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Ruffin v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

November 17, 2014

RUFFIN
v.
THE STATE

Murder. Hancock Superior Court. Before Judge Cline.

T. Mack Taylor, for appellant.

Fredric D. Bright, District Attorney, Reginald L. Bellury, 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.

BENHAM, Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Page 914

Benham, Justice.

Appellant Antonio Ruffin was, at the time of the criminal conduct involved in this case, an inmate at Hancock State Prison. He was indicted for malice murder and felony murder in connection with the death of fellow

Page 915

inmate Darrell Blackwelder after a fight in the prison yard. Appellant was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.[1]

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial showed that the day before the killing, appellant asked another inmate named Ware if he could borrow his leather work gloves. Ware did not see appellant take the gloves, but testified that he loaned them to another inmate who told Ware that he let appellant use the gloves. When Ware returned to his cell after the fight, he found one glove on the floor. Three days after the killing, a nine-and-one-half inch shank was found in the toilet cavity in Ware's cell, and Ware claimed he did not know how it got there. The testimony of prison [296 Ga. 263] personnel and other inmates established that appellant was seen wearing gloves in the yard of the prison on the day the victim was killed.

One of the inmates testified that appellant started pursuing the victim, who was running to get away from appellant. Appellant struck the victim in the face, and one of the guards testified he saw appellant grab the victim by the shoulder and strike him three times in the stomach. The victim fell to the ground. Appellant then repeatedly kicked the victim in the head while the victim unsuccessfully attempted to block the blows. Another inmate described the altercation as " overkill." A guard saw an object in appellant's hand that appeared to be a knife, which he passed to another inmate who could not be identified. After the altercation, appellant walked off the yard with the rest of the inmates while carrying a bloody glove, leaving blood on the gate.

Afterwards, clothing was found in a trash can near appellant's cell, including a pair of shoes with blood stains, socks, a t-shirt, and a fabric name tag that had been ripped off prison clothes bearing defendant's name and inmate number. Slacks were found in the shower with the name tag over the back pocket removed, and they were wet and smelled of a cleaning solution. Appellant testified that he removed his clothing after returning from the yard and that the shoes and clothing found were his. Forensic testing showed the blood found on the slacks, glove, and shoes matched the victim's DNA, and testimony of a forensic expert established the fabric name tag had been ripped off the slacks found in the shower. Along with other injuries, the victim sustained a stab wound to the abdomen, which was the cause of death. The victim was a " jail house lawyer," and the State's theory was that appellant was angry with the victim over legal work he was performing on appellant's behalf.

Appellant testified at trial that on the day of the incident, the victim approached him in the yard and charged him with a shank. Appellant fought for his life trying to defend himself, and he testified he had no intention to kill the victim. During the altercation, however, appellant claimed he was able to wrest the shank away from the victim. According to appellant, the victim then fell to the ground and appellant landed on top of him, accidentally driving the shank into the victim.

1. Appellant does not raise the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction. Nevertheless, as is this Court's practice, we have reviewed the evidence and considered its legal sufficiency, and conclude that the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was guilty of the crime of which he [296 Ga. 264] ...


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