Saturday, October 13, 2012

TN Supreme Court Refuses to Overturn Man’s Felony Murder Conviction




The Tennessee Supreme Court recently denied an appeal by a man from Knoxville attempting to have his felony murder conviction overturned. The man, Travis Kinte Echols, had been sentenced to life in prison and appealed claiming that there had been a number of errors during his trial.

Echols claimed that the trial court failed to suppress a statement the defendant made to the police which he said was the product of an unlawful arrest. Echols appealed his case to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals which found that the arrest lacked probable cause. Despite the unlawful arrest, the Court of Appeals said that the statement qualified as harmless error and thus did not serve as grounds for reversal.

Echols appealed again and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected Echols’ argument that his conviction should be reversed because the police did not have probable cause when they arrested him back in 2005.

Echols was arrested and ultimately convicted of murdering Robert Steely in the parking lot of the Townview Towers apartment complex in East Knoxville. During his interrogation, Echols waived his right to remain silent and, in the course of a conversation with officers, admitted to shooting Steely, but said that he only did so in self-defense. Specifically, Echols admitted to shooting Steely and then disposing of the weapon. This claim of self-defense did not ring true to the jury and they found him guilty of felony murder during a robbery of Steely, ultimately sentencing him to life in prison.

The Supreme Court heard the case and disagreed with the Court of Criminal Appeals. The High Court ruled that the police were able to establish probable cause for the warrantless arrest of Echols and, given this probably cause, the statement Echols later made to investigators was admissible at trial. The Supreme Court did find that the trial court incorrectly limited cross-examination of two witnesses, but that these errors were harmless and did not affect the final result of the trial. As such, the judgment of the lower court convicting Echols of felony murder was upheld.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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