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Rivers v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 20, 2015

RIVERS
v.
THE STATE

Page 487

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 488

Murder. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Campbell.

John D. Rasnick, for appellant.

Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Paige Reese Whitaker, Marc A. Mallon, Assistant District Attorneys, Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Matthew B. Crowder, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 489

Thompson, Chief Justice.

Appellant Michael Rivers was convicted of felony murder in connection with the death of Donald Tanks III and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and sentenced to life imprisonment.[1] [296 Ga. 397] He appeals on several grounds from the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial, and for the reasons that follow, we affirm.

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the jury was authorized to find that on June 10, 2008, the victim and his friends, Marcus Clark, Dina Canada, Joseph Moore, and George Sullivan were returning to Moore's house after an evening out. Clark arrived first, so he parked his vehicle in a driveway across the street to wait for his friends. Appellant, who was selling cocaine on the street corner with several other individuals, asked his cousin, Gerry Perrymond, to see who was in Clark's vehicle. Perrymond walked up to and around Clark's vehicle, causing Clark to become concerned for his safety. Clark called his friends to see where they were, and when they arrived, Clark pointed out Perrymond.

Sullivan and Perrymond then exchanged words in the street. As their verbal altercation turned physical, Canada, who lived with Moore, asked them to stop and went to talk to the man in the group on the street whom she knew to be their leader. She asked that individual not to involve others in the fight and not to escalate the situation. By that time, the altercation between Perrymond and Sullivan had ended, and Sullivan was walking back toward Moore's house. Appellant, who had been standing some distance from the scene, approached Tanks, who was standing behind Canada, and punched him in the face, causing Tanks to fall and hit his head on a concrete step. Tanks remained in a coma for several weeks, emerging from the coma only a few days before his death. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was delayed effects of blunt force trauma to the head, and more specifically, a blood clot that developed in Tanks' legs that ultimately traveled to his lungs, cutting off oxygen to his brain. Appellant admitted under oath at a preliminary hearing that he was selling cocaine on the night of the crimes and that he hit Tanks. At trial, his defense was that Tanks struck him first and he hit Tanks in self-defense. Perrymond testified at trial that he and appellant were on the street selling crack cocaine the night of the crimes.

This evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which [296 Ga. 398] he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). Although appellant argues the trial court should have dismissed the count of the indictment charging him with possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, we find the evidence presented at trial, including appellant's sworn admissions at a pre-trial hearing and Perrymond's corroborating testimony, was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant was selling cocaine on the night of June 10, 2008.[2] See Burg v. State, 298 Ga.App. 214, 216-217

Page 490

(679 S.E.2d 780) (2009). See also Chancey v. State, 256 Ga. 415, 421-422 (349 S.E.2d 717) (1986) ( State may rely on circumstantial evidence to prove a substance is an illegal drug). Moreover, because appellant's pre-trial admissions were direct evidence of his guilt of the possession charge, the State's case was not based solely on circumstantial evidence. See Rodriguez-Nova v. State, 295 Ga. 868 (763 S.E.2d 698) (2014); Brown v. State, 291 Ga. 750, 752 ...


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