State v. Torres, E1999-00866-CCA-RD3-DD

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Docket NumberE1999-00866-CCA-RD3-DD
Decision Date13 March 2001


No. E1999-00866-CCA-R3-DD


June 27, 2000 Session

March 13, 2001

Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 56073 Ray L. Jenkins, Judge

The appellant, William Pierre Torres, was convicted by a jury in the Knox County Criminal Court of one count of first degree murder by aggravated child abuse and was sentenced by the jury to death by electrocution. In this appeal as of right, the appellant challenges both his conviction and his sentence, raising the following issues for our consideration: (1) whether the 1993 version of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(4) violates the United States and Tennessee constitutions; (2) whether the indictment in this case is defective due to the State's failure to charge a separate count of aggravated child abuse; (3) whether, during a competency hearing conducted prior to the appellant's trial, the trial court erred in ruling that a licensed clinical social worker was qualified to render an opinion concerning the appellant's competence to stand trial; (4) whether, during the guilt/innocence phase of the appellant's trial, the trial court erred by declining to admit into evidence a redacted video cassette recording of an interview of the appellant by police investigators; (5) whether, during the guilt/innocence phase, the trial court erred in admitting testimony concerning the appellant's demeanor at East Tennessee Baptist Hospital following his offense; (6) whether, during the guilt/innocence phase, the trial court erred in admitting evidence concerning healed scars and old bruises found on the victim's body; (7) whether Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204 (1993) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206 (1993), Tennessee's death penalty statutes, violate the United States and Tennessee constitutions; (8) whether, under the United States and Tennessee constitutions, the application of the aggravating circumstance set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(l) to the offense of first degree murder by aggravated child abuse fails to adequately narrow the class of death-eligible defendants; (9) whether, during the sentencing phase of the appellant's trial, the trial court erred in providing a Kersey instruction to the jury; and (10) whether, under the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, the appellant's sentence of death is disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Following a thorough review of the entire record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court is Affirmed.

Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which David G. Hayes and James Curwood Witt, Jr., JJ., joined.

William C. Talman and Susan E. Shipley, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, William Pierre Torres.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter, Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General, Amy L. Tarkington, Senior Counsel, Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General, and Robert L. Jolley, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


I. Factual Background

On August 9, 1994, a Knox County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging the appellant with the first degree murder by aggravated child abuse of his fifteen-month-old son, Quintyn Pierre James Wilson. On March 1, 1996, the State filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. In its notice, the State indicated its reliance upon the aggravating circumstances that the victim, Quintyn, was less than twelve years of age, and the appellant was eighteen years of age or older, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(1) (1993), and that the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse beyond that necessary to produce death," id. at (i)(5). Subsequently, on October 27, 1997, the trial court ordered an evaluation of the appellant by the Helen Ross McNabb Mental Health Center for the purpose of determining the appellant's competency to stand trial and his mental condition at the time of this offense. Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-7-301(a) (1994). Dr. Sharon Norwood Arnold, a psychiatrist employed by the Center, evaluated the appellant and concluded that the appellant was competent to stand trial and that a defense of insanity was not viable. Moreover, on February 17, 1999, upon the appellant's motion, the trial court conducted a competency hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court determined that the appellant was competent, and the appellant's case proceeded to trial, concluding on February 25, 1999.

A.Guilt/Innocence Phase

During the guilt/innocence phase of the appellant's trial, the State established that on June 29, 1994, at approximately 12:43 p.m., Jasma Nishee Wilson called Knox County 911 from the Knoxville apartment that she shared with the appellant and their two children. Wilson was hysterical and largely unable to communicate with the 911 operator. Accordingly, the appellant took the telephone receiver from Wilson and reported to the operator that his infant son, Quintyn, had fallen from his crib and was no longer breathing. The operator immediately dispatched an ambulance to the appellant's residence. Additionally, the operator instructed the appellant to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Quintyn by alternately breathing into the child's mouth and compressing the child's chest. Soon thereafter, the ambulance arrived and transported Quintyn to the East Tennessee Baptist Hospital while paramedics continued efforts to resuscitate him. Officer Rick Abbott of the Knoxville Police Department was also dispatched to the appellant's residence and transported both the appellant and Wilson to the hospital. Abbott confirmed that Wilson was hysterical and further noted that the appellant, although calm, appeared to be "a little bit upset."

At the hospital, Dr. Todd Mitchell Rice, an emergency room physician, examined Quintyn and observed that he "showed no signs of life, no cardiac activity, no spontaneous breathing, no spontaneous movement of any kind." Nevertheless, Doctor Rice also attempted, unsuccessfully, to resuscitate the child. Finally, at 1:33 p.m., the doctor pronounced Quintyn dead.

While he was attempting to resuscitate Quintyn, Dr. Rice noted "several very suspicious marks" on the child's body. The doctor recalled at the appellant's trial that some areas [of the child's body] . . . were - - were intensely bruised and swollen. There was a variety of different bruises on the child that - - some new and some - - some not so new. There was an area on the child that appeared to have possibly been caused by a recent cigarette burn, another area which was suspicious for a bite mark. The last thing I remember doing was looking at the child's anal area, and there I found some suspicious scarring around the anus, which is - - which I didn't feel was normal for a child this age, to have this scarred appearance to the outside of their anus. And so I marked that down as a suspicious marker of possible sexual abuse.(FN1)

Specifically addressing the bruises, Dr. Rice noted extensive bruising and swelling on the left side of Quintyn's face and on the left side of his scalp. The child also had bruises or abrasions on the front of his left shoulder, on his upper back, including his left posterior shoulder and his right posterior chest, on his lower back and buttocks, in the area of his right hip and thigh, and in the area of his left groin and thigh. Dr. Rice further related that the child's left lower chest was "suspicious for bruising."

In response to questioning by defense counsel, Dr. Rice did concede that the "bruises" on Quintyn's lower back and buttocks could have been merely birthmarks because "that area is a fairly characteristic location for - - for a particular type of birthmark." However, he maintained with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the other marks on the child were bruises. Indeed, he asserted that, overall, the bruising found on Quintyn's body suggested a physical assault. He particularly observed that the bruising on Quintyn's upper back was very suspicious for - - for marks that could have been caused by someone grabbing the child and the ends of the fingers actually digging into the - - into the ribs of the child, potentially, as someone was shaking them.

While cautioning that dating bruises is a "extraordinarily inexact science," Dr. Rice nevertheless opined that the bruises on Quintyn's face and scalp and the bruises on the child's upper back had been inflicted within the twenty-four hours preceding his examination of the child. The bruise in the area of the child's right hip and thigh could have been hours old or days old. The bruise in the area of the child's left groin and thigh was two or three days old. The remaining bruises were perhaps as much as one or two days old, "maybe less."

Dr. Rice also examined the child's eyes with an opthalmoscope and observed retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes. The doctor testified at trial that retinal hemorrhaging could be a sign of "subarachnoid hemorrhag[ing]," which, in turn, is often associated with "shaken baby syndrome." He explained, "That's a syndrome which an infant or a very small child is shaken so violently that the blood vessels on the surface of the brain actually rupture." He offered to the jury the following illustration of the violence with which one would need to shake a baby in order to cause subarachnoid hemorrhaging:

[I]f I was to have a soda pop can half full of - - of soft drink and try to get it to - - to foam over high up into the air, I'd have to - - to shake it pretty violently and for a fairly - - for a long period of time . . . . [W]hen I say violent, I - - I think that really expresses how intensely and how vigorously one would have to shake a child for that to happen.

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