The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has ordered a new trial for 34-year-old Jeremy Reynolds, who was convicted in 2016 of the first-degree premeditated murder of 19-year-old Wendell Washington.
The ruling throws out the first-degree conviction and directs that Reynolds be tried for second-degree murder. The first-degree conviction carried a life prison term.
The appeals court said, "On appeal, the Defendant argues that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; (2) the trial court erred by admitting evidence that the Defendant and other individuals were gang members in violation of Tennessee Rules of Evidence 403 and 404(b); (3) exculpatory evidence, namely the victim’s gunshot residue test and a photograph referenced by the gang report, were improperly withheld by the State; (4) the trial court erred by failing to compel the State to produce the above-referenced gunshot residue test and photograph; and (5) the cumulative effect of these errors deprived the Defendant of a fair trial.
"After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that the evidence is insufficient relevant to premeditation and that some of the evidence relative to gangs was improperly admitted. We remand for a new trial on one count of second degree murder, in which some gang evidence shall be excluded."
The prosecution had argued to Judge Barry Steelman that the murder was premeditated. The defense said there was not enough evidence to convict Jeremy Reynolds for the slaying.
The shootout occurred May 5, 2013 Lupton City shootout.
Prosecutor Kevin Brown had told the jury, “Jeremy Reynolds was prepared. He was prepared to confront Wendell Washington. As a result of that confrontation Wendell Washington lay dead - on his own front porch, shot seven times.”
Prosecutor Brown said that Deante Duncan, “a fellow gang member,” went with Reynolds to Washington's house. He said that the two men who are seen in a video carrying Reynolds into Erlanger Hospital on the same night of the shooting “weren't hanging around to answer questions” because “they had just been at 3687 Northrop St. and killed Wendell Washington.”
Prosecutor Brown said that one of Washington's neighbors had seen a white Mitsubishi SUV leave the street after hearing gunshots. Prosecutor Brown said this is the same white SUV that can be seen in the Erlanger Hospital video, which he said arrived seven minutes after the shooting.
He also said that the Hi-Point 45 caliber gun taken off of Gerald Jackson months later was a match for bullets found at the crime scene. He said that Jackson, who has been ruled out as a suspect, had the gun “because he was Jeremy Reynolds's fellow gang member.”
Prosecutor Brown said that findings from the autopsy of Washington were consistent with Washington being bent over and turning away from the gunfire.
“He was trying to get away from Jeremy Reynolds,” Prosecutor Brown said. “He was trying to get away form the man that was killing him - that shot him on that front porch seven times.”
Defense attorney John McDougal said that the prosecution was relying on emotion.
“They want to scare you into convicting (Reynolds) because they don't have any evidence that he did it,” he said. “The evidence doesn't help them. It doesn't complete their story, it tears it apart.”
Attorney McDougal said that “Wendell Washington was a drug dealer” and that “drug dealing's a very, very dangerous occupation.” He said that anybody could have shot Washington.
He recounted the testimony of Teri Arney, a special agent forensic scientist at TBI's Crime Lab. Attorney McDougal said that the 40 caliber bullet removed from Reynolds during surgery could have come from other types of guns than the 40 caliber Glock found in Washington's home.
Attorney McDougal also said that there was a distance problem, since one of the holes in Reynolds' shirt tested positive for a contact shot and Washington was shot from far away. He also said that the vehicle seen in the hospital video was gray, not white. He said that the vehicle could not have traveled from the crime scene to Erlanger as quickly as the prosecution says that it did.
“The state admits they have no direct proof,” said Attorney McDougal. “If the state has doubt, ladies and gentlemen, how can you not have doubt?”
“Just because the facts don't make sense to the defense doesn't mean they're not true,” said Prosecutor Lance Pope. “Mr. McDougal misrepresents what the evidence is and then tries to tell you it's reasonable doubt.”
He said that not all of the gunshot wounds to Washington were from far away, but that Agent Arney had found contact firearm discharge on Washington's jacket.
“There's some proof in the case that Wendell Washington was involved in the sale of narcotics,” said Prosecutor Pope.
He said that if Washington was doing something illegal, he deserved to be arrested, but “what he didn't deserve was to be murdered on his front porch.”
“You get to decide you won't stand for it,” Prosecutor Pope told the jury. “You won't stand for (Reynolds's) guns. You won't stand for his violence, for his shootings, for his gangs. You won't stand for it.”
Reynolds had previously served time for facilitation to commit second-degree murder in the 2005 death of Harold Steven Freeman.