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Russell v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 20, 2014

RUSSELL
v.
THE STATE

Murder. DeKalb Superior Court. Before Judge Becker.

John W. Kraus, for appellant

Robert D. James, Jr. , District Attorney, Deborah D. Wellborn , Assistant District Attorney, Samuel S. Olens , Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton , Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith , Senior Assistant Attorney General, Vicki S. Bass , Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

HUNSTEIN, Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Page 813

Hunstein, Justice.

Appellant Demetrius Russell was convicted of two counts of murder and related offenses in connection with the June 22, 2008 shooting deaths of Victoria Renfroe and Andrea Smith. Russell now challenges his convictions, contending that the evidence was insufficient and that the trial court erred in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter and in various evidentiary rulings. Finding no error, we affirm.[1]

Construed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence adduced at trial established as follows. At approximately 5:00 a.m. on June 22, 2008, Victoria Renfroe and Andrea Smith were shot and killed

Page 814

at Renfroe's home on Eastwood Drive in DeKalb County, where the two women were living with their young children. Renfroe's next door neighbor, who at that time was in his driveway preparing to leave for work, heard nine gunshots and female screams from the home and then observed a man run out of the front door of the house holding a gun. The neighbor called 911, and responding officers found the victims: Smith had been shot dead while lying on a living room sofa, and Renfroe had been shot dead lying in a bed. There were no signs of forced entry into the home.

Appellant Demetrius Russell was Renfroe's estranged husband. At the time of the shooting, the couple were separated, and Renfroe was actively pursuing a divorce. Trial testimony established that Russell had been at Renfroe's home in the hours before the early morning shooting. Natasha Cato, a close friend of Renfroe, testified that, at approximately 6:00 p.m. on the night before the shooting, Renfroe picked her up at work with Russell in the car and drove them all to the Eastwood Drive house. Cato eventually left the home that evening, but she spoke by phone with Renfroe at approximately 2:00 a.m., during which she overheard Russell and Renfroe yelling at one another and a door slamming.

[295 Ga. 900] Smith's oldest son, Anjuan, who was 12 years old at the time of the shooting, testified that on the morning of June 22, 2008 he awoke to gunshots, came out of his room, and saw Russell run out of the house. One of Smith's daughters, seven-year-old Ariyanna Cato, testified that she heard gunshots and saw a man run out the front door of the house with a gun. She testified further that the shooter was wearing red and white Nike shoes, which she recognized as Russell's. Further trial testimony confirmed that Russell had been wearing red and white Nike shoes in the hours before the shooting, and a police detective testified that Russell was wearing red, white, and black Nike tennis shoes at the time of his questioning and eventual arrest, which took place in the afternoon on the day of the shooting.

In a statement to police, Russell claimed he had been at the home of his girlfriend Shantricia Anderson from 11:30 p.m. on June 21 until 6:00 a.m. the following morning. Cell phone records indicated, however, that all activity on Russell's phone taking place during that time period, including a transmission at 5:01 a.m., had been transmitted through the cell tower closest to the victims' home, rather than through the cell tower closest to Anderson's home.

Evidence of prior difficulties between Renfroe and Russell was adduced from MARTA police officer Randolph Wilborn, who testified that in February 2002, he witnessed Russell holding Renfroe in a chokehold with his hands around her neck; on Wilborn's order for him to stop, Russell shoved Renfroe against a wall. Natasha Cato also testified that on one occasion in ...


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