Steven Barnett was convicted of malice murder in the stabbing
death of George "Bubba" Bennett. The trial court
denied Barnett's amended motion for new trial, and he now
appeals, contending that he received ineffective assistance
of counsel and that the trial judge should have recused
herself. For the following reasons, we affirm.
in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at
trial established as follows: On the night of the incident,
the victim, Bennett, had been on a date with Barnett's
former girlfriend. Later that night, while the victim and the
former girlfriend were sleeping, Barnett arrived at the
victim's home and pounded on the door and the side of the
house. The victim got up and the former girlfriend heard him
unlock and open the door, and then heard Barnett's voice.
She heard Barnett accuse the victim of "f***ing his old
lady" and threaten to kill him. The victim responded,
"She's not your old lady" and told Barnett to
"Stop. Steve. Stop." The former girlfriend then
heard the two men fighting. She remained in the bedroom and
later, Barnett drove away and crossed the center line at a
high rate of speed as officers responding to the scene
approached. Officers gave chase and Barnett parked his car in
a driveway and turned out his headlights. When officers
arrested Barnett, he was covered in blood but had no visible
injuries. The medical examiner determined that Barnett's
shirt was stained with the victim's blood.
and emergency personnel arrived at the victim's home to
find him lying on the floor in a large amount of blood with a
large stab wound to his chest, and Barnett's former
girlfriend hiding in the bedroom. A knife from the
victim's kitchen was found in the front yard of the home
with blood on the blade. The victim died from a stab wound to
the chest that entered his aorta and resulted in a massive
hemorrhage. The autopsy revealed other abrasions and
contusions consistent with a fist fight.
were no eyewitnesses to the fight between Barnett and the
victim, but a neighbor identified Barnett on the scene and at
trial as the man he saw "flying down the road" to
the victim's home, walk up to the door, and pound on the
door about 30 times. The neighbor then heard the victim yell,
"I don't know you. Get out of my house, " and
observed Barnett leave after hearing "a commotion."
former girlfriend testified that a year before this incident,
Barnett hit and kicked her as he accused her of having a
romantic relationship with another man. The officer who
arrested Barnett in this incident testified that the former
girlfriend suffered from injuries to her head and face. The
former girlfriend explained that Barnett had told her on
another occasion that if "he ever caught me with anybody
that he would kill them, him and me." The State
introduced evidence that a few days before the victim was
killed, Barnett had asked his former girlfriend's sister
if she was dating the victim, and had threatened another man
he accused of having a romantic relationship with the former
Barnett does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence.
Nevertheless, we have independently reviewed the record and
conclude that the evidence, as outlined above, was legally
sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find
beyond a reasonable doubt that Barnett was guilty of malice
murder under the standard of Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
Barnett asserts that the trial judge should have recused
herself prior to trial after disclosing that she had
represented the victim in an unrelated matter. At the start
of trial, the following colloquy took place:
[Trial] Court: . . . And I did also want to put on the record
- -remember what I told y'all back in the back, that I
thought - - I got to thinking about it - - way back in the
dark ages when I was practicing law, that I represented [the
victim] against the D.N.R. when they took his shrimp and his
boat one time, and I need to put that on the record.
[Defense Counsel]: Judge, if I could explain that to my
[Trial] Court: Sure.
[Defense Counsel]: Judge Williams was in private practice
before she took the bench and in her practice she represented
[the victim]. Judge Williams is making certain evidentiary
rulings in this case and certain decisions that affect the
outcome. But she is revealing this conflict to you - - not a
conflict, this situation to you where you can decide whether
or not you believe that to be a conflict. It doesn't mean
that it is, but ...