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Posted by: Chandra Williams on Nov 3, 2015

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Alexander Little, IV and Edward M. Yarbrough (on appeal), Nashville, Tennessee, and James W. Price and William Timothy Hill (at trial), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Curtis Scott Harper.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; Sarah W. Keith and William H. Crabtree, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): HOLLOWAY

A Knox County jury found Curtis Scott Harper (“the Defendant”) guilty of three counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication, three counts of vehicular homicide by creating a substantial risk of death and serious bodily injury, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of tampering with evidence, one count of leaving the scene of an accident, one count of driving under the influence, and, in a subsequent deliberation, one count of driving under the influence (second offense). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to an effective thirty years’ incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant claims that: (1) the introduction of fifty crime scene and autopsy photographs, many of which were gruesome, graphic, or horrifying, deprived the Defendant of a fair trial by inflaming the passions of the jury; (2) the State presented false expert testimony concerning the speed of the Defendant’s vehicle, thereby depriving the Defendant of due process; (3) the State violated Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to provide to the Defendant a copy of the article the forensic pathologist relied upon during his testimony; (4) the prosecutor engaged in improper argument, including personal attacks on defense counsel, that violated the Defendant’s right to a fair trial;; (5) the trial court erred in imposing partial consecutive sentences; and (6) the cumulative effect of the error requires a new trial. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting numerous graphic and gruesome crime scene and autopsy photographs, the prejudicial effect of which far outweighed their probative value, and such error was not harmless. We, therefore, reverse the judgments of the criminal court and remand the case for a new trial.