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Bragg v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 22, 2014

BRAGG
v.
THE STATE

Murder. Upson Superior Court. Before Judge Sams.

William A. Adams, Jr., for appellant.

Scott L. Ballard , District Attorney, Robert W. Smith, Jr. , Assistant District Attorney, Samuel S. Olens , Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton , Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith , Senior Assistant Attorney General, Jason M. Rea , Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 477

Melton, Justice.

Following a jury trial, Mary Ann Bragg was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault in connection with the murder of her husband, Tom Bragg.[1] On appeal, Bragg contends, among other things, that the trial court erred by admitting similar transaction evidence and by improperly charging the jury on parties to a crime. Bragg further claims that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

Page 478

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence reveals that, on September 9, 2002, between the hours of 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., Tom was killed in his home. The medical examiner determined that Tom's death was caused by blunt force trauma, consistent with hammer strikes to his head. There were no signs of forced entry, and a trail of blood drops led from the bedroom where Tom was found, through the front door, and onto the porch. A single drop of blood was found in the driveway.

That same morning, at approximately 6:30 a.m., Bragg left the home she shared with Tom in Thomaston, picked up her friend, Debra Clay, and drove to LaGrange for an appointment with her psychiatrist. Shortly after Bragg left, Lee Henry, Bragg's neighbor, saw what she believed to be the glow of someone lighting a cigarette on Bragg's [295 Ga. 677] screened porch.[2] While waiting for Bragg's appointment, Clay received a phone call indicating that Tom had been murdered, and Clay suggested to Bragg that they return to Thomaston.

Investigators interviewed Bragg on September 9 and again the next morning. In both interviews, Bragg expressed concern for her finances, asking when she would receive her insurance money, as she was the beneficiary of two life insurance policies which had been purchased without Tom's knowledge. In a third interview on October 25, 2002, after investigators had seized and searched her home computer, Bragg also admitted to having extra-marital affairs with men she met on the Internet.

At trial, the State presented evidence of three similar transactions in which Bragg solicited others to kill her former husband. Bonnie Powell also testified that she had witnessed Bragg threaten to " blow [Tom's] brains out" if she caught him with another woman. Penny Carter and Kristina Wright, friends and family of Bragg, testified that Bragg admitted she had killed Tom after explaining that she had to " get something off her chest."

This evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Bragg guilty of all of the crimes for which she was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

2. Bragg contends the trial court erred by admitting similar transaction evidence and failing to limit the jury's consideration of it.[3] To be admitted, similar transaction evidence must meet three requirements: (1) the evidence must be introduced for a proper purpose; (2) sufficient evidence must show that the defendant committed the independent act; and (3) a sufficient connection must exist between the independent act and the charged crime, such that proof of the former tends to prove the latter. Williams v. State, 261 Ga. 640 (2) (b) (409 S.E.2d 649) (1991).

At trial, the state presented evidence of three occasions when Bragg solicited the assistance of others to murder her prior husband, James Wright. In the first instance, Bragg offered to pay Harry Pennington if he murdered James and made it look like a car accident. In the second instance, Bragg asked her former boyfriend, Archie Storey, to kill James by running him off the road. Finally, in the third instance, Bragg promised to share the money from James's [295 Ga. 678] life insurance policy with Rufus Guy if he killed James. " When considering the admissibility of similar transaction evidence, the proper ...


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