Tennessee Supreme Court to hear arguments in 2 Memphis murder cases
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Supreme Court has three cases set for its April 5 docket, two of which involve appeals from two separate murder cases that took place in Memphis.
The court will hear State of Tennessee v. Tony Thomas and Laronda Turner, and Jessie Dotson v. the State of Tennessee in Jackson, Tennessee, beginning at 9 a.m.
Gerald D. Waggoner Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility will be submitted on briefs.
The details of the cases are as follows:
State of Tennessee v. Tony Thomas and Laronda Turner
This case arises from the shooting deaths of three victims on Lake Grove Street in Memphis on September 26, 2015.
Tony Thomas and Laronda Turner waived a counsel conflict and agreed to be tried together. A third accomplice, Demarco Hawkins, provided an official statement to police, provided statements in proffer conferences, and testified at trial against Thomas and Turner.
A jury convicted both Thomas and Turner of three counts of first-degree premeditated murder, and the trial court imposed life sentences on each count.
Following their appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court and both challenged, under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the state’s failure to produce a statement by Hawkins in a proffer conference, among other issues.
Turner also argues there is not enough evidence to support her convictions because there was no corroboration of the testimony of Hawkins.
The Supreme Court granted the defendants’ applications for permission to appeal and limited review to the following issues:
- Whether the prosecution breached its constitutional duty of production under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to produce statements made by a co-defendant in proffer conferences, which were allegedly inconsistent with the co-defendant’s formal statement to law enforcement;
- Whether the evidence was sufficient to support Laronda Turner’s convictions for first-degree murder.
Jessie Dotson v. State of Tennessee
This case arises from the shooting and stabbing deaths of six victims, including two small children, on Lester Street in Memphis on March 3, 2008.
Three other children survived the slaughter.
Defendant Jessie Dotson, dubbed the “Lester Street Killer,” was convicted of six counts of first-degree premeditated murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder.
At the penalty phase of the trial, the jury imposed death sentences for the six murder convictions based on multiple aggravating circumstances.
The trial court also sentenced Dotson to 40 years for each attempted first-degree murder conviction to be served consecutively to each other and the death sentences.
The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed Dotson’s convictions and sentences on direct appeal.
Dotson then sought post-conviction relief and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender (OPCD) was appointed to represent him.
As the case progressed to a hearing, the OPCD filed ex parte motions seeking funds for the services of various experts.
The post-conviction court approved the funds. However, when the funding orders were submitted for approval pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 13, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Chief Justice vacated the orders.
The post-conviction court later issued an order denying Dotson’s post-conviction relief.
The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court but concluded that it was without authority to interpret Rule 13.
The Supreme Court granted Dotson’s application for permission to appeal and limited review to the following issues:
- When there is no appellate remedy for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Director and the Chief Justice vacating a trial court’s ruling that expert assistance is necessary to effectuate a capital post-conviction petitioner’s constitutional rights, are the state and federal constitutional guarantees of due process, equal protection, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a full and fair post-conviction proceeding violated since capital post-conviction petitioners who are denied necessary expert assistance by trial courts are provided appellate remedies?
- Relatedly, is the denial of an appellate remedy in violation of the open courts provision of the Tennessee Constitution?
Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins has recused himself from Jessie Dotson v. State of Tennessee by an order filed on September 6, 2022.
Gerald D. Waggoner Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility
This attorney-discipline case originated from attorney Gerald D. Waggoner Jr.’s actions after he received a suspension of three years from the practice of law in 2017.
The Board of Professional Responsibility filed an original petition for discipline followed by two supplemental petitions against Mr. Waggoner.
The allegations in the petitions stemmed from conduct both before and after his suspension imposed on August 1, 2017.
The hearing panel found that Mr. Waggoner violated Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4 (Communication), 1.15 (Safekeeping Property and Funds), 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation), 3.4 (c) (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a), (c), and (d) (Misconduct).
The panel recommended an additional four-year suspension to begin upon Mr. Waggoner’s completion of the suspension he was already serving, along with payments of restitution to the appropriate individuals.
Mr. Waggoner appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the Shelby County Chancery Court, which affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reduced Mr. Waggoner’s suspension to one year. The Board appealed the trial court’s decision pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 33.1(d).
The cases will be livestreamed to the TNCourts YouTube page here.
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