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Huff v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 6, 2017

HUFF
v.
THE STATE.

          BOGGS, Justice.

         Appellant Shaheed Kaba Huff was convicted of malice murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection with the shooting death of Graham Sisk.[1] The trial court denied Huff's motion for new trial, and he appeals, asserting insufficiency of the evidence, errors in the trial court's charge to the jury, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at trial showed that Huff asked Turner, Starr, and Haygood to assist him in moving some personal belongings, using a pickup truck and an SUV that he owned. During the move, Huff announced that he "had to make a play, " or drug deal, and Turner declared that the drug purchaser would only deal with him. Huff provided a bag of pills to Turner, who drove Huff's pickup truck to a restaurant on Memorial Drive.[2] Huff, driving his SUV with Starr and Haygood as passengers, observed the transaction from across the street. The victim took the pills, ostensibly to count them, and then drove away without paying.

         Turner pursued the victim in Huff's truck, followed by Huff driving the SUV. A high-speed chase ensued along city streets at rush hour, seen by numerous eyewitnesses and captured on surveillance video, during which Turner rammed the victim's car, damaging Huff's truck.[3] When the victim's car was stopped behind another vehicle at a traffic signal, Turner got out of the truck and began shouting at the victim and pulling on the car doors so hard that he broke off the handles. Shortly thereafter, Huff drove his SUV into the oncoming lane around the stopped traffic and into the intersection, blocking the travel lane. Starr testified that Huff told him to take a pistol from the front console and recover the pills, or else Huff would kill him. Witnesses saw Starr and Haygood get out of the SUV and approach the victim's car quickly and "with a purpose"; Starr immediately fired multiple rounds at the victim through the passenger side window, killing him; Starr and Haygood then fled on foot while Turner and Huff drove away. The pills were recovered by police and proved to be over-the-counter allergy medicine.[4]

         Huff gave a statement to police in which he said that he asked Turner, Haygood, and Starr to assist him with moving furniture, and that Turner asked to borrow his pickup truck to conduct some business, then drove away with his truck. Huff acknowledged to police, however, that he owned the SUV and was driving it during the incident. At trial, Huff presented testimony from Turner that Turner found approximately 200 pills in a dumpster behind a medical clinic, that "somebody" told him they were "Percocet, " and that he decided to sell them to the victim. Turner testified that he chose to pursue the victim when he drove away, and that Huff knew nothing about the drug transaction. Huff also presented testimony from Haygood that when Turner left in pursuit of the victim, Huff exclaimed, "He's going to kill someone in my vehicle" and "I got to get my truck." While Haygood testified that Huff instructed him to ask what Turner was doing with his truck and that he told Turner not to move it, Turner testified that "no one said anything" to him while he was at the victim's car.

         1. Huff first contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, because Starr's testimony as an accomplice or party to the crime was the only evidence identifying him as a participant. The record, however, does not support this claim.

         Although OCGA § 24-14-8[5] provides that corroboration is required to support a guilty verdict in "felony cases where the only witness is an accomplice, " only slight evidence of corroboration is required. See Bradford v. State, 261 Ga. 833, 834 (1) (412 S.E.2d 534) (1992). "[T]he necessary corroboration may consist entirely of circumstantial evidence, and evidence of the defendant's conduct before and after the crime was committed may give rise to an inference that he participated in the crime." (Citations omitted.) Berry v. State, 248 Ga. 430, 432 (1) (283 S.E.2d 888) (1981) (overruled on other grounds, Hutchins v. State, 284 Ga. 395 (667 S.E.2d 589) (2008)).

         Here, Huff's statement to police as well as the testimony of his own witnesses placed him on the scene. Moreover, both of Huff's witnesses testified that Huff engaged in the pursuit, and that he pulled into the oncoming lane around the line of cars and into the intersection in front of the victim. The testimony of one accomplice may corroborate that of another. Herbert v. State, 288 Ga. 843, 844 (1) (708 S.E.2d 260) (2011). Eyewitnesses testified that the two men who got out of Huff's SUV did not approach the pickup truck or seem interested in it, but moved directly to the victim's car. And Turner testified that Huff met him afterwards and told him to follow him to a nearby location, where Starr appeared and spoke with Turner, then had a discussion with Huff out of Turner's hearing.

         This evidence, which was related to Huff's conduct before, during, and after the crimes and connected Huff to the crimes charged, was sufficient to corroborate Starr's testimony that Huff joined in the pursuit not out of concern for his truck or other motorists' safety, but to recover his drugs from the victim. See id. (appellant's admission that he drove two alleged accomplices to scene, together with their testimony and physical evidence, was sufficient to corroborate accomplice testimony). See also Handley v. State, 289 Ga. 786, 786-787 (1) (716 S.E.2d 176) (2011) (even in absence of forensic evidence, multiple alleged accomplices may corroborate one another's testimony).The sufficiency of the corroboration was a matter for the jury to determine. Id. There was no violation of OCGA § 24-14-8, and we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Huff guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Huff next contends that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that the testimony of an accomplice must be corroborated. OCGA § 24-14-8 provides in its entirety:

The testimony of a single witness is generally sufficient to establish a fact. However, in certain cases, including prosecutions for treason, prosecutions for perjury, and felony cases where the only witness is an accomplice, the testimony of a single witness shall not be sufficient. Nevertheless, corroborating circumstances may dispense with the necessity for the testimony of a second witness, except in prosecutions for treason.

         Huff having neither requested the instruction nor objected to its omission, we review this enumeration solely for plain error under OCGA § 17-8-58 (b). Sanders v. State, 290 Ga. 637, 640 (2) (723 S.E.2d 436) (2012). In so doing,

the proper inquiry is whether the instruction was erroneous, whether it was obviously so, and whether it likely affected the outcome of the proceedings. If all three of these questions are answered in the affirmative, the appellate court has the discretion to reverse if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the proceedings below. Satisfying all four prongs of this standard is difficult, as it should be.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29, 33 (2) (a) (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011). As noted in Division (1), evidence from multiple witnesses, including Huff's witnesses and Huff himself, corroborated Starr's testimony. Pretermitting whether the failure to instruct the jury on ...


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