State v. Stephenson

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJanice M. Holder, J.
Citation195 S.W.3d 574
Decision Date04 January 2006
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Jonathan Wesley STEPHENSON.

Page 574

195 S.W.3d 574
STATE of Tennessee
v.
Jonathan Wesley STEPHENSON.
Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Knoxville.
January 4, 2006 Session.
June 2, 2006.

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John E. Herbison, Nashville, Tennessee; Carl R. Ogle, Jefferson City, Tennessee; and Tim S. Moore, Newport, Tennessee, for the Appellant-Defendant, Jonathan Stephenson.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; Angele Michele Gregory and Michelle Chapman McIntire, Assistant Attorneys General; Al Schmutzer, Jr., District Attorney General; and James B. Dunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee-Plaintiff, State of Tennessee.

OPINION

JANICE M. HOLDER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which WILLIAM M. BARKER, C.J., and E. RILEY ANDERSON, and CORNELIA A. CLARK, JJ., joined. ADOLPHO A. BIRCH, JR., concurred in part, dissented in part, and filed a separate opinion.


The appeal in this capital case arises from the resentencing of Jonathan Wesley Stephenson, who was convicted in 1990 of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder for his role in the contract killing of his wife. Following the resentencing hearing, the jury imposed a sentence of death, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Upon automatic appeal under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(a)(1), we designated the following issues for oral argument:1 1) Do dual sentences of incarceration for conspiracy and death for first degree murder in this case violate double jeopardy; 2) Did the trial court err in admitting the prior testimony of two witnesses, Glen Brewer and Michael Litz; 3) Did the trial court err in not considering the defendant's motion to suppress his statement to the police; 4) Did the trial court lack jurisdiction to resentence the defendant; and 5) Is the defendant's death sentence comparatively proportionate and is the sentence valid under the mandatory review of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1). Having carefully reviewed the record and relevant legal authority, we conclude that none of the errors alleged by the defendant warrants relief. With respect to issues not herein specifically addressed, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Relevant portions of that opinion are published hereafter as an appendix. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

In March 1990, Jonathan Wesley Stephenson ("the defendant") was charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to

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commit first degree murder for his role in the contract killing of his wife, Lisa Stephenson ("Mrs. Stephenson"). Ralph Thompson, Jr. ("Thompson") was charged as a co-defendant in both indictments. Thompson received a life sentence for Mrs. Stephenson's murder, plus a sentence of twenty-five years for conspiracy to commit murder. The defendant was also convicted of both counts of the indictment. The jury sentenced the defendant to death for the first degree murder, and the trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of twenty-five years for the conspiracy. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed both of the defendant's convictions but remanded for resentencing. State v. Stephenson, 878 S.W.2d 530 (Tenn.1994).2 On remand, the parties agreed that the defendant would receive a sentence of life without parole for the first degree murder and a sentence of sixty years for the conspiracy. In 1998, the defendant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the legality of his sentence of life without parole. In Stephenson v. Carlton, 28 S.W.3d 910, 912 (Tenn.2000), this Court held that the defendant's sentence of life without parole was illegal because such sentence was not statutorily authorized at the time of the offense. We declared the sentence of life without parole void and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Following a resentencing hearing, the jury again imposed a sentence of death, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.

At the resentencing hearing, the State presented proof showing that in December 1989, the defendant was married to Mrs. Stephenson and had a four-year-old son and an eight-month-old son. The defendant worked as a tractor-trailer driver in Morristown, Tennessee. In March 1989, the defendant met Julia Ann Webb ("Webb") at a bar in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the two became romantically involved. The defendant told Webb that his wife had been killed in a traffic accident five years earlier and that afterwards he had an affair with his wife's sister, "Kathy." He also told Webb that he had a child with each woman.

In 1989, on numerous occasions, the defendant asked Glen Franklin Brewer ("Brewer"), a co-worker, to kill the wife of a friend. However, the description of the residence of the proposed victim matched the defendant's own home. On one occasion the defendant offered Brewer a boat, a motor, and a pickup truck in return for the requested killing. On another occasion the defendant offered Brewer $3,000.00 in return for the killing, and on yet another occasion, the defendant offered Brewer $5,000.00 from life insurance proceeds. The defendant complained to Brewer that his wife was receiving expensive psychiatric treatment and medication and that he feared he would "lose everything he had worked for" if he divorced her. In the fall of 1989, the defendant offered another man, Steven Michael Litz ("Litz"), who was a friend of Thompson, $5,000.00 to kill the defendant's wife because, the defendant said, she was going to divorce him and "take everything he'd ever worked for."

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On the evening of December 3, 1989, the defendant and Thompson took Thompson's 30/30 rifle and went to the home of Dave Robertson ("Robertson"), the defendant's employer, at around 7:30 p.m. After instructing Robertson to tell anyone who asked that he and Thompson had been at Robertson's house until 9:45 p.m., the defendant left with Thompson. The two men drove to an isolated area in Cocke County, Tennessee, near the home of Thompson's uncle. Thompson had previously suggested that location as an out-of-the-way place where the defendant could "get rid of" Mrs. Stephenson. Mrs. Stephenson was lured to the remote location to pick up money for the defendant that was supposedly owed to him for "running" drugs. Thompson and the defendant waited there until Mrs. Stephenson arrived. As she sat in her vehicle, Mrs. Stephenson was shot at close range through the car's windshield. The bullet struck Mrs. Stephenson in the forehead and caused massive head injuries. The defendant told law enforcement officers that Thompson shot the victim, and the State's evidence showed that the defendant had offered to give Thompson a truck, a boat, and a motor for killing the victim. Thompson, however, testified that the defendant shot Mrs. Stephenson. Thompson added that, at the defendant's insistence, he also fired the rifle. The two then drove to the defendant's place of work, and the defendant subsequently headed to Ohio in an eighteen-wheeler truck. When Thompson asked about the defendant's children, the defendant told him that they would be all right because his father-in-law would check on them.

On his way out of the state, the defendant met Webb in Harrogate, Tennessee. He informed Webb that "Kathy" had just been killed by some people to whom she owed money. He explained that he and Thompson had gone to the scene of the killing where "Kathy" was found dead. The defendant and Thompson fought there with two men who had killed "Kathy," and they thought that the men were dead. The defendant said that he had not contacted the police because the police were in league with the killers. He told Webb that his children were with "Kathy's" father3 and commented, "I didn't love her but I'm going to miss the Bitch." Webb recalled that she was with the defendant the weekend prior to Mrs. Stephenson's murder and that at that time the defendant purchased ammunition for a rifle at a K-Mart store.

After meeting with Webb, the defendant drove his truck to Ohio. Upon the discovery of his wife's body, the defendant was called back to Tennessee for questioning. The defendant initially denied involvement in his wife's murder. After Thompson and Robertson implicated him in Mrs. Stephenson's death, the defendant confessed to having Thompson kill her. At the time of Mrs. Stephenson's death, the defendant was the beneficiary of a $5,000.00 life insurance policy covering his wife. The defendant's sons, who were teenagers by the time of the resentencing hearing, were adopted by Mrs. Stephenson's parents and had no contact with their father, who, according to his former father-in-law, had never shown any remorse for the killing. At a separate trial, Thompson was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

In mitigation, the defendant presented evidence concerning his family history, psychological condition, and life in prison. Testimony from the defendant's parents

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and his younger brother painted a picture of a relatively normal childhood, although the defendant's mother testified that the defendant had suffered some emotional problems and was once hospitalized after attempting suicide. The defendant, the second of three sons, was described as "a regular kid" and as "a typical teenager" with a good sense of humor, who was quick-witted and more interested in sports than school. Because of his father's career as an officer in the United States Air Force, the family moved often. The defendant's mother worked outside the home. The defendant's brother testified about how the defendant had "raised" him while their mother and father worked. After twenty years of marriage, the defendant's...

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78 practice notes
  • State v. Bonds
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 7, 2016
    ...at *6 (Tenn.Crim.App. June 30, 2009), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Nov. 30, 2009)), no perm. app. filed ; see also State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 590 (Tenn. 2006) (observing that "the federal appellate courts continue to hold that the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation does not apply ......
  • People v. Phillips, No. 08CA2013.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 25, 2012
    ...and the witnesses testifying against him.”); Commonwealth v. Ludwig, 527 Pa. 472, 594 A.2d 281, 284 (1991); cf. State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 591 (Tenn.2006); but see Brady v. State, 575 N.E.2d 981, 988 (Ind.1991) (holding that use of CCTV, “which would permit the witness to see the ......
  • May v. Carlton, No. E2006-00308-SC-R11-HC.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • January 18, 2008
    ...and warranted habeas corpus relief, but legality of conviction entered pursuant to guilty plea upheld); see also State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 593 (Tenn.2006) (stating that a first degree murder conviction "remained valid and in effect" even though habeas court on remand declared the......
  • State v. Sexton, No. E2008–00292–SC–DDT–DD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • October 10, 2012
    ...“testimony regarding a [d]efendant's willingness or refusal to submit to a polygraph examination is not admissible.” State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 599 (Tenn.2006) (appendix) (quoting State v. Pierce, 138 S.W.3d 820, 826 (Tenn.2004)). One rationale for excluding the evidence is that i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
78 cases
  • State v. Bonds
    • United States
    • Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 7, 2016
    ...at *6 (Tenn.Crim.App. June 30, 2009), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Nov. 30, 2009)), no perm. app. filed ; see also State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 590 (Tenn. 2006) (observing that "the federal appellate courts continue to hold that the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation does not apply ......
  • People v. Phillips, No. 08CA2013.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • October 25, 2012
    ...and the witnesses testifying against him.”); Commonwealth v. Ludwig, 527 Pa. 472, 594 A.2d 281, 284 (1991); cf. State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 591 (Tenn.2006); but see Brady v. State, 575 N.E.2d 981, 988 (Ind.1991) (holding that use of CCTV, “which would permit the witness to see the ......
  • May v. Carlton, No. E2006-00308-SC-R11-HC.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • January 18, 2008
    ...and warranted habeas corpus relief, but legality of conviction entered pursuant to guilty plea upheld); see also State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 593 (Tenn.2006) (stating that a first degree murder conviction "remained valid and in effect" even though habeas court on remand declared the......
  • State v. Sexton, No. E2008–00292–SC–DDT–DD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • October 10, 2012
    ...“testimony regarding a [d]efendant's willingness or refusal to submit to a polygraph examination is not admissible.” State v. Stephenson, 195 S.W.3d 574, 599 (Tenn.2006) (appendix) (quoting State v. Pierce, 138 S.W.3d 820, 826 (Tenn.2004)). One rationale for excluding the evidence is that i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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