According to court documents Charles Rice would sexually assault and murder his thirteen year old stepdaughter Emily Branch
Charles Rice would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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Charles Rice Case
The victim, thirteen-year-old Emily Branch, was reported missing on June 18, 2000, and her body was discovered on June 25, 2000. After a police investigation, the defendant, Charles Rice, was questioned and arrested for her murder. A Shelby County jury found the defendant guilty of first degree premeditated murder and of first degree felony murder and sentenced the defendant to death. The convictions were subsequently merged into a single conviction.
The State’s proof at trial established that on June 18, 2000, the victim was staying with her father, Steven Dwayney Branch (“Branch”). Branch lived in Memphis with his girlfriend and her three children. The victim usually lived with Branch’s sister, Margaret Branch, but she was staying with her father because it was Father’s Day.
The victim’s mother, Tracie Anderson (“Anderson”), was married to the defendant during the time relevant to this case, but the victim never lived with her mother and the defendant while they were married. Anderson and the defendant had argued on June 6, 2000, prompting Anderson to leave the defendant and move in with her brother. She had left the defendant on numerous other occasions, but had always returned. Prior to her leaving, the defendant told her that if she left him, “[i]t will hurt you more than it hurts me.” Anderson told Branch not to let the victim go to the defendant’s house anymore. According to Anderson, the defendant used drugs, specifically crack cocaine.
On the morning of the 18th, the victim left her father’s house at about 11:00 a.m. with three other girls. She was wearing “a white short-pants overall set with a navy blue shirt, some white socks, her blue and white tennies, and she had a necklace around her neck.” Monica Downey (“Downey”), one of the daughters of Branch’s girlfriend, was with the victim that day. She testified that she, the victim, and five other girls “walked around because that’s our normal routine every day.” While out walking, the defendant came by and talked to the victim. Downey said that she could not hear what was said.
After the defendant left, the girls went to a store and then to the defendant’s house on Firestone Street. The victim went inside the house while Downey and the other girls waited outside. The victim later came outside and told Downey that they all had to leave; they left the victim on the defendant’s front porch and went to a park. According to Downey, this was about 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. Downey said that it was not unusual for the victim to go to the defendant’s house when the victim’s mother lived there. Downey did not know that the victim’s mother no longer lived there. She said that she never saw the defendant while they were at his house.
According to Willie Lee Hall (“Hall”), the defendant’s stepfather who lived with the defendant at 1272 Firestone Street, the victim came by the residence on the 18th of June, asking to walk the dog. After Hall refused, the victim went outside to talk to the girls with whom she had been. Then the victim left the house with the defendant, walking down the street toward Bellevue Street. According to Hall, this was about 3:40 in the afternoon. Later that afternoon, the defendant returned to the house to watch television; he did not change his clothes. Hall said that while at the house, before leaving with the defendant, the victim was never out of his sight.
Marquette Houston (“Houston”), a friend of the victim from the neighborhood, saw the victim on the afternoon of June 18, sitting on her father’s front porch listening to music. He recalled that she was listening to a Vanilla Ice CD. He told her that “nobody ․ listen[s] to Vanilla Ice [any] more.” Houston noticed that the CD had a scratch on it.
Tony Evans (“Evans”), a friend of the victim’s mother and father, also saw the victim on the day of her disappearance. He lived on Firestone Street, and on the afternoon of June 18, around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., he saw the victim and a “lot of little girls” walk to the defendant’s house. Later that day, he observed the victim and the defendant walking away from the defendant’s house heading west on Firestone. He found it surprising that the two were together because he knew that the victim’s mother had recently left the defendant due to abuse. Therefore, he followed the victim and the defendant. After turning off Firestone Street, the two went up a small street then headed back on Empire Street, and then south on Bellevue toward an Amoco station. Then they walked past the station through the pathway on the side. At that time, Evans returned home to finish his yard work. Evans explained that he stopped following the two when they got to the path by the Amoco station because the path leads to Brown Street, where some of the defendant’s relatives lived. He assumed that the victim’s mother and the defendant had gotten back together and that the defendant and victim were going to visit relatives.
The victim’s father began to worry when the victim had not returned home by 5:00 p.m. on June 18. He called the police that night to report her missing. The police told him that she would probably be back and that they would report her as a runaway. Branch testified that the victim had never run away before, so that night he began to search the neighborhood for her. A few of his neighbors helped in his search.
The following day, Anderson called Evans and asked him if he had seen the victim. Evans told her that he had seen the victim and the defendant go down the path next to the Amoco station. After speaking with the victim’s mother, Evans went to the area of the path to look for the victim, but did not find anything. He explained that he wanted to find the victim because both parents were his good friends. Several days later, Branch also spoke with Evans, telling him that the victim had been missing since June 18.
Evans testified that two days after the victim was last seen, he saw Mario Rice (“Mario”), who is the defendant’s nephew, and the defendant walk together down to the woods by the Amoco station. He said that the police were called, but they did not get there in time because it was night. During the week the victim was missing, Evans saw the defendant and Mario sitting in the yard of a house on Alaska Street, watching that same pathway. This made him even more suspicious of the defendant. For two to three nights in a row, Evans hid in the crawl space underneath the house on Alaska Street where Mario and the defendant were. While there, he overheard Mario and the defendant discuss plans to kill Anderson. He never heard them talk about the victim. He remained under the house on those nights until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.
On June 25, Evans had repaired his four-wheeler and drove back to the area surrounding the pathway to search again. When he went into the woods, he smelled an odor like something had died, so he began looking in the direction from which the smell was coming. He had to chop through the bushes with a machete. Finally, he “stepped up on the tree and looked down, [and] saw her shoes.” Evans ran from the woods to Branch’s house and told him that he had found the victim’s body behind the Amoco station on Chelsea Street.
Branch, Evans, and Houston went in Branch’s truck to the parking lot of the Amoco station. From there, Evans led them down a trail behind the station. On the path, Houston noticed a Vanilla Ice CD on the ground that had the same scratch on it that he had seen on the CD of the victim, and it looked like it was “cracked or something.” They reached the victim’s body, which was lying in a ditch in a heavily wooded area. When they found the victim, her shorts and underwear were down around her ankles. Branch testified that he could not recognize his daughter’s facial features because the body had decomposed, but he recognized her clothing, shoes, and necklace as the same as she had been wearing on the day she disappeared. Evans was also able to recognize the victim by her hair and clothes. After identifying the body as that of the victim, they called the police.
Sergeant Robin Hulley of the Memphis Police Department was called to the Amoco station on Chelsea Street at approximately 5:00 p.m. on June 25, 2000, on a “DOA unknown.” Once he arrived at that address, he was led by a uniformed officer to the actual scene behind the store. Sergeant Hulley testified that to the right side of the store there is a pathway that opens onto a big grassy field, about the size of a football field. The victim’s body was located in what appeared to be a dry creek bed in a heavily wooded area to the right of the opening. The victim was lying face up. She had on a pair of white short overalls, which were pulled completely down to around her ankles, and her underwear was also pulled down. Her shirt was still in place. Sergeant Hulley stated that the body was not visible from the path or the grassy field, although it was not covered by any brush. The only blood found at the scene was directly around the body. While walking down the path, Sergeant Hulley noticed a broken Vanilla Ice CD, which he thought strange due to the fact that there was no other debris on the path.
Sergeant James L. Fitzpatrick of the Memphis Police Department was in charge of the crime scene on June 25, 2000. He testified that the victim’s body was found in an old ditch, in advanced stages of decomposition. There was no upper torso, the legs and arms were still intact, and the head appeared to be “mummified.” The victim had on short pants, which were down around below her knees.
Michael Jeffrey Clark, an officer with the Memphis Police Department, was also assigned to investigate the murder on June 25, 2000. At the scene, Officer Clark spoke briefly with Evans and Houston. He later spoke with them in depth at the homicide office, where he also interviewed Branch, Anderson, and Mario. Officer Clark then went to the defendant’s home and spoke with the defendant’s step-father, Hall, and the defendant’s mother, Delores Hall. According to Hall’s testimony, the defendant told the police that on the day of her disappearance, he and the victim parted ways at the intersection of Bellevue and Firestone.
The defendant was subsequently brought to the police station, where Officer Clark and Officer Ernestine Davison interviewed him at approximately 2:00 a.m. on the morning of June 26. Officer Clark read the defendant his Miranda rights, and the defendant signed a form indicating that he understood those rights. Clark told the defendant that other witnesses had seen him enter the woods with the victim near the Amoco station. The defendant denied going into the woods with her and denied any knowledge of her disappearance.
Clark then told the defendant that it appeared to him that the victim had been raped, and he asked the defendant if he would be willing to submit to a DNA test so that police could compare his DNA with the DNA found on the victim. At that point, the defendant admitted that he had engaged in consensual sex with the victim inside the kitchen of his parents’ house on June 18, explaining: “I had sex for about a minute with her.” The defendant admitted the victim asked him for money and to walk his dog. He said that he asked her to walk to the store with him so he could get some change, but when they arrived at the store, he told the victim that he did not have any money, and they parted ways.
The defendant then changed his story again, stating that he and the victim went to his house after the victim asked him for money, and this led to the sexual act in the kitchen. The defendant said that the victim then left the house alone and that he did not see her again. When Officer Clark confronted the defendant with Hall’s story that he saw the defendant leave the house with the victim, the defendant replied that he entered the woods with the victim, but denied any wrongdoing.
Officers Clark and Davison decided to arrest the defendant and to place him in the Shelby County jail. While checking him in, the defendant asked to be placed in protective custody because he had received some threats from family members in the neighborhood. Officer Clark asked the defendant: “Do you mean the family members of the girl you killed?” The defendant responded: “Yes, sir.” On cross-examination, however, the officers testified that the defendant constantly maintained that he did not kill the victim.
Sergeant Fitzpatrick read the defendant’s statement to the jury. In his statement, the defendant said that the last time he saw the victim was between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on June 18, 2000, behind the Amoco station. When asked how he and the victim came to be behind the Amoco station, the defendant replied, “Me and Emily walked down through there on the way to the field. And that’s when my nephew [Mario] killed Emily Branch.” The defendant explained that he and Mario planned to have the victim at that location so that Mario could kill the victim. He said that Mario wanted to kill the victim because Mario “was tired of seeing [the defendant] go through things [he] was going through with Emily’s mother.” The initial plan was to have Anderson, the victim’s mother, accompany the defendant to the field where Mario would kill her, but they could not find Anderson.
The defendant stated that he first encountered the victim on the day of her death as she was walking between Bellevue and Smith Street with her friends. The victim wanted to walk his dog and wanted ten dollars, so the defendant told her to meet him at his stepfather’s house on Firestone Street. He said that while they were at the house, they had sex in the kitchen, and “[i]t lasted about sixty seconds.” He said that the victim “brushed her chest against [him] and said she knowed [sic] that her stuff was gooder [sic] than her mother’s.” He said that this was the first time they had sex and that he did not reach climax. After the sexual encounter with the victim, they left the house and went to the Amoco station on Chelsea Street under his guise that he would get change and give the victim the ten dollars that she requested. The defendant then told her that he did not have the money. At that time, the victim followed him into woods, where they were met by Mario. The defendant then said
And that’s when we said, “Fuck this bitch; let’s kill this bitch.” I told Emily about an apple tree and a fenced-in area, so she went in there, and that’s when my nephew started to stab her. He stabbed her in the head first and in the throat numerous times and in the chest area numerous times. That’s when I ran, and my nephew, Mario Rice, ran behind me. We got out to the street on Brown, and I ran towards Lewis or Louisville. I don’t know which one. And Mario went the other way on Brown. I went up Louisville or Lewis to a friend’s house on Montgomery. Then I went to another friend’s house on Ayers, and that’s where Mario and I met up again. We started drinking, and we stayed together until about 10:00 p.m. And then he went home and I went home.
The defendant said that Mario used a “kitchen knife, not a butcher knife.” He then provided more details about the actual murder, saying:
She was facing him, and he was facing her, and there were a lot of words. He was talking to her. I really don’t know exactly what he was saying. Then he pulled the knife from out of his left back pocket, and then he stabbed her in the head. She went down on one or two knees, and that’s when he stabbed her in the throat a bunch of times, and she fell back on her back. She was moving her hands like she was trying to tell Mario to stop. She pulled-and she had pulled her clothes down before the first stabbing, and I guess she thought she was getting ready to be raped by what Mario was saying because it made me wonder why was she taking her clothes down. As I think about it, I think she must of fell back because of the way Mario was stabbing her in the neck and chest.
The defendant said that the plan was to lure the victim’s mother to the field and to “take care” of her. He said that he “was going to take care of the mother, and Mario was going to take care of anybody else.” He continued, “I was probably going to jump on the mother. That probably wasn’t all I would have done to her.” About the victim’s death, the defendant stated that he felt “sad, guilty, and responsible” because he “could have prevented it by not luring her into that field.”
Sergeant Fitzpatrick took the defendant back to the crime scene on June 27 for a “walk through” video of the events leading to the victim’s death. The defendant said he got the victim to accompany him to a secluded part of the field by telling her there was an apple tree back there. The defendant then led the officers directly to the spot where the body had been discovered. On cross-examination, Sergeant Fitzpatrick admitted that in every statement given by the defendant, the defendant denied actually killing the victim.
Two or three days after the police first went to Hall’s house, they returned and asked to search the house. Hall granted permission. The police took a knife that was on the dining room table. Hall testified that the knife had been lying there for the “longest time.”
Dr. Cynthia Gardner, a medical examiner with the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, testified that she first examined the victim’s body at the crime scene. She said that the body was found “lying on her back in a field” with her shorts pulled down around her ankles. The body was in a state of advanced decomposition, and “in many areas ․ the soft tissues were completely gone and only the skeleton remain[ed].” She next performed an external examination of the body with the clothing intact. She noted that decomposition was occurring at different rates in different areas of the body. She explained that “differential decomposition is associated with areas of injuries.”
If there’s a breach in the skin surface somewhere or even if there is a large bruise, which is just a collection of blood, both of those factors are very attractive to the infection bacteria that promote decomposition. So when you see a body where there w[ere] areas of decomposition which has [sic] occurred at a faster rate, it’s more advanced decomposition in a very specific area. That indicates that there was probably injury in that area.
Dr. Garner noted advanced decomposition in the “head, the neck, the chest, the upper back, and in the groin area.” She opined that because of the advanced state of decomposition in the vaginal area, there had been some sort of trauma or injury to that area prior to death. The victim had what appeared to be stab wounds in the right lower quadrant of her torso and on the left wrist. Dr. Garner stated that the wounds to the wrist were defensive injuries. All the wounds were consistent with those inflicted by a kitchen knife.
Examination of the victim’s shirt revealed multiple tears that were consistent with those produced by a knife. Ten total defects were found in the shirt: one in the right lower quadrant; four in the anterior left chest; one in the right chest; three in the arm; and one in the back. Dr. Garner observed injury to the victim’s neck, indicating that a sharp instrument went all the way through the soft tissue from the skin down to the bone in the back. She explained that the windpipe and esophagus are located directly in this region of the neck and would “most definitely have been severed.” There was another point of sharp trauma to the back of the skull where there was a puncture wound, but it did not penetrate through the skull. From her examination, Dr. Garner determined that there were ten stab wounds on the shirt, three to the neck, one to the back of the head, and two to the left wrist, for a total of sixteen stab wounds. She concluded that the cause of death was multiple stab wounds.
Due to the extent of decomposition, Dr. Garner was unable to obtain DNA from the victim’s body for testing. The victim’s body was identified as that of Emily Branch through comparison of dental records.
Dr. Steven Symes, a forensic anthropologist with the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, also testified as to the condition of the victim’s body. He examined the bones of the victim’s upper body and found four instances of “sharp trauma to bone,” three of which were in the neck and one in the back of the skull. The wounds in the neck were inflicted from front to back, penetrated through her neck, and impacted her spinal cord. The knife used had been a single-edged blade, like those of some kitchen knives.
In his defense, the defendant called several witnesses who provided alibis for both himself and Mario, in direct contradiction to the defendant’s statement to police that he had lured the victim to the field where Mario proceeded to murder the victim.
Providing an alibi for Mario were Lee Bearden (“Bearden”), R.L. Branch, Donnie Tate (“Tate”), and Larry Rice. According to Bearden, R.L. Branch and Tate, the three men, plus Mario, were watching football and playing dominoes at Bearden’s house from 1:00 p.m. until about 3:00 p.m. on June 18, 2000. Mario then left with R.L. Branch and Tate and went to the Save-A-Lot grocery store where they met Larry Rice and Carolyn Rice at about 4:00 p.m. Then they went to Tate’s house for dinner. Around 8:00 p.m., R.L. Branch took Mario to meet a girlfriend. R.L. Branch also testified that Mario and the victim were cousins and that they were close.
Roy Herron provided an alibi for the defendant. He testified that at 5:00 p.m. on June 18, 2000, the defendant came to his house, where they watched the U.S. Open golf tournament until its conclusion at about 7:00 p.m. Mr. Herron said that the defendant did not have any blood on his clothes or shoes, and he did not have a weapon on him. Julie Scobey, an employee of WMC-TV in Memphis, confirmed that on June 18, 2000, the U.S. Open golf tournament was broadcast on their station from 12:30 p.m. until 6:59 p.m.
Although he did not testify in his own defense, the defendant sought to discredit the testimony of Evans. To contradict Evans’ testimony that he had hid in the crawlspace under the house in which the defendant was visiting, the defense called Michael Patton (“Patton”). Patton testified that in June of 2000, he stayed at 1039 Alaska Street at least once a week, but usually two to three times a week. He testified about the hole that was located behind the house that led to the crawl space. He said that nothing was kept under there except for a ladder. The entrance to the crawl space was located at the back of the house, under the children’s bedrooms. According to him, there were dogs in neighboring yards that would bark if anyone was in the backyard. He said that a person inside the house would be able to hear if someone was hiding in the crawl space. Patton was not at that house on either June 23 or 24.
Evans was convicted on October 3, 2001, of possession with intent to sell fifteen grams of crack cocaine and 2.7 grams of powdered cocaine. This was after the arrest of the defendant, but before the defendant’s trial. Evans received a six-year sentence. Rosyln Johnson is a presentence investigator for Correctional Alternatives, Inc. She prepared Evans’ presentence report when he was convicted. That report indicated that Evans said that he had been diagnosed as being paranoid schizophrenic. He listed his next psychiatric appointment and provided her with medicine bottles. On cross-examination, Evans denied that he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and denied that he took medication for any mental illness. When he was shown records that he had given his corrections officer indicating that he was in fact on medication, he denied that the statements in those reports were true.