STATE OF TENNESSEE v. BENJAMIN FOUST - Articles

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Posted by: Stacey Shrader Joslin on Sep 9, 2015

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Bruce E. Poston, Knoxville, Tennessee (at trial and on appeal); and Wesley D. Stone, Knoxville, Tennessee (on appeal), for the appellant, Benjamin Foust.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; Randall Eugene Nichols, District Attorney General; and Ta Kisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): THOMAS

The Defendant, Benjamin Foust, was indicted and, following a jury trial, convicted of ten counts of felony first degree murder, two counts of premeditated first degree murder, four counts of especially aggravated robbery, three counts of aggravated arson, and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-202, -13-403, -14- 302, -17-1307(b). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to a total effective sentence of two consecutive life sentences plus 105 years. In this appeal as of right, the Defendant contends (1) that the trial court erred by allowing the State to admit, as substantive evidence, the prior statement of a co-defendant in violation of Tennessee Rules of Evidence 613 and 803(26); (2) that the trial court erred by failing to merge all of the Defendant‘s convictions for aggravated arson; (3) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the Defendant‘s convictions; (4) that the trial court erred by not allowing the Defendant to stipulate that he had been convicted of prior felonies without disclosing that the convictions were for crimes of force and violence; (5) that the trial court erred by admitting an autopsy photograph of the charred body of one of the victims; (6) that the State improperly vouched for the credibility of a co-defendant who testified against the Defendant at trial; (7) that the trial court erred in instructing the jury regarding the inferences that could be drawn from the possession of recently stolen property; and (8) that the trial court erred by imposing partial consecutive sentences.1 Following our review, we conclude that the trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce, as substantive evidence, the prior statement of a co-defendant in its entirety, and that this error was not harmless. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand this case for a new trial. We also conclude that the evidence was insufficient to sustain one of the Defendant‘s convictions for aggravated arson. With respect to that conviction, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the charge. We will address the remainder of the Defendant‘s arguments so as not to pretermit his remaining issues. See State v. Parris, 236 S.W.3d 173, 189 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2007) (following a similar procedure).

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