Supreme Court Affirms Conviction for Especially Aggravated Kidnapping

March 22, 2013

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Jereme Dannuel Little on one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, for which he received an 18-year sentence. The Court rejected each of Little’s claims, including his argument that the trial court, which had dismissed other counts in the indictment during the course of the trial, should have informed the jury prior to deliberations that Little had been acquitted of the other charges.

In 2004, the Chattanooga Police Department began investigating a “cold case” from the summer of 1998, relating to the armed robbery of a Hamilton County residence. Eventually, Demetrius Grayson confessed to the robbery and implicated Little as his accomplice. Grayson also told police that after the robbery, Little had taken him to a house in East Chattanooga, tied him to a chair, and tortured him for several hours. As a result of the investigation, Little was charged with two counts of the aggravated robbery of the Hamilton County residence and one count of the especially aggravated kidnapping of Grayson.

At trial, Little maintained that he was not involved in either the robbery or the kidnapping, and the two victims of the robbery were unable to identify him as the perpetrator. The only evidence that the State presented connecting Little to the robbery was the testimony of his accomplice, Grayson. Because the law requires some corroboration of accomplice testimony, the trial court entered judgments of acquittal as to the robbery charges. While providing instructions on the kidnapping charge, the trial court informed the jury that the robbery charges had been removed from the indictment and could not be considered, but made no mention that Little had been acquitted of those charges.

On direct appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Little argued that because the State referred to the robbery during its closing argument, the trial court’s refusal to inform the jury of the acquittals or to allow defense counsel to argue that Little had been acquitted of the robbery charges was error. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction.

Relying upon its 2011 case, State v. Turner, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly declined to inform the jury that Little had been acquitted of the robbery charges because acquittals do not qualify as admissible evidence in a trial.

Observing that confusion may arise when a defendant is acquitted of some but not all of the charges against him in a consolidated trial, the Court explained that in circumstances such as these, “it is sufficient for the trial court to inform the jury that the dismissed charges have been removed from the indictment,” and no other instructions or speculation about the circumstances surrounding the removal of the dismissed charges should be permitted. The Court further authorized trial courts, upon request, to provide an appropriate limiting instruction as to the purpose of the evidence related to any charges that are dismissed in a trial involving multiple charges against a defendant.

To read the State of Tennessee v. Jereme Dannuel Little opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.