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State v. Owens

Supreme Court of Georgia

November 17, 2014

THE STATE
v.
OWENS

Murder. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Newkirk.

Judgment reversed and case remanded with direction.

Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Paige Reese Whitaker, Sheila E. Gallow, Assistant District Attorneys, for appellant.

Ronnie R. Poole, for appellee.

BENHAM, Justice. All the Justices concur. NAHMIAS, Justice, concurring.

OPINION

Page 67

Benham, Justice.

Appellee Maria Owens was tried and convicted in regard to the death of an eleven-month-old infant Jaylen Kelly.[1] The State contends the trial court erred when it failed to sentence appellee on the convictions for felony murder, but rather sentenced her on the [296 Ga. 206] conviction for the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter (OCGA § 16-5-3 (a)). Because the jury returned mutually exclusive verdicts in this case, the judgment of conviction for involuntary manslaughter is reversed.

1. Viewed in a light most favorable to the jury's verdicts of guilt, the evidence at trial showed the victim's parents Danielle and Andre Kelly left the victim and his three-year-old sister in appellee's care sometime between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. on the morning of June 1, 2011. The parents testified the victim was in good health and acting normally, including walking[2] and playing with his siblings, when they left him with appellee tat morning. After she arrived at work around 8:30 a.m., Mrs. Kelly said she sent appellee a text message confirming she would be placing the victim and his sister with a new daycare provider.[3] Around midmorning, Mrs. Kelly had a conversation with appellee in which appellee advised Mrs. Kelly that the victim was having trouble breathing. Appellee called 911 and informed emergency personnel that the victim was having trouble breathing. A fireman who responded to the call and was a certified paramedic testified when he asked appellee what was wrong, appellee informed him the child had bronchitis. The fireman said appellee's explanation did not match the symptoms the child was

Page 68

exhibiting.[4] The emergency personnel who responded to the scene made a decision to transport the victim to a hospital in Fayetteville. Eventually, the victim was life flighted to a children's hospital in Atlanta. The doctor who treated the victim at the children's hospital testified that, when the victim arrived, he was going into cardiac arrest. Medical personnel were concerned about internal bleeding, but could not stabilize the victim to a point where surgery could be performed safely. Upon being informed that continued resuscitation would result in the victim's being unable to breathe without a ventilator, the parents elected to cease extraordinary measures and the victim died.

A social worker advised the police the victim had died under suspicious circumstances and police arrested appellee the day after the child's death. At trial, the State played for the jury appellee's video-recorded interrogation with police. Appellee told police the victim was congested and, while changing the victim's diaper in the [296 Ga. 207] bathroom, she lifted him by one arm and patted and/or hit him on his side[5] in order to make him cough. She said the victim screamed when she did this. Prior to taking the victim to the bathroom to be changed, appellee told police the victim had eaten some applesauce, had smiled at her, and had climbed off the couch to walk over to where some toys were sitting. Appellee said while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, she asked her husband whether she had hit the victim too hard.

The Fulton County medical examiner testified that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the torso and that the manner of death was homicide. She stated the autopsy revealed the victim suffered a fresh fracture to his lower back that could only have been inflicted by a " very hard blow." The trauma to the victim's torso caused a great deal of internal bleeding in the victim's abdomen such that he would have had difficulty breathing. The county medical examiner said the victim would have been unable to walk with the kind of fracture he suffered to his back. Appellee's medical expert agreed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen, that the manner of death was homicide, and that the trauma the victim suffered was non-accidental in nature; however, he opined that the fracture to the victim's back had occurred days before the victim's death.[6]

The evidence adduced at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellee guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which the jury returned verdicts of guilt. Jackson v. ...


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