State v. Watkins

Decision Date09 March 2012
Docket NumberNo. M2009–00348–SC–R11–CD.,M2009–00348–SC–R11–CD.
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Nigel Kavic WATKINS.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court


Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General & Reporter; Leslie E. Price and Angele Gregory, Assistant Attorneys General; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney; David Earl Durham, Jason Lawson, and Brian W. Fuller, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

Shawn P. Sirgo, Nashville, Tennessee (on appeal); Comer L. Donnell, District Public Defender; Tillman W. Payne III, William Cather, and Tom Bilbrey, Assistant Public Defenders (at trial), for the appellee, Nigel Kavic Watkins.

Stephen Ross Johnson; Wade V. Davies, and Ann C. Short, Knoxville, Tennessee; Aimee D. Solway, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.Kathy Morante, Nashville, Tennessee; William Crabtree, Knoxville, Tennessee; and Garland Erguden, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.


CORNELIA A. CLARK, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which JANICE M. HOLDER, GARY R. WADE, WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., and SHARON G. LEE, JJ., joined.

CORNELIA A. CLARK, Chief Justice.

We granted the State permission to appeal to determine whether the defendant's dual convictions for reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse violate either the federal or state constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. Following briefing, oral argument, and a careful study of Tennessee law governing the issue presented, we ordered the parties in this appeal, and two other pending appeals involving related issues, to submit additional briefs addressing certain specific questions concerning the analyses that Tennessee courts apply in single prosecution cases when determining whether separate convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the double jeopardy protection against multiple punishments. We also scheduled consolidated reargument of these three appeals and invited certain prosecutorial and defense organizations to submit amicus curiae briefs. Having thoroughly reviewed relevant federal and state precedent and carefully considered the briefs provided by the parties and by the amici curiae, we have concluded that the four-factor test set forth in State v. Denton, 938 S.W.2d 373 (Tenn.1996) should be abandoned. Furthermore, we have not found, nor have we been provided with, any textual reason or historical basis for interpreting the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution differently from the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, we adopt the same elements test enunciated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304, 52 S.Ct. 180, 76 L.Ed. 306 (1932) as the test for determining whether multiple convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution. Applying this test, we conclude that reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse are not the same offense because their elements differ. Thus, the defendant's dual convictions do not violate either the federal or the state constitutional double jeopardy prohibition. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment merging the reckless homicide conviction into the aggravated child abuse conviction, and we reinstate the reckless homicide conviction. However, we affirm that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment remanding this matter to the trial court for resentencing.


Nigel Watkins (Defendant) killed the thirteen-month-old victim, Elijah J. Cannon, by deliberately striking the child's head “hard” against a wall. Defendant was tried pursuant to an indictment charging one count of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse and one count of aggravated child abuse by knowingly, and other than by accidental means, treating the victim in such a manner as to inflict injury that resulted in serious bodily injury.

The proof introduced at trial established that, at the time of his death, Elijah lived in Carthage, Tennessee, with his mother, his two older brothers, ages three and four, and Defendant. On August 30, 2004, the victim arrived by ambulance at Carthage General Hospital, where Dr. Richard Rutherford, the emergency room physician on call, diagnosed [a]pparent closed head trauma, probably non-accidental.” According to Dr. Rutherford, the victim “was not breathing on his own,” “was unresponsive to any external stimuli,” had “very pale, ashen white” skin, “had bruises about the head and neck,” had an “abnormal” gaze, and “obviously appeared to be seriously sick, seriously ill.” Dr. Rutherford opined that the bruising on the victim's head and neck was unrelated to the closed-head trauma and did not appear to have been inflicted within the previous few hours.

Emergency room medical personnel immediately began treatment for the victim, and once he had been stabilized to some degree, Dr. Rutherford arranged for his transfer to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital (“Vanderbilt”), explaining that the victim “needed specialty care if he was going to have any chance of survival.” The victim was transported to Vanderbilt by air ambulance in critical condition.

Shortly after learning of the victim's arrival at Carthage General Hospital, Steve Hopper, Chief of the Carthage Police Department, spoke with Defendant at Defendant's Carthage residence on August 30, 2004. Chief Hopper made a video recording of this conversation using his patrol car video camera. On the video recording, admitted into evidence at Defendant's trial and included in the record on appeal, Defendant said repeatedly that he did not know what was wrong with the victim. Defendant explained that the victim had been “screaming,” but when Defendant picked him up, the child took a deep breath but did not exhale, and then went limp and lifeless. Thinking the victim may have had the wind knocked out of him somehow, Defendant said he began slapping the victim's back to “knock the wind back into him.” Defendant also said that he thought the victim might have been having a seizure because, in addition to going limp, the victim's eyes had rolled back. Defendant said the victim's breathing slowed until six or seven seconds passed between each of the victim's breaths. Defendant then knew something was wrong, so he called for the ambulance. Defendant said the victim had been congested and that he and the victim's mother had given the victim medication for the congestion. Defendant speculated that the medication might have caused the problem. Defendant was not aware of the victim previously having seizures or any other medical problems.

At the conclusion of the videotape, Defendant accompanied Chief Hopper to the Carthage Police Department and spoke further about what happened to the victim. At trial, Chief Hopper read from the notes he made of this conversation:

[Defendant] states that he had been living in the Projects with Ashley Cannon and these babies for about one year, that Elijiah had been sick, and approximately 20:00 hours, which would be 8:00 o'clock p.m. regular time, August 29th '04, that Ashley put Elijiah to bed and probably gave him some kind of over the counter medication. That at approximately 22:30 hours, which would be 10:30 p.m., August 29th '04, Ashley comes home and we both go in the children's bedroom to check on Elijiah. Then approximately 15:00 hours, which would be 3:00 o'clock p.m., August the 30th of '04, Elijiah wakes from a nap. Ashley takes Elijiah downstairs and then comes back upstairs to go to the bathroom. Then Elijiah was crying very loudly, that he, [Defendant], goes downstairs and picks Elijiah up, that when he, [Defendant], picks Elijiah up, Elijiah takes a deep breath and goes limp. [Defendant] states that he patted Elijiah on the back, attempted CPR and shook him. He acted out a vigorous shake using both hands. Then Elijiah was taking a breath every six to seven seconds and his eyes were rolled back up into his head. He took Elijiah upstairs to Ashley and the EMS was activated at that point.

After talking with Defendant at the Police Department, Chief Hopper contacted Agent Russ Winkler of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”). Agent Winkler and Chief Hopper drove to Vanderbilt, where the victim had been transferred. Defendant was already at Vanderbilt when Agent Winkler and Chief Hopper arrived, as were Patrick Warren of the Department of Children's Services and TBI Agent Jason Locke. After receiving information from the doctors at Vanderbilt indicating the victim's injuries were not consistent with the statement Defendant gave at the Carthage Police Department, Agent Winkler decided to conduct a second interview of Defendant. Because Agent Winkler knew of no appropriate place at Vanderbilt to conduct the interview, Agent Locke asked Defendant to accompany law enforcement personnel to TBI headquarters, which was nearby. Defendant agreed. Agent Locke, Chief Hopper, and Defendant drove to TBI headquarters in one vehicle; Agent Winkler and Mr. Warren drove in a separate vehicle. Defendant was informed that he was neither under arrest nor in custody and that he could leave at any time.

When the group arrived at TBI headquarters, Agent Winkler interviewed Defendant. After Defendant's verbal statement was reduced to written form, Defendant reviewed and signed the statement. Defendant's written statement, admitted into evidence at trial, provides as follows:

I understand that I am not under arrest. I have come to the TBI Office in Nashville voluntarily to be interviewed about what happened to Elijiah. No threats have been made to me, and no promises have been made to me for giving this statement. I live with Ashley Cannon. We have dated...

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