State v. Robinson

Decision Date17 March 2021
Docket NumberNo. M2020-00058-CCA-R3-CD,M2020-00058-CCA-R3-CD
CourtTennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Cheatham County

No. 17880

Suzanne Lockert-Mash, Judge

In this consolidated appeal, Cheatham County juries convicted the defendants, Ariel K. Robinson, Christopher A. Duncan and Timothy David Shoffner, of attempted second degree murder, aggravated arson, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, and theft of more than $2,500 but less than $10,000. The trial court sentenced the defendants to thirty-seven, seventy-eight and 162 years respectively. On appeal, Defendant Shoffner contends that: (1) the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss because the indictment did not adequately charge him with the offense of attempted first-degree murder. Defendant Duncan contends that: (2) the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress. Defendants Robinson and Shoffner contend that: (3) the State delayed their viewing of the evidence before trial. Defendants Duncan and Shoffner contend that: (4) the State failed to establish a sufficient chain of custody for certain physical evidence; (5) the trial court improperly admitted cell phone tower maps; and (6) the trial court erred when it did not instruct the jury on facilitation. Defendant Robinson contends that: (7) the trial court erred when it denied her impeachment request. All three defendants contend that: (8) the evidence is insufficient to sustain their convictions; and (9) the trial court erred when it sentenced them. After review, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., and J. ROSS DYER, JJ., joined.

Crystal M. Morgan, Ashland City, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ariel K. Robinson.

Jennifer L. Honeycutt and Raquel Avina Abel, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant Christopher A. Duncan.

Michele Denise Hodges, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant Timothy David Shoffner.

Herbert H. Slattery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton and Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Assistant Attorneys General; Wendell Ray Crouch, Jr., District Attorney General; and David W. Wyatt and Margaret F. Sagi, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

I. Preliminary Motions and Trial

This case arises from the defendants invading a home owned by Frank S. Burnette, who was Defendant Shoffner's former stepfather. For alleged offenses that occurred during the home invasion, a Cheatham County grand jury indicted the defendants for attempted first -degree murder, aggravated arson, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and theft of property valued over $10,000 but less than $60,000.

A. Motion to Dismiss

Defendant Shoffner filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, claiming that the indictment failed to charge an essential element of the offense of attempted murder. He asserted that there were no elements for the charge of attempted murder listed nor was the applicable statute cited. The State countered that the indictment sufficiently placed Defendant Shoffner on notice, as the indictment alleged that, "on or about April 11, 2016, prior to the indictment, in the County of Cheatham, then and there, did unlawfully, knowingly, deliberately, feloniously, and with premeditation attempt to kill Frank S. Burnett in violation of 39-12-101, a Class A felony . . . ."

The court found:

[T]he State and Federal Constitution, of course, guarantees a defendant that they will have knowledge and nature of the offense. And to be sufficient, an indictment must inform the defendant of a precise offense.
It must enable the Court, upon conviction, to enter a judgment, an appropriate judgment, and it must protect the defendant from double jeopardy. That's basically what you have for an indictment in regard to the language and the notice of that.
And it's designed to, of course, afford the defendant an adequate opportunity to prepare for trial and adequate defense. And if there's a failureto specifically allege an element of the offense, it's not necessarily fatal if the elements are necessarily implied from the allegations made.
And if the offense is alleged in such a way that the defendant can't fail to be apprised of the elements of the offense, then the charge is sufficient, notwithstanding the fact that an element may . . . not be specifically alleged.
But in looking at this, you have the situation where the District Attorney's Office have done the indictment . . . [a]nd they slipped in that word "deliberately." . . . But there's no longer a deliberate in a murder case.
You all are the third DA's office that I've told that to . . . . I've told each DA, you all need to change your indictments.
But, in doing the research on the other cases, I've found . . . State v. Christian and White v. State. And it exactly had an attempted murder charge.
And it stated, ["]If anything, the addition of deliberately creates a higher burden on the State. Deliberate means to act with a cool purpose. Pre-meditated means done after exercise of reflection and judgment.["] And in that Court, they had stated that the deliberate would suffice for intentional.
So I will deny your Motion to Dismiss. The indictment is sufficient, even though it is an error.

The trial court denied Defendant Shoffner's motion to dismiss, and Defendant Shoffner appeals that finding.

B. Motion to Suppress

Before trial, Defendant Duncan moved to suppress statements that he made to law enforcement on or about April 11, 2016, and any evidence obtained during a search by law enforcement of the vehicle he was driving that same day. The basis for his motion was the "absence of procedural safeguards related to" the custodial interrogation and the search. At the motion to suppress hearing, the parties presented the following evidence: Lieutenant Heflin testified that that he was the Lieutenant over the Criminal Investigation Division ("CID") for the Cheatham County Sheriff's Department at the time of this investigation. On the morning of April 11, 2016, he responded to a report of an arson and kidnapping off of Cheatham Dam Road. The victim informed him that the suspects had tied the victim up, beaten him, and held him against his will while trying to obtain his pin number to retrieve money from his bank account. Lieutenant Heflin recalled that, a year before he had been tothe victim's residence in an attempt to locate Defendant Shoffner as part of an investigation into an unrelated violent offense in Montgomery County.

Lieutenant Heflin subpoenaed the bank records, learned at which locations the card had been used, and then obtained video footage from those locations. The pictures from the video footage appeared to match Defendant Shoffner's driver's license photograph. Lieutenant Heflin said that he learned that Defendant Shoffner was staying with Defendant Robinson, and he sent narcotics agents to Defendant Robinson's address to "make contact" with Defendant Shoffner.

Officer Hundley, a narcotics officer at the time with the Cheatham County Sheriff's Office, testified that he and other officers went to Defendant Robinson's house at Lieutenant Heflin's request. There, he saw several people inside the home through the home's front windows. He and other officers approached the house, and Defendant Robinson greeted them at the front door. Officer Hundley identified himself and the other officers, who were all in plain clothes, as law enforcement officers, and they asked to speak with Defendant Shoffner, whom he saw inside the front living room area on a phone call. Defendant Shoffner ended his phone call, and Officer Hundley asked to speak with him outside. Defendant Shoffner agreed, saying he first needed to retrieve his shoes.

Officer Hundley said that he recognized Defendant Shoffner, by face and by clothing, from surveillance footage from the locations where the victim's ATM card had been used. He explained that he had retrieved some surveillance footage from a gas station in Clarksville to look for evidence that any of the suspects attempted to use an ATM card at the gas station. The footage showed a man dressed in a Tennessee Titans jersey arriving in a blue Mercury Marquis enter the store and attempt to use the ATM located to the left of the front doors. Officer Hundley said he placed Defendant Shoffner in handcuffs and read him the Miranda warnings before speaking with him outside. Officer Hundley then contacted Lieutenant Heflin and informed him that they had located Defendant Shoffner.

Lieutenant Heflin arrived at Defendant Robinson's house where he briefly spoke with Defendant Shoffner in an attempt to ascertain who had accompanied him in the blue Mercury Marquis. Defendant Shoffner told him that he had been in the vehicle with Defendant Duncan and offered addresses and contact information for Defendant Duncan. Lieutenant Heflin went to the address Defendant Shoffner offered and saw a blue Mercury Marquis matching the security footage. Defendant Duncan was in the driver's seat of the vehicle, and he had a female passenger.

Lieutenant Heflin immediately detained Defendant Duncan and read him his Miranda rights. Defendant Duncan then agreed that he was the man in the surveillance footage who attempted to use the victim's ATM card in a store. He explained that Defendant Shoffnerhad given him the debit card and asked him to try to get money from the account associated with the debit card in exchange for some of the money. Defendant Duncan gave the officers consent to search the Mercury Marquis. Lieutenant Heflin patted down Defendant Duncan for officer safety and found in Defendant Duncan's pockets the victim's white cell phone and some paperwork belonging to the victim. In...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT