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Tankersley v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 12, 1991

TANKERSLEY
v.
The STATE.

Page 565

[261 Ga. 324] James G. Blanchard, Jr., Fleming, Blanchard & Bonner, P.C., Augusta, for Tankersley.

Michael C. Eubanks, Dist. Atty., The Joint Law Enforcement Center, Augusta, Michael J. Bowers, Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Richard E. Thomas, Asst. Dist. Atty., Joint Law Enforcement Center, Augusta, Mary Beth Westmoreland, Asst. Atty. Gen., State Law Dept., Atlanta, for the State.

BELL, Justice.

James E. Tankersley was convicted of the malice murder of James Harrell and William Reese and acquitted of the murder of Richard Lavarnway. Tankersley was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. [1] On appeal, Tankersley contends

Page 566

that he was interrogated in violation of Miranda requirements; that neither the grand jury nor the petit jury was drawn from a proper cross-section of the population of Columbia County because the jury pool did not include residents not registered to vote; that the trial court erred in allowing a state psychiatrist to testify on rebuttal regarding Tankersley's mental [261 Ga. 319] state because Tankersley was given inadequate Miranda warnings before the psychological examination; that the court abused its discretion by not granting a continuance; that the court erred in not excluding certain evidence as hearsay; that the court erred in not instructing the jury on the law of accident; and that venue was improper in Columbia County. We affirm.

In the early morning hours of October 10, 1987, Tankersley shot Lavarnway, Harrell, and Reese at the home of Buddy Williams, in Columbia County. Williams lived with his girl friend, Dawn Pentecost. Williams' house was used as a gathering place by many of his friends with whom he had grown up and gone to school. According to Williams, on the night of the incident Tankersley had been drinking, but did not appear drunk, and Williams, Tankersley and others had been snorting crystal methamphetamine. About 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 10, Tankersley, Williams, and Pentecost returned to Williams' home following a trip to a gas station, and discovered that Pentecost's car was missing from the driveway. Williams and Tankersley went in search of the car, and found Harrell and Lavarnway driving around in it. Williams then drove Pentecost's car, with Harrell and Lavarnway as passengers, back to Williams' house, and Tankersley followed in his own car. When they all arrived at Williams' house, Williams and Tankersley told Harrell and Lavarnway to leave. Harrell and Lavarnway got in Lavarnway's car, where Reese was asleep in the back seat, but they did not leave. Heated words and threats were exchanged between Tankersley and Lavarnway, and Lavarnway got out of the car and proceeded towards Tankersley carrying nunchaku (an oriental weapon, consisting of two sticks connected by a cord). Tankersley shot Lavarnway in the chest. Tankersley then shot Harrell, who had leaned over in the passenger seat of the car, as well as Reese, who was still in the back seat. Williams testified that he heard about five shots fired. After Williams and Pentecost refused to help him cover up his crime, Tankersley put Lavarnway's body in the trunk of his (Lavarnway's) car. Tankersley then drove the car, with the bodies in it, into a nearby lake, located in Lincoln County.

Autopsy reports revealed that Lavarnway died from a bullet wound to the chest, and that Reese died from two bullet wounds to the head. The medical examiner testified that Harrell died from drowning, secondary to one bullet wound to the head.

Tankersley gave three statements to the police, the third of which was admitted into evidence at trial. He stated that Lavarnway approached him swinging nunchaku and that he warned Lavarnway to stop. When Lavarnway did not, Tankersley shot him. He said he was scared at that point and that thereafter nothing was too clear to him. He added that, because he was so scared, he shot Reese and [261 Ga. 320] Harrell.

At trial, Tankersley testified that he shot Lavarnway in self-defense, after warning Lavarnway that Tankersley would shoot him if Lavarnway kept approaching Tankersley. After shooting Lavarnway, he saw Harrell bend over. He thought Harrell was going to get a gun, and he just started shooting.

A defense psychiatrist testified he was of the opinion that Tankersley, based on all the events of the night and on his psychological background, had a reasonable fear for his life from not only Lavarnway but from all three victims. He added that, as a

Page 567

result of that fear, Tankersley had an adrenalin response and automatically and reflexively shot the victims to protect himself.

1. Reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude that a rational trier of fact could have found Tankersley guilty of the two murders beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).

2. In his first enumeration of error Tankersley contends that during the course of his first two interrogations, police officers violated his Miranda rights in several respects, rendering inadmissible his third statement, which was made on the morning of October 11, 1987. Tankersley was interrogated first at around 1:55 p.m. on the day of the shootings. Before beginning the interrogation, the officers read Tankersley his Miranda rights, and Tankersley signed a written waiver form. During the course of the conversation, which lasted until about 2:48 p.m., Tankersley denied that he killed anyone. In response to one question regarding the three victims, Tankersley answered that

I don't know who killed them or why they killed them. I don't know who drove the car to the lake, or nothing because I did not do it. I don't know why they said that, but I, I did not kill them. That's the ... y'all ...


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