Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-202(a)(1) (Supp.1988). Justices Drowota and O'Brien dissent.

As a result of this determination and because the jury has found two aggravating circumstances are supported by the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, it is necessary for this case to be remanded for resentencing. Although the evidence amply supports the aggravating circumstance found by the jury that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel in that it involved torture or depravity of mind, Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(5), we are unable to conclude that the elimination of the other aggravating circumstance (i)(7) from jury consideration is harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt. We, therefore, reverse the sentence on the grounds that the aggravating circumstance set out in Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(7) is unconstitutionally applied under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, § 16 of the Tennessee Constitution where the death penalty is imposed for felony murder, and remand this case for a resentencing hearing, in which the State will be free to reseek the death penalty if it so desires.

Under our holding today, felony murder continues as a death-eligible offense. It requires, however, a finding of one of the eleven other aggravating circumstances other than the duplicative circumstance of Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(7).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The State's proof introduced at the guilt phase of the trial demonstrated that on the evening of Sunday, April 26, 1987, around 7:00 p.m., the victim, Kerrick Majors, a 14-year-old black male, was with four friends on Gallatin Road in East Nashville, Tennessee, when they saw a table with a "lot of stuff" being set up across the street as a flea market by three homeless street persons: the defendant, Donald Middlebrooks (a 24-year-old white male); his wife, 17-year-old Tammy Middlebrooks; and their companion, 16-year-old Roger Brewington. The five boys ran across Gallatin Road and were looking at the flea market when Tammy Middlebrooks called out, "Hey, leave our stuff alone!" The boys started running. The defendant and Brewington chased them until they caught Majors. Brewington grabbed Majors in a "sleeper hold" around his neck and head. The defendant held his hand. When Majors said, "Hey man, you know me," Brewington responded, "Shut up, you nigger." Shannon Stewart and another of the boys, Tony Watson, saw the two men drag Majors toward the table and observed the defendant strike him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Frightened, the boys took off running. Later that evening, they reported these events to the victim's mother, who called the police.

The next afternoon, Kerrick Majors' nude body was discovered lying face up in a dry creek bed under a foam mattress in a heavily wooded area behind a drugstore on Gallatin Road in the area where the defendant and Brewington had caught Majors. A bloodstained T-shirt was tied around his neck. A red rope belt was tied around Majors' left wrist, and there was a two-inch laceration in his right wrist. Abrasions, swelling, and bruising were present on the victim's head, his left eye, his nose, his lips, and inside his mouth. An "X" with a vertical line running through it had been cut into his chest. The forensic pathologist, Dr. Charles Harlan, testified that these incisions had been made while Majors was alive. There were two deep stab wounds in the center of the body. One of these penetrated the left lung and pulmonary artery and caused the victim to bleed to death over a period of ten to thirty minutes, during part of which Majors was conscious. Investigating officers noticed a smell of urine about the face, and there were bruises and skinned areas on the back. A wooden stick with blood stains on one end was found lying close to the victim's head.

Around 1:10 a.m. on April 28, police investigators met Brewington at a doughnut shop several miles from the Gallatin Road area. Brewington directed the officers to the location of a knife with a brass knuckle handle, which was bloodstained. Dr. Harlan testified that this knife could have inflicted the deep stab wounds on the victim's body. Brewington also directed the police to a wooded area between Gallatin Road and Ellington Parkway in Nashville where, around 7:00 a.m. on April 28, Donald and Tammy Middlebrooks were apprehended at a small plywood shack. The defendant, who resisted the arresting officers, had a knife with him. He was arrested with the aid of police dogs, taken to the hospital for treatment of the dog bites, and later transported to police headquarters.

At 12:30 p.m. that day, the defendant gave a lengthy video-taped statement about his involvement in the death of Kerrick Majors. The defendant admitted participating in the beating and mistreatment of Majors, but described his role as minor and depicted Roger Brewington as the primary perpetrator of the offense. After Majors was caught, Middlebrooks said Brewington suggested they "have some fun," and the three of them took Majors back into the woods. His hands were tied. Brewington slapped him, beat him with the knife's brass knuckles, hit him with a stick, and urinated into his mouth. The defendant admitted striking Majors with his open hand and on the leg with a switch. Defendant said that his wife Tammy had slapped Majors and burned Majors' nose with a cigarette lighter as Brewington urged her on. Brewington hit Majors on his testicles, threatened to cut "it" open, stuck a stick up Majors' anus, hit him some more with the brass knuckles, wiped the victim's blood on himself, beat his mouth and tongue with a stick, dropped the knife on him, gagged him, and slashed his wrist. Finally, when the defendant asked Brewington to stop because the victim's crying and pleading were getting on his nerves, Brewington gave the victim "the kiss of death" on the forehead. Brewington then gave the defendant the knife and told him to stab Majors. When the defendant refused, Brewington stabbed Majors. The defendant then reluctantly stabbed the victim, according to him, "to prove to Roger that I guess I was cooler" and to put Majors out of his misery. In a previous statement, however, the defendant had said that he had stabbed Majors twice. The victim's ordeal began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. that night with the stabbing.

The next day, the defendant said he and Brewington went back to where they had left the body. Brewington kicked it and made the "X" lacerations at this time. The defendant said he then covered Majors with a foam mattress. The defendant admitted that before beating and killing Majors, he and Brewington had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana.

The defendant presented no proof.

Based on this evidence, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder in the perpetration of a felony and aggravated kidnapping, but not guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, armed robbery, or aggravated sexual battery.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, the state incorporated the evidence presented at the guilt phase and introduced photographs of the victim's body and of Roger Brewington. The defendant's main theory was that he was mentally ill and that infliction of prolonged torture like that perpetrated on the victim was inconsistent with his personality. His younger half-sister, Sharon Fuchs, described their deprived and unstable childhood growing up in Texas. According to her, the defendant's father...

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