Tennessee Supreme Court Finds Sufficient Evidence of Premeditation to Uphold First-Degree Murder Conviction

November 29, 2021

The Tennessee Supreme Court today reinstated the conviction of a defendant for premeditated first-degree murder.  The Court determined that there was sufficient proof of premeditation to support the jury’s verdict and also concluded that the introduction of evidence about gang membership did not warrant a new trial.

On the night of May 5, 2013, Wendell Washington was shot and killed on his front porch in Hamilton County.  Circumstantial evidence linked Jeremy Reynolds to the shooting, including evidence that the victim fired two shots at his assailants and Mr. Reynolds was left at nearby Erlanger Hospital with two gunshot wounds minutes after the shooting.  Mr. Reynolds did not have a gun on him when left at the hospital, but a .45-caliber handgun linked to the crime was recovered by police three months later from the car of another man.  Evidence showed that this man was not at the scene on the night of the shooting.  However, the proof at trial revealed that Mr. Reynolds and two other men were all members of the Gangster Disciples.  One of those two men left Mr. Reynolds at the hospital, and the other was the man from whose car the .45-caliber handgun was recovered.  The trial court admitted evidence that all three men were Gangster Disciples based on its finding that an association among the men could link Mr. Reynolds to the handgun used at the crime scene even though it was not recovered from him at the hospital.  A jury convicted Mr. Reynolds of premeditated first-degree murder.

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish premeditation and, therefore, reversed Mr. Reynolds’s conviction for first-degree murder.  Additionally, although the evidence would have supported a conviction for second-degree murder, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded for a new trial because it concluded that the trial court erroneously admitted unfairly prejudicial background information about the Gangster Disciples.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State’s request for permission to appeal.

In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Court determined that there was sufficient evidence presented at trial for a reasonable jury to find that the victim’s killing was premeditated.  In addition, the Court concluded that although the trial court erred in admitting a limited portion of the gang-related evidence, this portion did not likely affect the jury’s verdict.  Accordingly, the Court reinstated Mr. Reynolds’s conviction for premeditated first-degree murder.

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in State v. Jeremy Reynolds, authored by Justice Jeff Bivins, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.