Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Chattanooga Murder Conviction

(WDEF) The Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the murder conviction and life sentence of a man who shot his wife at a gas station in Chattanooga in 1994.
        In March of 1994, Edward Kendrick shot and killed his estranged wife, Lisa Kendrick, at the gas station where she worked. He fled the scene, threw the rifle out the car window, and was later arrested at the Chattanooga airport. A Chattanooga jury convicted him of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
        Kendrick’s defense at trial was that his rifle discharged accidentally. His defense lawyer based this defense on evidence that the police officer who retrieved the rifle accidentally shot himself in the foot with it. Although the officer initially told other officers he had not touched the trigger, the officer testified at trial that he did not remember whether he had touched the trigger or not.         The State’s firearms expert also testified that the rifle was working properly.
Years later, Kendrick sought relief from his conviction and sentence by arguing that the public defender who had represented him at trial had been ineffective. Two of his arguments were that his lawyer should have presented expert evidence that the trigger mechanism on his rifle was defective and also should have convinced the trial court to permit him to present evidence of the statements made by the police officer who was shot while handling Kendrick’s rifle. Allowing this evidence would be an exception to the hearsay rule, which does not allow people to testify to what third parties said. In this case, the officer made statements to investigators after he accidentally shot himself. Kendrick’s attorney never asked for those statements to be brought into evidence.
        The trial court in Chattanooga declined to grant relief to Kendrick. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, vacated Kendrick’s conviction and sentence, and granted Kendrick a new trial. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State’s appeal.
        In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision and reinstated Kendrick’s murder conviction. The Court found that trial counsel made a reasonable decision to rely on the officer’s accident as the best evidence that Kendrick’s rifle was defective. Additionally, the Court found that counsel’s failure to invoke the exception to the hearsay rule did not constitute deficient performance because counsel vigorously cross-examined the officer and effectively undercut the officer’s testimony that he did not remember whether he was touching the trigger when the rifle discharged.
Categories: Crime, Hamilton County, Local News

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