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Perera v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 22, 2014

PERERA
v.
THE STATE. ALMA
v.
THE STATE

Reconsideration denied October 20, 2014.

Page 688

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 689

Murder. Douglas Superior Court. Before Judge James.

Miller & Key, J. Scott Key, Henrickson & Sereebutra, Aaron S. Henrickson, for appellants.

David McDade, District Attorney, Emily K. Richardson, Brian K. Fortner, Assistant District Attorneys, Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Michael A. Oldham, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 690

Melton, Justice.

Following a joint jury trial regarding the murder of Robert Scott Burdette and the related arson committed by burning Burdette's car with his body inside, co-defendants Emily Margaret Perera[1] and Miguel Angel Alma[2] appeal their convictions, contending, among other things, that the evidence was insufficient to support their verdicts and that respective trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in both cases.

In the light most favorable to the verdicts, the record shows that, on the night of May 1, 2006, police officers in Douglas County discovered Burdette's body in the back seat of his burning car. Burdette had been gagged with duct tape, and an electrical cord was wrapped around his neck. In addition, he showed signs of blunt force injuries to his head and bruising on his face. An investigator with the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner's Office concluded that the fire was intentionally set by dousing the interior of Burdette's car with gasoline and setting it ablaze.

The investigation next led to Burdette's house in Bartow County. There, officers found direct evidence of a violent struggle. Investigation showed that an attack began in the master bedroom and continued to the garage. The GBI determined that there was no evidence indicating whether Burdette was alive or dead when he was taken from his home. Bloody water was discovered in a sink, along with bloody mops and hazy floors indicative of cleaning with bleach. In the garage, there was more blood, bloody towels, bloody carpet remnants, and an electrical cord. In addition, a woman's bracelet was also found in a puddle of blood. One of the two garage bays was empty, and there [295 Ga. 881] was a Land Rover SUV in the other. Computer equipment and a TruTech DVD player were missing from the house. Nineteen days after Burdette's murder, Alma pawned a TruTech DVD player and attempted to pawn a Super 8 video camera. Perera admitted to her friend, Johnny Large, that she and Alma had tried to pawn some of the victim's possessions.

Continuing the investigation, police uncovered previous e-mails between Burdette and Perera, who was known on an Internet dating site as " Sexy Sophie." The e-mails indicated that Burdette and Perera had a dating relationship, and in one communication, Perera asked if she could get her bracelet back that she had left at Burdette's house. Further investigation also showed that Perera's cell phone " pinged" off the cell phone tower closest to Burdette's house on the night of Sunday, April 30, 2006 and, on May 1, 2006, also pinged off the cell phone tower across the street from where Burdette's car was set on

Page 691

fire. When law enforcement questioned Perera about her whereabouts on the Sunday and Monday when Burdette was killed, Perera said she was in another part of town with Alma, who was her boyfriend.

Miguel Morales, a/k/a " Cheekie," told investigators that, a week before the murder, Alma told him they should rob a wealthy man whom Perera was dating. Approximately a week later, Alma called Morales during the early morning hours, told Morales that he had killed a man, and offered Morales $2,000 to assist in disposal of the body. Later that day, Alma called Morales and asked if he knew someone who would want to purchase a Land Rover. Perera also called Morales and told him that Alma made a car explode. After Perera's call, Alma called Morales again and bragged that he was a specialist in making cars explode. A few days after these conversations, Alma met with Morales and showed him a number of items that he had stolen during the burglary, including watches, a camera, and a wooden box with a gun inside. Alma also informed Morales that he had computer ...


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