Murder. Meriwether Superior Court. Before Judge Baldwin.
Jennifer A. Trieshmann, for appellant.
Peter J. Skandalakis, District Attorney, Robert N. Peterkin, 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.
HINES, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur, except Benham and Hunstein, JJ., who dissent.
Hines, Presiding Justice.
This is a second appeal by convicted murderer Tyus Colton following a ruling by the trial court, upon remand, that his confession which was in evidence at his trial was voluntary. For the reasons that [296 Ga. 173] follow, we affirm such judgment by the trial court as well as Colton's judgments of conviction.
A. Procedural History
A jury found Colton guilty of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and aggravated battery in connection with the 2002 beating death of Shannon Blount, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In a prior direct appeal to this Court from his convictions, Colton contended that his confession was erroneously admitted into evidence at trial without a preliminary finding by the trial court that the confession was voluntary, and that the trial court erred by allowing police officers to testify regarding two separate statements made to them by non-testifying co-defendant Rayford Bussie that incriminated Colton because the admissions violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
See Colton v. State, 292 Ga. 509 (739 S.E.2d 380) (2013).
This Court found that there was sufficient evidence to enable a rational trier of fact to find Colton guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted; however, it was necessary to remand the case to the trial court for a proper consideration of whether Colton's confession was made voluntarily because although the jury made the express finding on the verdict form that the confession was indeed voluntary, the trial court failed to make a preliminary and conclusive finding in that regard. Colton at 513 (3). This Court also determined that Bussie's custodial statement made to police several months after the murder was admissible at trial because it did not name Colton specifically or imply that it was Colton who was involved in the crimes, and the trial court had specifically instructed the jury that it could not consider any custodial statements by Bussie that incriminated Colton. Id. at 511 (2). As to Bussie's non-custodial statement made to police on the day of the murder, we determined that the admission of this statement violated Colton's Sixth Amendment rights; but, the error might be harmless if the admission was cumulative of other evidence. Id. at 512 (2). However, this Court could not yet address such issue because the trial court had to first make a finding on the voluntariness of Colton's confession.
Following remand, the trial court held a hearing on June 21, 2013, at which Colton argued that his confession was not voluntary [296 Ga. 174] in that he could not understand or effectively waive his Miranda rights because of his low intelligence quotient (" I.Q." ). At this hearing, the trial court considered evidence and argument that had been presented at a pre-trial Jackson v. Denno hearing. On July 30, 2013, the trial court issued an order finding that Colton was advised of each of his Miranda rights, that he understood these rights, that he voluntarily waived them, and that thereafter he gave his confession freely and voluntarily without any hope of ...