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Heard v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

July 11, 2014


Page 315

Murder. DeKalb Superior Court. Before Judge Becker.

Dell Jackson, for appellant.

Robert D. James, Jr., District Attorney, Elizabeth A. Baker, Assistant District Attorney, Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Ryan A. Kolb, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.


Page 316

NAHMIAS, Justice.

Derrick Heard appeals his conviction for the murder of Robert Ledbetter. Appellant contends that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated; that the trial court erred bye allowing two of the State's peremptory strikes; and that the court erred by preventing him from introducing certain evidence about Ledbetter. We affirm.[1]

[295 Ga. 560] 1. The evidence at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, showed the following. In 2000, Robert Ledbetter was in Detroit working for a record company, where he met aspiring hip-hop artists Farlandis Dillard and Emery Love. Dillard and Love left the record label in 2001, and Dillard moved to Phoenix, taking a job as a mall security guard. In July 2003, Love ran into Ledbetter, who had also left the record company and moved away but was back in Detroit for a visit. Ledbetter talked to Love about music opportunities in Atlanta, where Ledbetter was moving.

At Ledbetter's request, Love called Dillard and convinced him to move to Atlanta to pursue their music career with Ledbetter's help. Dillard arranged a job transfer to a mall in Atlanta and took a bus to Detroit to meet up with Love and Ledbetter. Ledbetter and Dillard then took a bus to Atlanta, but Love stayed behind for a while. When Ledbetter and Dillard arrived in Atlanta, Appellant, who Ledbetter said was his cousin, picked them up from the bus station and drove them to an apartment complex, but they were not able to lease an apartment there. Appellant said that Ledbetter and Dillard could stay with him for a few days until they found an apartment.

Appellant lived in a house with his ex-wife, Liticia Heard (Ms. Heard), and their 12-year-old son. Ledbetter and Dillard stayed there for a few weeks, as they were unable to secure an apartment. Dillard ultimately decided to return to Phoenix as soon as he received his last paycheck from his job there, telling Love on the telephone that things " fell through" in Atlanta and not to come down.

On the afternoon of August 11, 2003, Dillard's last paycheck from his Phoenix job finally arrived, and he confirmed that there was a bus leaving for Phoenix that night. Appellant agreed to take Dillard to the bus station, and Dillard packed his things. That evening, Appellant and Ledbetter got into an

Page 317

argument, and Ledbetter pushed Appellant and then went upstairs. Appellant was angry and followed Ledbetter to the bottom of the stairs but stopped. Dillard went down to the basement to give Appellant time to cool off, but Appellant was still upset an hour later when he came down to the basement, telling Dillard, " I'm going to F your boy up." Appellant and Dillard watched television for a while, and Ledbetter eventually joined them. As the [295 Ga. 561] evening news was ending, Appellant told Dillard to go upstairs and make sure that he had all his things packed, and Dillard did so.

Ten or 15 minutes later, Dillard came back down to the basement. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw Ledbetter, who was lying on the couch on his back, roll over onto his side to face the couch, telling Appellant, " F you." Dillard then saw Appellant shoot Ledbetter three times in the head with a handgun. Right after that, Dillard heard Appellant's son come in the door upstairs, and Appellant ordered Dillard to go up and keep his son from coming down to the basement. Dillard went upstairs and spoke to the son, who left for a friend's house a few minutes later. Dillard then returned to the basement, where he saw that Appellant had rolled up Ledbetter's body in a large floor rug secured with duct tape. Appellant told Dillard to go upstairs and retrieve bleach from under the kitchen sink. Dillard complied, and he stood by silently as Appellant cleaned blood off the wall in the basement.

Appellant then ordered Dillard to help him dispose of the body, which they moved with a wheelbarrow to the back of Appellant's van. After that, Ms. Heard came home, and Appellant and Dillard left in the van a few minutes later. They stopped at a gas station about a mile away and then at a check cashing store so that Dillard would have money to buy his bus ticket back to Phoenix. Appellant then drove to the parking lot of an abandoned building, where he and Dillard dumped the body after Appellant doused the rug containing the body with gasoline and lit it on fire. As they drove away, Appellant warned Dillard not to tell anyone about what had happened, saying, " just take this s**t to your grave." Appellant dropped Dillard off at the bus station, and Dillard returned to Phoenix. Appellant told Ms. Heard when he got home that he had dropped off both Ledbetter and Dillard at the bus station.

Ledbetter's smouldering remains were discovered the next morning. Responding officers found a return address label for Ms. Heard nearby and recovered three shell casings from Ledbetter's pocket. An autopsy revealed that Ledbetter died from three gunshot wounds to the head. The following day, August 13, officers went to Ms. Heard's house. Appellant was there when the officers arrived but left on foot while Ms. Heard went to meet the officers at the door; he did not come home that night. Ms. Heard invited the officers inside, where they saw packed luggage in the kitchen. Ms. Heard said that she did not know whose bags they were and had not seen ...

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