STATE OF TENNESSEE v. NELSON AGUILAR GOMEZ and FLORINDA LOPEZ - Articles

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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Apr 24, 2012

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Jeffrey Allen Devasher, Nashville, Tennessee (on appeal); J. Michael Engle and Mary Kathryn Harcombe (at trial), for the appellant, Florinda Lopez.

Attorneys 2:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Gordon W. Smith, Associate Solicitor General; Clark Bryan Thornton, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): HOLDER

A mother and father were jointly tried on two counts of felony murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse as a result of the death of their child. Only the mother testified in her own defense. During direct examination, the mother did not testify about prior incidents in which the father assaulted her. On cross-examination, father’s counsel asked the mother whether she believed the father was capable of “hurting” the victim. The trial court ruled sua sponte that counsel for the father had “opened the door” to cross-examination about the father’s assaults against the mother. The father was convicted of two counts of felony murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse, and the trial court merged the felony murder counts. The mother was convicted of two counts of facilitation of felony murder and two counts of aggravated child abuse, and the trial court merged the facilitation of felony murder counts. The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed one aggravated child abuse count against the father but affirmed the ruling of the trial court in all other respects. Only the mother appealed. We hold that the evidence of prior assaults by the father was inadmissible and that the parties did not open the door to cross-examination about the father’s assaults against the mother. We reverse the mother’s conviction and remand the case for a new trial.

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