Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentences For Murders of Memphis Family

November 20, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the convictions and sentences of death for Sedrick Clayton for the murders of Arithio, Patricia, and Pashea Fisher and the conviction for attempted murder of A’Reco Fisher in Memphis. 

During the early morning hours of January 19, 2012, a domestic dispute erupted between the defendant and Pashea Fisher, the defendant’s girlfriend, at the Fishers’ home.  The situation escalated, and the defendant shot and killed all three victims and shot toward the area in which A’Reco Fisher had been sleeping.  The defendant then fled the residence in Pashea Fisher’s vehicle with his and Ms. Fisher’s then four-year-old daughter.  After having several telephone conversations with a law enforcement officer, the defendant eventually turned himself in.  He subsequently confessed to the murders. 

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of three counts of first degree premeditated murder, attempted first degree murder, possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission or attempt to commit a dangerous felony, employing a firearm during the commission or attempt to commit a dangerous felony, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.  In 2016, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences of death after merging the latter two convictions.

Upon automatic appeal to the Supreme Court as required by statute, the defendant raised several issues. First, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s finding of premeditation.  The Court disagreed, based upon the evidence presented at trial that the defendant fired upon four unarmed victims without provocation, failed to render aid, and reloaded his weapon to fire a second and fatal shot at Pashea Fisher.  Second, the defendant argued that the statements he made to police the day after the shooting should have been suppressed pursuant to the Fourth Amendment.  This issue was neither raised nor ruled upon at trial or in the defendant’s motion for a new trial and was, therefore, waived.  The Court, however, reviewed the issue under the plain error doctrine and found that the defendant’s arrest was supported by probable cause and that he was brought before a magistrate in a timely manner.

The Court also conducted an independent review of the imposition of the death sentences, as required by statute, and concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence fully supported the defendant’s convictions and sentences of death, that the sentences were not arbitrary, and that the aggravating circumstances supporting the sentences outweighed any mitigating circumstances. In addition, the majority of the Court found the sentences were not disproportionate to sentences imposed in similar cases wherein a sentence of death was imposed.

In her concurring opinion, Justice Sharon G. Lee agreed with the Court’s outcome but stated she believed that when reviewing whether a death sentence is disproportionate to similar cases, the Court should not limit its review solely to cases in which the death penalty was imposed but should review all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death was imposed. Using that analysis, she also concluded that the defendant’s sentence of death was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.

To read the majority opinion in State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton, authored by Justice Roger A. Page,and Justice Sharon G. Lee’s separate concurring opinion regarding proportionality review, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.