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Inevitable Discovery Doctrine: The Trial of Joe Hill
Marvin Joseph (“Joe”) Hill (age 47) was a pizza delivery driver in Knoxville. He also delivered marijuana to young folks in the Fort Sanders neighborhood behind U.T. Law College. One of the smokers was Christina Jeanette Eubanks (age 28), who lived in an apartment in the basement of a converted dwelling at the corner of Laurel Avenue and Fourteenth Street. She worked as a housekeeper in the nearby Cumberland House hotel.
On the night of May 29-30, 2006, Joe visited Christina. He beat her over the head with a toilet tank lid, strangled her, raped her, wrapped her in a rug, and dumped her nude corpse in shallow Knob Fork Creek off Dry Gap Pike in North Knoxville. Then he ran a few errands before returning to the trailer park residence he shared with his wife Robin.
Because he had been seen near the crime scene, Joe Hill was taken into custody but clammed up. He knew his rights, having been a burglar from high school graduation until imprisoned in Ohio for 13 years. A police officer talked to wife Robin about helping bring “some peace” to the victim’s family, so she convinced husband Joe to disclose the location of Christina’s body. It was removed from the creek on June 3.
Obviously Joe’s location confession was tainted by police misconduct. But the inevitable discovery doctrine saved the prosecution’s case. Judge Curwood Witt wrote for the Court of Criminal Appeals:
“Under the doctrine of ‘inevitable discovery’ … illegally obtained evidence will be deemed admissible at trial if the State can establish that the evidence would have been discovered by lawful means.”
• • • •
“In this case, Doctor Bass testified that at the time the victim’s body was discovered, it would not have emitted an odor strong enough to travel to either Mr. Marshall’s or Mr. Malin’s property. Within two or three weeks, however, as her body continued to decay, it would have begun to emanate an odor that would have been detectable as far as 50 feet away and, with ‘any wind at all,’ would have been detectable across the road. Both Mr. Marshall and Mr. Malin testified that their properties were mowed regularly and that they each took pains to clear trash along the roadway near the bridge, bringing them in close proximity to and within an area to view the victim’s body. Although Doctor Bass testified that maggots would have destroyed the victim’s vaginal cavity had she remained in the water for four weeks, the trial court specifically ruled that either Mr. Marshall or Mr. Malin would have discovered the victim’s body before that happened. In our view, testimony from Mr. Marshall and Mr. Malin that it was their regular practice to mow their properties to an area from which they would have detected the odor from the victim’s decaying body and could have seen the body as it lay in the creek satisfactorily supports the trial court’s finding that the victim’s body would have been discovered even without the defendant’s statement divulging the location of the body. Moreover, given the witnesses’ regular mowing habits and the fact that the victim’s body was dumped during a busy mowing season, we agree with the trial court that the state sufficiently established that the victim’s body would have been discovered before the destruction of the victim’s vaginal cavity and any DNA evidence located therein. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the bodily fluids obtained during the autopsy of the victim’s body or the results of DNA testing performed on those fluids.”
State v. Hill, 35 TAM 27-13 (May 12, 2010), perm. app. denied Oct. 12, 2010.
Joe Hill was convicted of first degree premeditated murder plus abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Donald F. Paine is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, and the Tennessee Judicial Conference.