Convicted murderer David Kyle Gilley, who killed MTSU student Laura Salmon in 1984, lost his final appeal after the Tennessee Supreme Court decided not to hear his case.
Gilley, 43, of Bradenton, Fla., was convicted for the fatal beating of Salmon, 18, of Murfreesboro. They dated while students at Oakland High School.
Her body was found May 31, 1984, in a field off Twin Oak Drive. Her murder remained unsolved until Lt. Bill Sharp and Sgt. Dan Goodwin from the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office reopened the case in 2000. They charged Gilley in 2001 with first-degree murder after interviewing new witnesses and linking his DNA to blue jeans found covering her body.
A Circuit Court jury convicted Gilley of first-degree murder Aug. 4, 2006. Circuit Court Judge Don Ash sentenced him to a life sentence.
Gilley appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld the conviction in August 2008. Assistant District Attorney Paul Newman, who prosecuted the case with District Attorney William Whitesell, said the appeals are over for Gilley.
However, he has one year to file a post-conviction relief petition stating his attorneys did not adequately represent him.
“We are pleased the appeals are over and the case has a definite resolution,” Newman said. “I’m proud of the work the Sheriff’s Office did on it. They did a tremendous job in solving an old case.”
Goodwin said he and Sharp were pleased with the Supreme Court decision not to hear the appeal.
“Kyle Gilley is going to be where he belongs for the rest of his life,” Goodwin said.
They credited Whitesell and Newman for their prosecution, calling them the “best prosecutors in the state of Tennessee.”
In his appeal, Gilley stated:
• He experienced an unreasonable pre-indictment delay.
• Circuit Court Judge Don Ash erred in admitting testimony about prior bad acts.
• The evidence was not sufficient to convict him.
• Ash erred in allowing hearsay testimony of two witnesses.
• Ash erred in denying a motion for a mistrial.
• Ash erred in allowing Whitesell to question Gilley’s stepbrother, Michael Powell, about a letter the stepbrother wrote to Gilley criticizing the district attorney’s office.
• Ash erred by denying a request from Gilley’s attorneys Roger May and Ed Ryan to let the jury consider the destruction of some evidence.
In the August opinion, Court of Appeals Judge James Curwood Witt Jr. reviewed the issues raised by Gilley’s attorneys Martin and Richard McGee. Witt stated:
• Although there was a 20-year delay, Gilley was not prejudiced.
• Ash did not abuse his discretion in allowing evidence about prior bad acts.
Witness Mary Lester testified about bruises on Salmon but didn’t see how the bruises were placed on her, so she should not have testified about the bruises, the judge wrote, adding it was a harmless error. All of the other evidence about prior bad acts was properly admitted.
“Tennessee courts have accepted the use of evidence of a homicide defendant’s threats or prior violent acts directed toward the homicide victim as a means of allowing the state (prosecutors) the opportunity to establish intent,” Witt stated.
• The appellate judges found enough evidence existed for the jury to find Gilley was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
• Ash did not err in allowing testimony the defense termed as hearsay from Lester about Gilley repeatedly driving by the flag corps practices at MTSU. Also, Brad Craver testified Salmon told him she was trying to get away from Gilley. Since the defense did not object at trial, his testimony cannot be an issue in the appeal.
• Ash did not abuse his discretion in denying the defense motion for a mistrial based on eyewitness Gladys Mears who testified she saw Gilley near Twin Oak Drive the day Salmon was murdered. Mears recognized Gilley from a newspaper photograph a few weeks later when he was charged with another crime. Ash instructed her not to mention the picture to the jury. When she did, the defense asked for a mistrial. Ash denied the mistrial and instructed the jurors Gilley did not have a prior criminal record.
• Ash did not abuse his discretion in Whitesell’s questioning of Powell. Also, the defense complained of the prosecutor’s misconduct about Whitesell’s cross-examination of Powell. The court found no abuse.
• Ash did not err by not instructing the jury on lost evidence. The Sheriff’s Office lost evidence such as interview notes during the 20-year case but the loss was attributed to simple negligence. The defense did not show any lost evidence could have played a significant role in the defense.
In his 26-page opinion, Witt reviewed the trial testimony of witnesses, included her parents, Lourene Mackey, and John Salmon, and friends who told jurors about the volatile relationship between Gilley and Salmon.
Tests of Gilley’s blood showed sperm found on the jeans was consistent with his blood type. Testing of Salmon’s panties showed they contained DNA from more than two people.
“One of the contributors to the DNA was the victim and the defendant could not be excluded as a contributor to the DNA mixture,” Witt stated from the testimony.
Witness Shelly Davenport testified she accompanied Gilley to Twin Oak Drive where Gilley asked if she wanted to end up like Salmon. When she asked what happened, Davenport testified Gilley told her “she was his ex-girlfriend and he killed her.”
Another witness, Mary Hunter Brown, testified she saw Gilley dangle Salmon over the third floor stairwell and threatened to kill her.
After the state rested, Gilley’s stepbrother, Michael Powell, told jurors Gilley was at home during the time Salmon was killed.
Forensic scientist Terry Laber testified he disagreed with the sperm stain on the jeans because it did not discolor the garment and contained a mixture of DNA.
Based on the evidence, particularly the jeans linked to Gilley and Davenport’s testimony, Witt stated the prosecutor’s evidence against Gilley was strong.