State v. Thacker

Decision Date27 April 2005
Citation164 S.W.3d 208
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Steven Ray THACKER.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Charles S. Kelly, Sr., Charles S. Kelly, Jr., and Wayne Emmons, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven Ray Thacker.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; Angele M. Gregory and Gill Robert Geldreich, Assistant Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


WILLIAM M. BARKER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which FRANK F. DROWOTA, III, C.J., and E. RILEY ANDERSON and JANICE M. HOLDER, JJ., joined. ADOLPHO A. BIRCH, Jr., J. filed a concurring and dissenting opinion.

A jury convicted the defendant, Steven Ray Thacker, of first degree murder. Following a capital sentencing hearing, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant; and (2) the murder was knowingly committed by the defendant while the defendant had a substantial role in committing, or was fleeing after having a substantial role in committing, a first degree murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft or kidnapping. Tenn.Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(6), (7) (1997). The jury also found that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the jury imposed a sentence of death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both the conviction and sentence.

Upon automatic appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206 (2003) this Court entered an order specifying five issues for oral argument,1 including (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction; (2) whether the trial court erred in limiting the testimony of Dr. Keith Caruso, a forensic psychiatrist, at the sentencing hearing; (3) whether the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to instruct on the defendant's "history of abuse and neglect" as a non-statutory mitigating circumstance; (4) whether the State improperly relied upon aggravating circumstance (i)(6) to support the death penalty; and (5) whether the death sentence is comparatively proportionate and valid under the mandatory review provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1)(A)-(D) (2003). After a careful review of the record and relevant legal authority, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

I. Background
A. Guilt Phase

The defendant, Steven Ray Thacker, was convicted of first degree premeditated murder and felony murder for the death of Ray Patterson.2 The State's proof at trial established that on January 2, 2000, an automobile being driven by the defendant broke down just east of the Mississippi River as he was traveling from Springfield, Missouri towards Dyersburg, Tennessee. The defendant received a ride from an unidentified male to the Northside Truck Stop in Dyersburg. The defendant asked the cashier at the truck stop, Melissa Atkeson, if she knew of a wrecker service that was open on Sundays. Atkeson provided the defendant with the name and telephone number of Ray Patterson, a local wrecker operator. The defendant called Patterson and then waited at the truck stop until the wrecker arrived.

Elizabeth Patterson, the victim's wife, remembered her husband receiving a telephone call at home on the morning of January 2, 2000. After taking the call, Patterson wrote "Oldsmobile Cutlass, '85, pull to Auto Zone store" on an envelope, then told his wife to continue on to church with their children and he would join them later if possible. When the victim left home that morning, he carried a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol in his pocket, which, according to Ms. Patterson, was not unusual for her husband to do when answering calls for a wrecker. He also carried a pocket knife, his wallet, money, and a pack of cigars.

Curtis Hinson, an employee of Triple-A Taxi in Dyersburg, saw the victim and another man in the victim's wrecker that morning. As Mr. Hinson was traveling on Lake Road, the victim's wrecker passed by, traveling in the opposite direction. Hinson observed that the victim was driving, another man was riding as a passenger, and the wrecker was towing a vehicle. Also that morning, a maintenance worker at the Dyersburg welcome center, Thomas Burns, saw the victim accompanied by another man at the welcome center. Later that afternoon, Burns learned that Mr. Patterson had been killed, and he saw the defendant's picture in the newspaper. Burns recognized the defendant as the same man he had seen with Mr. Patterson at the welcome center that morning.

Wyman Brasfield, a wrecker driver for Brasfield Body Shop, passed by Patterson Brothers' Service Station during the morning of January 2, 2000 and noticed the victim standing inside the building with his back to the window. Brasfield also noticed another person, whom he could not identify, standing inside the building with the victim. The victim's wrecker, with a car attached to it, was parked outside on the station lot. Later that day, Mr. Brasfield received a call to tow a vehicle at the residence of Tim Capps, a local mechanic. Upon arriving at Capps' residence, Brasfield recognized the vehicle to be towed as the same one that had been hooked to the Patterson wrecker earlier in the day. The defendant later admitted to police that he had traded vehicles at Mr. Capps' repair shop on that day.

Kenneth Campbell and Emily Guinn had been on their way to church the morning of January 2, 2000, when they stopped at Patterson Brothers' Service Station to buy a drink. When Mr. Campbell got out of his vehicle he noticed a person walking towards him but thought nothing of it. However, as he was attempting to get a soda from the drink machine, he saw the victim lying on the ground between the gas pumps and the office. Mr. Campbell immediately got back into his vehicle and left to find a telephone and call the police. He circled the block and, as he neared the service station again, he noticed "someone dragging the body near the roll-up door of the gas station." Mr. Campbell then drove directly to the police station to report what he had seen.

Tina Canada, the manager of B & B Market at Big Boy Junction in Dyersburg, recalled that on that same Sunday morning, a man came into the store to purchase antifreeze. The man asked an elderly gentleman in the store, Sam Brown, whether there was an outside water faucet. He also asked Mr. Brown for directions to Auto Zone and then left the store, heading back toward town. According to Ms. Canada, the man was calm and "just concerned about getting his car fixed." She could not, however, identify the defendant as being the man in the store.

At approximately 12:20 p.m. that day, the defendant entered the Auto Zone in Dyersburg and approached a customer in the store, Mr. Paul Gage. The defendant asked Mr. Gage if he knew of "a place to get a car worked on." Mr. Gage referred him to Tim Capps and told the defendant that Capps' repair shop was located behind Webb's Used Cars. The defendant, in a statement later given to police, described how he drove from Auto Zone to Capps' shop. When he was informed that it would take several days to repair his vehicle, the defendant traded his vehicle to Capps for a red Chevrolet Camaro. However, the Camaro had mechanical problems, so the defendant returned it in exchange for a Pontiac 6000.

By this time, police had discovered the victim's body at Patterson Brothers' Service Station and had begun their investigation. Officer David Fisher of the Dyersburg Police Department was the first officer on the scene. Officer Fisher discovered the victim lying in the first service bay of the service station. A trail of blood led from the first fuel pump island directly to the body. According to Officer Fisher, the victim was dressed in an "ordinary service-station-type uniform" and "his inner shirt was torn, and the jacket and shirt, around the collar area, was pulled backwards, as if he'd been dragged to the location that he was found." Officer Fisher also observed a "substantial" wound to the victim's upper torso.

Two EMT's with the Dyersburg Fire Department, Jerry Walker and Ronnie Collins, arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. Mr. Walker examined the victim for vital signs but found none. Upon opening the victim's shirt, he observed a wound "in his shoulder, coming down, it looked like. It looked like a knife wound." No other wounds were discovered by Walker. A paramedic at the scene, Tony Douglas, also examined the victim and discovered "a puncture wound on the right side of the chest somewhere around two to three inches long and in a moon-shape." Mr. Douglas believed that this wound was fatal and that the victim had died from "bleeding out" because "he'd lost a lot of blood." He found no other wounds on the victim. Mr. Douglas admitted, however, that he did not know for certain the cause of death.

Investigator Jim Joyner was the first detective to arrive at the service station. He observed a very large amount of blood at the scene, recalling that "blood was all over the station, out in the front, in the service bay, in the office" and the victim's clothing was "saturated with blood." Additionally, there was a large blood spatter from the cash register to the wall of the office. Investigator Joyner stated that the blood trail went out the door of the office toward the service bay door. A Discover credit card in the name of Forrest R. Boyd was found on the counter next to the credit card machine. Neither the victim's gun nor his wallet were found, and the Patterson wrecker was missing from the service station.

Following up on the Discover credit card found at the scene of the crime, investigators...

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