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Kemp v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

September 20, 2019

Christopher Ammons Kemp
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CC-16-2693; CC-16-2694)

          McCOOL, JUDGE.

         Christopher Ammons Kemp appeals his two convictions for felony murder, a violation of § 13A-6-2(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975, and his conviction for first-degree domestic violence, a violation of § 13A-6-130, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court sentenced Kemp to a single sentence of life imprisonment for the two felony-murder convictions, sentenced Kemp to life imprisonment for the domestic-violence conviction, and ordered that the sentences were to run consecutively.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The evidence at trial established the following facts. Chris Carroll and Jessica Jackson married in 2013 and divorced in 2014. Before Carroll and Jackson divorced, Jackson had rekindled a relationship with Kemp, whom she had dated in high school. In the summer of 2015, Kemp and his daughter, who is not Jackson's child, moved into Jackson's house, and in August 2015 Jackson discovered that she was pregnant with Kemp's child ("Baby Doe"). However, problems subsequently arose in Jackson and Kemp's relationship, and in January 2016 Jackson "told [Kemp] that he needed to leave." (R. 385.) After Kemp moved out of Jackson's house, Jackson began spending time with Carroll, who had offered to help Jackson "get [her house] ready for the baby." (R. 394.) According to Jackson, Kemp was "stalking [her] every move" (R. 390) during this time and was thus aware that Jackson was spending time with Carroll, which Kemp admitted "upset" him. (R. 833.) Although Jackson attempted to maintain minimal communication with Kemp because he was the father of Baby Doe, she eventually ceased all communication with Kemp on March 7, 2016, other than through e-mail, and on March 10, 2016, she e-mailed Kemp and informed him that they were "never getting back together." (C. 899; R. 836.)

         The following day, while Jackson and Carroll were shopping together, the apartment complex in Vestavia where Carroll lived, Mountain Lodge Apartments ("Mountain Lodge"), burned in a fire that originated in Carroll's apartment. Carroll testified that, as a result of the fire, he moved into his mother's house, and Jackson also began living at Carroll's mother's house the day after the fire because, Jackson testified, she had become concerned for her safety. However, Jackson did not move all of her possessions into Carroll's mother's house and thus would periodically return to her own house to retrieve items she needed.

         On March 15, 2016 -- four days after Mountain Lodge burned -- Jackson left work early and "went over to the Vestavia Police Department to speak to the Fire Marshall and the detective." (R. 404.) Jackson testified that, when she left the police department, she was "absolutely hysterical because of a conversation that [she] had with the [detective]," but Jackson did not testify as to the substance of that conversation or why she was hysterical as a result of it. (R. 405.) After leaving the police department, Jackson drove to her house "to grab a few things" before going to Carroll's mother's house. Id. Jackson testified that, when she arrived at her house, she entered the house through a door in the garage and that, as she was leaving her house and reentering the garage, she saw "this dark figure to the side" who put "a pink pillowcase ... on [her] head" and began choking her. (R. 406.) Jackson testified "without a shadow of a doubt" that Kemp was her attacker (R. 407) and that "the next thing [she] remember[s]" is "coming to [in] a gas station parking lot." (R. 409.)

         Carroll testified that, on March 15, 2016, Jackson had informed him "that she was going to work, and then she was going to the meeting with the Fire Marshal. And that, after that, she was going to go home and ... gather clothes to come back to [Carroll's] mom's house." (R. 332.) According to Carroll, he attempted to contact Jackson at approximately 6:00 p.m. that evening to let her know that he was on his way to his mother's house and that she could meet him there, but he was unable to contact her despite multiple attempts. Thus, Carroll began driving to Jackson's house because he "felt like something was wrong." (R. 333.) However, Carroll testified that he never reached Jackson's house:

"As I made that turn to go up [Jackson's] street, [Jackson] was in the middle of the road. The first thing I noticed was that she was completely naked, outside of her bra.
"Blood had poured down both of her legs. I could tell she had been badly beaten.
"Her left eye was swollen shut. There were bruises all over her. Marks on her neck. She was in really bad shape when I saw her in the middle of the road.
"She was stumbling around. Wasn't sure where she was at. And so I wrapped her up and placed her in my car."

(R. 334.) Carroll testified that he asked Jackson what had happened but that Jackson "was pretty incoherent and she didn't know what was going on." (R. 336-37.) Carroll also testified that, while driving to Jackson's house, he had noticed a police officer, Officer Greg Blackmon, parked at a nearby gas station. Thus, Carroll telephoned 911 and then drove to that gas station "to flag down that police officer and wait there until the ambulance arrived." (R. 338.) Carroll testified that he explained to Officer Blackmon the circumstances under which he had found Jackson, and that conversation was recorded by Officer Blackmon's body camera, which recording the State admitted into evidence and played for the jury.

         Jackson was subsequently transported to St. Vincent's Hospital, where she was informed "that there was no [fetal] heartbeat and that [she] had lost the baby." (R. 410.) Jackson, who was bleeding internally, was then transported to UAB Hospital, where she underwent an emergency cesarean section. Expert testimony established that Baby Doe, who was "an almost near term baby" (R. 628), was delivered stillborn with a fractured skull, a lacerated lung, a lacerated liver, a broken left clavicle, a broken left forearm, a broken left ankle, and multiple broken ribs -- all injuries that resulted from "extensive blunt force trauma." (R. 654.)

         Kemp testified that, on March 15, 2016, he "was gonna go to ... [Jackson's house] and try to find a way into the garage and retrieve the items that were left" when he moved out of the house. (R. 776.) According to Kemp, he accessed the garage through a window at a time when he believed Jackson was not supposed to be at home. Kemp testified that, while looking for the items he intended to retrieve, he heard the garage door begin to open and that he "panicked" (R. 781) and "hid[] in the far corner so [Jackson] wouldn't see [him]." (R. 782.) According to Kemp, Jackson closed the garage door before she entered the house, and he "was panicking trying to think of a way out of the garage" when Jackson returned to the garage. Id. Kemp testified that, when Jackson reentered the garage, she "immediately turned around and saw [him] and screamed." (R. 783.) Kemp admitted that, when Jackson screamed, he "panicked and just attacked her." Id. Specifically, Kemp admitted that he "tried ... choking [Jackson]" (R. 785); that, "once [Jackson] fought back, it became real physical" (R. 783); that he "[p]ushed her down" (R. 856); and that "[t]he next thing [he] remember[ed]" he "was sitting on top of her" and "had [his] left hand on her neck and ... was hitting her with [his] right hand." (R. 784.) Kemp testified:

"That's when I realized what I was doing and I jumped up off of her. I was just freaking out. I didn't know what I had done.
"And, so, I ran to the kitchen and looked for something in the fridge to try to give her to drink
and all there was, was the carton of juice and I opened it. ...
"I tried to open her mouth and pour some in and she spit it out and started coughing. So I knew she was alive. She was breathing. She was coughing. She was just knocked out, okay?
"So, I knew she was just unconscious at that point.
"I went back into the kitchen and put the juice back. ...
"Grabbed her phone off of the counter. I tried to get into it. I couldn't get into it. It had the fingerprint thing and I couldn't get into it. I just got frustrated and threw it down and left. I just panicked and left."

(R. 784-85.)

         Kemp testified that he entered Jackson's garage with the intent only to retrieve items that belonged to him and that he did not have the intent to harm Jackson or Baby Doe. Rather, Kemp testified, he attacked Jackson because he "just panicked" and "had a drug-induced psychotic episode."[1] (R. 794.) However, the State introduced into evidence a recording of a telephone call between Kemp and Kelly Holland, who is the mother of Kemp's daughter and who called Kemp from the Shelby County jail approximately two hours after Kemp attacked Jackson. In that recorded telephone call, Kemp stated: "I did what I said I was going to do. I finished it. I'm done." (R. 593.) As to what he meant by that statement, Kemp initially testified:

"I mean, I told ... [Holland] that I was going to do, referring -- I told her I was going to do something referring to trying to find a way into the garage, and whatnot, you know, and getting the rest of the stuff so I could just, kind of, put distance between me and [Jackson] and, you know, finish the quarreling and stuff like that."

(R. 789.) However, on cross-examination, Kemp testified:

"Q. Okay. And you get this call from [Holland], who is [your daughter's] mom?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. She's incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. Okay. She's asking you to come bond her out?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. All right. And you tell her you can't do that. The banks are closed.
"And then you tell her I'm probably going away for a while?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. All right. Because you tell her, 'I did what I said I was going to do'?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. 'I finished it. I'm done'?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. Those were your words?
"A. Yes, sir.
"Q. Okay. That was you on that ...

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