Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT NO. 2 OF TARRANT COUNTY TRIAL COURT
LIVINGSTON, C.J.; WALKER and SUDDERTH, JJ.
three issues, Appellant Braylon Dominique Ellis appeals his
conviction for murder. See Tex. Penal Code Ann.
§ 19.02 (West 2011). We affirm.
September 7, 2013, Andrea Brown discovered the dead body of
her older brother Tommy Brown in his home after she went to
check on him out of concern that no one had heard from or
seen him for days. An investigation revealed that Tommy had
been the victim of a love triangle with Appellant and
Christina Rodriguez, whom Tommy had met as a pen pal while
she was serving time in a penitentiary. Tommy reportedly also
had a long-time romantic relationship with a woman named
Connie Moreno, who did not appear to be involved in his death
in any way. From the record, it does not appear that either
Moreno or Rodriguez was living with Tommy at the time of the
days following his death, the Fort Worth Police Department
(FWPD) tracked Tommy's cell phone and debit card to a
location outside of Atlanta, Georgia, where Appellant and
Rodriguez were apprehended. Although charged with capital
murder, Appellant was convicted of the lesser-included
offense of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison for
his part in Tommy's death. Compare id. §
19.03 (West Supp. 2016) (providing elements of capital
murder), with id. § 19.02 (providing elements
of felony murder).
day of the murder
afternoon or early evening of September 5, Willie Wingfield,
Tommy's neighbor, saw a "white girl [who was] more
heavy-set and just a little bit shorter than Tommy" go
into Tommy's house while Tommy was home. Willie testified
that the woman was not Moreno, a Hispanic woman whom he
described as "short with long black hair" and
Andrea described Moreno as approximately 5'1" to
5'2" and of average weight. Instead, Willie's
general description of the woman he had observed more closely
fit the description of Rodriguez at trial, as a woman who was
"tall and heavyset."
that evening, between 9:30 and 10:00, Willie also saw a
dark-skinned young man with braided hair go into Tommy's
house. According to Willie, Tommy was not at home at that
time. Later, Willie watched as Tommy pulled his pickup into
his driveway, emerged from the pickup, and walked to his
front door. Willie testified that as Tommy attempted to
unlock his front door, the front door opened, someone
"snatched" Tommy and pulled him into the house, and
then the lights went off. Willie did not call the police at
next morning, when Willie went outside to water his yard and
drink coffee-his usual morning routine-he noticed that Tommy
was not partaking in his usual morning routine of sitting on
his porch, smoking a cigarette, and drinking a coffee between
6:45 and 7:00. Willie also noticed that Tommy's pickup
was no longer in his driveway, so he assumed that Tommy had
gone to work early.
Discovery of the body and the ensuing investigation
who had last seen Tommy alive on September 2 or 3, received a
call from her aunt on the morning of September 7.
Andrea's aunt, who lived across the street from Tommy,
called Andrea at work to express her concern that she had
been unable to reach Tommy for a couple of days. Andrea
assured her aunt that she would call him.
that morning, Andrea texted Tommy, "Call me ASAP, "
but she received no response, which, according to Andrea, was
unusual for Tommy. Andrea grew increasingly worried as the
day went on, and more so when her aunt told her that
Tommy's car was not at his house. At approximately 3:00
that afternoon, Andrea drove to Tommy's home and, using a
key she found in his mailbox, Andrea went inside. Andrea
testified that she immediately noticed that some of his
property, including his plasma TV, was missing, and when she
continued through the home she discovered Tommy's body
lying on the bathroom floor. His hands were tied behind his
back and his "fingers had started turning colors."
Although she called out to him several times, Andrea
testified that she knew what was wrong, she knew it was
"a crime scene, " and so she immediately left the
house and called 9-1-1.
Detective Thomas O'Brien responded to the call. While he
was interviewing Andrea, she received a text message from
Tommy's phone that said, "I[']m driving to El
Paso what u want?" Detective O'Brien asked Andrea to
respond to the text message she had received because the
police could use the cell phone information to track the
murderer(s) and to collect more information. On Detective
O'Brien's direction, Andrea texted back, "[O]k
call me when u get back. Have a safe trip, " but she did
not reveal that Tommy's dead body had been found.
was not the only person who received text messages from
Tommy's phone after his body was discovered. On September
7, after becoming concerned when Tommy uncharacteristically
missed a janitorial job, his coworker, Deborah Grimes, tried
to reach him by phone. She received a text back from
"him" two days later, on September 9, that said:
Debra I wont b back no time soon I don't know if u
remember I told you I was gonna b a father well my girl is in
the hospital and im low in cash is there anyway I can borrow
some cash I lost my wallet im in the middle of the road if
you can send money to my causin his name is Braylon Ellis, do
it Money gram please just deduct it from my check?
next day, Grimes received two more text messages from
Tommy's phone claiming that he could not call because his
phone was broken and asking, "How soon can u send it to
my causin do it Money Gram please."
phone records and records for Tommy's debit card
indicated that both were taken from Fort Worth to an area
outside of Atlanta, Georgia. From surveillance videos,
Detective O'Brien identified Appellant and Rodriguez as
the individuals using the debit card at various places,
including to pay for a prescription in Appellant's name
at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas.
and Rodriguez were located and arrested on September 10 at
Appellant's mother's house in Gwinnett County,
Georgia. Tommy's cell phone and driver's license were
found in the room where Appellant and Rodriguez were staying,
and Tommy's debit card was found inside the vehicle-later
identified as the vehicle Appellant and Rodriguez drove to
Georgia-parked outside the house.
O'Brien interviewed Appellant, and a video of the
interview was admitted into evidence and played for the jury.
In it, Appellant changed his story multiple times. At first,
he claimed he did not know Tommy, but later he claimed that
Tommy had beaten Rodriguez and that Tommy was a molester. He
also initially claimed that he had never been to Fort Worth,
but then added he had been to Fort Worth as a child, and then
finally admitted to Detective O'Brien that he had picked
up Rodriguez in Fort Worth and had stayed at a hotel near
Tommy's house on the night Tommy was murdered. Although