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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

November 17, 2014

WILLIAMS
v.
THE STATE

Page 475

Arson, etc. Emanuel Superior Court. Before Judge Reeves.

Judgment reversed.

Steven M. Harrison, for appellant.

S. Hayward Altman, District Attorney, Mary K. McKinnon, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

DOYLE, Presiding Judge. Miller, J., concurs. Dillard, J., concurs in judgment only.

OPINION

Page 476

Doyle, Presiding Judge.

Anthony Joe Williams was convicted of first degree arson,[1] first degree burglary,[2] and first degree criminal damage to property.[3] Following the trial court's denial of his amended motion for new trial, Williams filed this appeal, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and alleging various instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. [329 Ga.App. 707] For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

On appeal from a criminal conviction, the evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict. We do not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility but only determine whether the evidence is sufficient under the standard of Jackson v. Virginia.[[4]] This same standard applies to our review of the trial court's denial of [Williams's] motion for new trial. The verdict must be upheld if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.[5]

So viewed, the evidence shows that at approximately 2:40 a.m. on September 29, 2011, the local fire department responded to a call that a church building was on fire near the rear of the building. A liquefied petroleum gas system was located in the church, and gas lines were located in the back area. After the fire was under control at about 10:00 a.m., Keith Wright, whose company supplied propane to the church, examined the gas lines and discovered they were cut in a manner which left jagged edges on the pipes and was inconsistent with a professional cut. Wright explained that one end of the pipe showed that it was closest to the fire because of its distorted appearance; he stated that when the line was cut it would have made a hissing noise and emitted a foul, distinctive odor.

The State presented testimony from Frank Nasworthy of the local fire department and Alan Logue of the State Fire Marshal's Office, who both concluded, based on their investigation, that the fire was intentionally set. A tool bag was found in the debris that the church pastor testified was not normally found in that location, and a portion of cut copper tubing from the propane tank was also discovered in the debris.

Video surveillance from two nearby businesses was presented, and the contents of

Page 477

the tapes were testified to by Agent John Alford and Chief of Police Randy Ellison. A video from a store called Terwilligers showed two individuals enter the store at about 12:45 a.m. and then walk toward the location of the church. The other video from the Starbright Car Wash. showed one individual pulling on an air conditioning unit in the church, going back inside the church, a flash followed by two individuals running out, and later on, the building beginning to burn. Chief Ellison contacted the Georgia [329 Ga.App. 708] Bureau of Investigation to launch an arson investigation based on the contents of the videos.

Police issued a $10,000 reward for information related to the fire, and Officer Nicholas Robertson testified that his office received a call on October 8, 2011, from an individual named Antonio Scott, who claimed to have relevant information. Robertson met with Scott at 2:00 a.m., and Scott told him that he had overheard Williams and a man named Steven Davis bragging about " hitting the church and bringing it down by burning." Scott identified Williams as one of the men in still pictures officers took from the Starbright Car Wash. video. During Scott's initial testimony at trial, he said that Williams was not involved in the conversation he reported to Robertson, but the State recalled Scott the next day, and he testified that he had lied about Williams not being involved because he was scared.

On October 11, 2011, an officer spotted Davis while patrolling, and Davis ran when he realized the officer recognized him. The officer radioed for backup, and Officer Josh Thompson arrived to assist; while Thompson was in the woods assisting the other officer search for Davis, he discovered Williams hiding in a ditch.

Ramon Gardner, a Burger King employee with whom Williams had been a co-worker, testified that on the evening of the fire around 9:30 or 10:30, he saw Williams lying on the ground outside of the Burger King restaurant when Gardner came out on a break from his shift. Gardner identified Williams as one of the men in still pictures officers took from the Starbright Car Wash. video. Anita Adams, who was in a relationship with Williams at the time, testified that on the night of the fire at around 2:30 or 3:30 a.m., she picked up Williams at a club in town, and his clothing smelled like smoke, which was not how he smelled earlier in the evening.

On October 14, 2011, Officer Alford secured a warrant for Williams's arrest and then conducted an interview of Williams. Williams denied starting the fire, but he admitted that he was at the Burger King and the area surrounding the church at that time with an individual named Steven Davis.

Steven Davis, Williams's alleged accomplice who previously had pleaded guilty to the charges related to the fire, also testified that Williams assisted in the crimes. Davis testified that on the night of the fire, he and Williams were hanging out and decided to rob the Burger King; while they were waiting out back in the grass, a police car drove by, so they left and walked to a convenience store, intending to rob the store. Because there were too many people around the store, they left to try and find someplace to " crash" for the night. They walked through the Starbright Car Wash, and over to the church, where Davis tried to get the air conditioner units out before going [329 Ga.App. 709] inside, where they intended to go to sleep. Davis testified that while they were inside, Williams first went to the kitchen and at some point lit candles, and then they started looking around the church for things to steal, and when they came back to where they had set down their candles, the fire had started. Although they attempted to extinguish it, they did not alert the fire department or call 911.

Williams took the stand in his own defense. Williams admitted being with Davis the evening of the fire, that he intended to rob the Burger King but changed his mind, and that Davis was going to the church; however, Williams denied that he went into the church or that he set a fire there.

After asking to view the video footage from the convenience store twice during deliberations, the jury found Williams guilty of arson, burglary, and criminal damage to property in the first degree. Williams moved for a new trial, which motion the trial

Page 478

court denied after a hearing. This appeal followed.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

1. Williams challenges the sufficiency of the evidence because the testimony of his alleged accomplice, Davis, was not corroborated by independent ...


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