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Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1) requires the Tennessee Supreme Court to determine whether the sentence of death was arbitrarily imposed, whether the evidence presented at the sentencing hearing supported the jury's finding that the aggravating circumstances were established beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the aggravating circumstances outweighed evidence of mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether the sentence of death was excessive or disproportionate considering similar cases. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(c)(1) (2006). The supreme court must determine whether the evidence supported the jury's finding that the aggravating circumstances were established beyond a reasonable doubt and outweighed evidence of mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(c)(1)(B)-(C) (2006).
The Defendant, Michael Rimmer, was convicted of one count of premeditated murder, one count of aggravated robbery, and one count of theft of property. In the penalty phase of the trial, the jury imposed a sentence of death for the first degree murder. On appeal as of right, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions, reversed the sentence of death, and remanded to the trial court for a second sentencing hearing. At the conclusion of that proceeding, a different jury imposed the death penalty based upon one statutory aggravating circumstance, i.e. that the defendant had a previous conviction for a felony with statutory elements involving violence to the person. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(2) (1997). As required for the imposition of a sentence of death, the jury also concluded that the aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. This sentence was affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Was the death sentence proper?
The supreme court found that the death sentence was not disproportionate and not arbitrary. Defendant, an estranged boyfriend, murdered an ex-girlfriend, whose testimony had sent him to prison for rape. While he was in prison, he had confided to other inmates his intentions to harm the victim. The threats defendant had made suggested that the murder was a premeditated act of vengeance. That the murder took place shortly after his release from prison buttressed that inference. The proof established that on the night of the murder, defendant sought out the victim at her place of employment, murdered her, and disposed of her body. While the means of her death was not entirely clear, the bloody crime scene indicated that there was a violent struggle. The body was never recovered. Defendant, having a prior criminal record for violent crimes, was convicted on overwhelmingly persuasive circumstantial evidence. Based on the testimony of two prison inmates, he had planned the murder as an act of revenge. He approached the victim at a time when she was most vulnerable - alone and working after midnight at a hotel.