Supreme Court Upholds Felony Murder Conviction

October 10, 2012

Nashville, Tenn.In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected claims by Travis Kinte Echols that police lacked probable cause for his arrest and that his felony murder conviction should be reversed because of several errors during his jury trial.

On June 18, 2005, a man later identified as Robert Steely was found dead of gunshot wounds in the parking lot of the Townview Towers apartment complex in Knoxville.  Acting on information provided by a resident of the apartment complex, police officers arrested Echols several days after the shooting took place.  Echols waived his right to remain silent and admitted to the police that he shot Steely, although he maintained that he acted in self-defense.  Echols presented his claim of self-defense at trial, but the jury found him guilty of felony murder during the perpetration of a robbery.  On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals found that police lacked probable cause for Echols’ arrest and that his statement to police should not have been admitted at trial.  Nevertheless, the appellate court affirmed his conviction because the improper admission of the statement had no effect on the verdict.

The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the information known by police established probable cause to arrest Echols and that his statement to police was admissible at trial.  In addition, the Court determined that the trial judge improperly restricted the cross-examination of two of the witnesses who testified against Echols.  Finding that the trial judge’s errors had no effect on the outcome of the trial, however, the Court affirmed Echols’ conviction.

To read the State of Tennessee v. Travis Kinte Echols opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/echolstravisopn.pdf.