State v. Reynolds, E2018-01732-SC-R11-CD

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE.
Decision Date29 November 2021
Docket NumberE2018-01732-SC-R11-CD



No. E2018-01732-SC-R11-CD

Supreme Court of Tennessee

November 29, 2021

Session March 31, 2021 [1]

Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 290147 Barry A. Steelman, Judge.

Jeremy Reynolds was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder at the conclusion of a jury trial in which the State was permitted to introduce evidence related to gang membership. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the evidence of premeditation was legally insufficient and reversed the conviction. The intermediate appellate court noted that the evidence was legally sufficient to support a conviction for the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder, but it nevertheless remanded for a new trial based on its determination that the trial court had abused its discretion in admitting certain pieces of evidence related to gang membership. We accepted the State's appeal. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the conviction for premeditated first-degree murder. We further conclude that there was no reversible error on the part of the trial court in admitting evidence related to gang membership. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate Reynolds's conviction for premeditated first-degree murder.

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

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andree Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Katherine C. Redding, Assistant Attorney General; Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; Lance W. Pope, Executive Assistant District Attorney General; and Kevin T. Brown, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

John G. McDougal (at trial and on appeal) and Chris Dixon (at trial), Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jeremy Reynolds.

Tyler M. Caviness and Jonathan Harwell, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae, Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


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. CORNELIA A. CLARK, J., not participating.[2]



I. Factual and Procedural Background

Twenty-year-old Wendell Washington ("the victim") arrived home between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. on the night of May 5, 2013. He shared the home with his girlfriend, Harley Stokes, and his mother, Diana Washington, both of whom were inside the house when he arrived. The victim stood six feet, two and one-half inches tall and weighed one hundred thirty-three and one-half pounds. He was a roofer by trade but also sold marijuana and "pills." Upon arriving home, the victim parked across the street from his house. Ms. Stokes heard music from the victim's car as he arrived and walked to the front door. In the meantime, the victim came across the street and up onto the covered front porch of his house. The front porch was rectangular in shape, with the entrance to the porch on one end and the front door on the other. The front door had two small windows near the top of the door, and Ms. Stokes saw the victim through the glass. As Ms. Stokes began to open the front door, she heard a voice she did not recognize. The front door was pulled shut from the outside, and the victim disappeared from Ms. Stokes's view through the glass.

According to Ms. Stokes, the victim did not bring anyone to the house other than family members. Under the circumstances, Ms. Stokes decided to awaken Ms. Washington, who was asleep in a bedroom, and told her "something's going on outside." They returned to the front door, at which time they heard "some commotion" outside. One or two gunshots rang out, followed by "a bunch" of other gunshots. After the shooting stopped, Ms. Stokes and Ms. Washington went outside and found the victim alive but mortally wounded on the front porch. At no time did Ms. Stokes or Ms. Washington see who was outside with the victim. Neither woman knew who was shooting or even how many people were outside.


There were multiple 911 calls after the gunshots. In one of the calls, a neighbor reported seeing a white SUV driving past after the gunshots. Another neighborhood resident who lived not far from the victim's house later reported seeing a white or light silver Mitsubishi SUV drive erratically through a stop sign shortly after the gunshots. The first of the 911 calls occurred at 10:56 p.m.

At 11:03 p.m., approximately seven minutes after the first 911 call, security camera video recorded a light-colored SUV-similar in appearance to the Mitsubishi vehicle described by the neighborhood resident-arriving at the Erlanger Hospital emergency room. Two individuals exited the vehicle and carried a third-Jeremy Reynolds ("the Defendant")-into the hospital. They dropped off the Defendant, returned to the vehicle, and promptly left the premises. One of the individuals who dropped off the Defendant was later identified as Deaunte Duncan, but the other was never identified. When Chattanooga police later drove a logical route from the victim's house to the hospital, obeying all traffic laws, the trip took ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

The Defendant had been shot and required emergency treatment. There were two bullet holes in the front left side of the Defendant's shirt. One was consistent with a contact firearm discharge, and the other exhibited characteristics of a muzzle-to-target distance between three and twenty-four inches. There were also two bullet holes in the right pocket of the victim's jacket.[3] Both holes exhibited characteristics consistent with a contact firearm discharge, indicating that a gun was fired from inside the jacket pocket.

During surgery, medical personnel removed a .40-caliber jacketed hollow point bullet from the Defendant.[4] The bullet was fired from a gun with polygonal rifling, and because polygonal rifling leaves bullets relatively smooth with few individual characteristics, forensic examination could not link the bullet to a specific gun. However, expert testimony indicated that the bullet was most likely fired from a .40-caliber Glock firearm.

Police recovered a .40-caliber Glock Model 23 handgun with the victim's blood on it from the victim's home after the shooting. It belonged to the victim and had been moved


from beside him on the front porch into the house by Ms. Stokes immediately after the shooting.[5] Like the bullet removed from the Defendant during surgery, the live rounds remaining in the Glock 23 contained jacketed hollow point bullets. There were eight live rounds in the Glock 23, and police located three additional .40-caliber live rounds on the front porch. Police also located two .40-caliber cartridge cases that were later determined to have been fired from the Glock 23. The eleven live rounds and the two cartridge cases were all the same brand of ammunition, and the magazine in the Glock 23 was capable of holding thirteen live rounds.

Unlike the Defendant, the victim did not survive his wounds. The victim was shot a total of seven times: once in the left side of the chest, four times in the back of the left arm, and twice in the back. The two wounds in the back were fatal, as they impacted vital organs, including extensive damage to the heart. The chest wound resulted from a contact firearm discharge, but forensic testing was unable to determine a muzzle-to-target distance for the other wounds. Only one bullet was recovered from the victim's body, corresponding to one of the gunshots to the victim's back. It was a .38-caliber bullet. However, when police took possession of the victim's effects at the hospital, the bag with his clothing also contained a .45-caliber bullet. Likewise, when police took possession of the Defendant's effects at the hospital, there was a sealed clear jar with a .45-caliber live round in it next to the bag with the Defendant's clothing.

The evidence did not pinpoint the order of the victim's wounds. However, given the trajectories of the wounds and the physical characteristics of the crime scene, the medical examiner testified at trial that the evidence was consistent with a close-range gunshot to the victim's chest, followed by the victim's body rotating with four gunshots to the back of the victim's left arm and two gunshots to the victim's back. In rotating, the victim would have been turning away from the direction of gunfire and toward his only avenue of escape, the front door.

The crime scene contained a wealth of evidence, including bullets, cartridge cases, live rounds, and blood stains on the front porch. The blood was solely that of the victim.[6]As previously mentioned, police recovered two .40-caliber cartridge cases, both of which were fired from the victim's Glock 23 handgun. Police also located two .45-caliber bullets and five .45-caliber cartridge cases. The five .45-caliber cartridge cases and one of the


bullets recovered at the scene were all fired from the same gun.[7] Significantly, the .45-caliber bullet recovered along with the victim's clothing at the hospital also was fired from the same gun as the five cartridge cases and bullet recovered at the crime scene. Additionally, forensic examination of the .45-caliber live round recovered along with the Defendant's clothing at the hospital revealed that it was not pristine and instead exhibited "mechanism marks," indicating that it had been loaded into a gun. However, the live round could not be linked to a specific gun.

Approximately three months after the victim was killed, Chattanooga Police Officer Michael Early was investigating two robberies-wholly unrelated to the shooting of the victim-and conducted a traffic stop during which he...

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