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Appeals Court upholds Crigler sentence rulings

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Lengthy sentences handed down in two Marshall County cases were upheld last month by the Court of Criminal Appeals in Nashville.

The first appeal came from Travis Lankford, 26, who received an effective 16-year sentence from Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler.

Lankford pled guilty to three counts of especially aggravated burglary, one count of robbery, one count of aggravated robbery, one count of assault and one count of criminal responsibility for aggravated assault. These all arose from a home invasion carried out by Lankford and Michael Marlin in November 2009, court records show. One of victims, Lones Allen Butler, was severely beaten by Marlin, while Lankford roughed up Butler's live-in girlfriend, Leigh Ann Taylor. Lankford's then-wife, Laura Lankford, drove the car, and tricked Taylor into letting the men into the house.

At Travis Lankford's sentencing hearing, Crigler merged some of the counts, resulting in a 12-year sentence for the burglary and a 12-year sentence for the assault and robbery, to run one after the other, for an effective sentence of 16 years.

On appeal, Travis Lankford's attorney argued the sentences should not run consecutively.

The range of punishment for the different classes of felony is set by the state's General Assembly. There are also rules for when consecutive sentences can be imposed, and one of them is when "the defendant is an offender whose record of criminal activity is extensive."

Writing for the Appeals Court, Judge Jerry L. Smith stated, "In a five-year period, appellant [Lankford] accrued 17 misdemeanor charges and convictions and had five probation violations. We conclude that this is sufficient proof of extensive criminal activity to support the imposition of consecutive sentences" and therefore Travis Lankford's appeal was denied.

In the second case, Tiffany Tena Davis, now 35, appealed the effective 30-year sentence that Crigler ordered for her. She also appealed the way he specified it would run after the completion of a 16-year sentence.

In April 2010, a Marshall County jury found Davis guilty on 13 counts of an 18-count indictment relating to eight sales of crack cocaine to confidential informants.

At Davis' trial, Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard spent two and a half days painstakingly building the case for the jury of six men and six women.

Forty-one witnesses - including three confidential informants, agents of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force, and forensic chemists from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation - testified about Davis' involvement in eight drug deals.

After the prosecution rested its case, Davis took the stand in her own defense and denied everything. She said it was not her voice on the phone agents recorded making deals to sell crack and it was not her who agents identified exchanging drugs for money.

"I do not sell crack cocaine," Davis asserted, although she admitted doing so in the past.

"You're saying they're all lying?" asked Barnard as he cross-examined her.

"Yes, sir," Davis answered. "If I was guilty I would not have got up here."

Davis, also known as "Tookie" or, as she spelled it, "Tokie," pleaded guilty in 2006 to selling cocaine on seven dates in 2005, and was sentenced to 16 years, of which she served 18 months before being allowed out on parole. She was on state probation at time of the offenses for which she was on trial. Davis was represented at her trial and on appeal by court-appointed Lewisburg attorney Terry Hernando.

The appellate court upheld Crigler's decisions. Writing for the court, Judge Jeffrey S. Bivins stated, "We have reviewed the record and conclude that the trial court properly sentenced the Defendant. The court correctly found that the defendant is a career offender ... The court then carefully analyzed whether consecutive sentencing was appropriate. The court noted that the defendant met two of the criteria for consecutive sentencing. The court found particularly troublesome the fact that the defendant previously had been convicted for selling illegal drugs, received a relatively light punishment, and soon was arrested for the same behavior while on probation."

According to the Department of Corrections Web site, Davis is incarcerated in the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center, near Memphis. If she serves her full sentence, Davis will not be released from prison until January 2052, when she will be 74 years old.