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Stanley v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 27, 2017

STANLEY
v.
THE STATE.

          BENHAM, Justice.

         Appellant Derrick Stanley appeals his convictions for malice murder and other crimes related to the stabbing death of Doris Murray.[1] Appellant and Murray were formerly in a romantic relationship. At the time of Murray's death, she and appellant were still active in each other's lives. On May 5, 2008, appellant was helping Murray remove items from her home which had recently sustained damage from a fire. That morning, Murray's children and other acquaintances were also scheduled to come to the house to provide assistance. Christopher Williams, who lived next door, heard appellant and Murray "fussing" and saw appellant and Murray go into the house. That was the last time anyone saw Murray alive. When Murray's children and friends arrived at the house, her children tried to enter the house, but appellant would not let them in. Appellant said Murray had gone to visit a friend in the neighborhood and that he would let them in when he had finished doing some work in the house. Witnesses testified appellant emerged at some point to smoke a cigarette, but still would not let anyone inside the house. Murray's daughter forced her way into the front of the house and, from the kitchen, tried to get into a room that had been converted from a carport, but that door was barricaded. Sometime later, appellant came out of the exterior side door that led to the carport room. He was bleeding and bloated in the face. He ran to his vehicle and started to drive away. When Murray's son and a friend managed to get into the carport room, they found Murray on the ground, covered with some sort of fabric and without a pulse. Murray's daughter called police.

         The police caught up with appellant in his vehicle but he fled, leading authorities on a high-speed chase.[2] When appellant was finally caught and arrested, police found a knife in his vehicle. Appellant made a statement to police alleging he and Murray had engaged in a struggle over a knife and that she stabbed him. The lead investigator testified that the blood splatter in the carport room confirmed there was some sort of a "mobile struggle" between appellant and the victim, meaning appellant and the victim moved about the room during the incident. Appellant eventually admitted he injured himself with the knife and confirmed he stabbed Murray. Murray had defensive wounds to her body, including a partially-severed thumb. Murray's adult daughter testified that, days before the incident, appellant told her he believed Murray was dating someone and that he would kill Murray and the other man.

         1. The evidence adduced at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. In Edge v. State, [3] this Court held "[a] sequential charge requiring the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if they have considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder is not appropriate where there is evidence that would authorize a charge on voluntary manslaughter." (Emphasis in original.) Id. Here, appellant alleges the trial court erred by giving sequential jury instructions when it was explaining the verdict form to the jury. Specifically, appellant alleges the following instructions violated Edge v. State:

Next I will give you instructions concerning the verdict. Now you will have out with you a verdict form and the verdict form is divided according to the counts: count 1, count 2, count 3, count 4, and count 5. In regard to each count under the counts enumerated you have the options that you have to return a verdict on and we will talk about those at this time. Whatever your choice is under each count, you will need to put a check mark in front of the statement that you find to be true by unanimous verdict on each count and that will be the way you complete your verdict form.
As to count 1, again count 1 is the charge of felony murder, if after considering the testimony and evidence presented to you, together with the charge of the court, you should find and believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did in Laurens County, Georgia, on or about May 5, 2008, commit the offense of felony murder as alleged in the indictment, you would be authorized to find the defendant guilty. In that event the form of your verdict would be: we the jury find the defendant guilty of felony murder. If you do not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of felony murder but do believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, then you would be authorized to find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter and the form of your verdict would be: we the jury find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
If you do not believe the defendant is guilty of either of these offenses or if you have any reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, then it would be your duty to acquit the defendant in which event the form of your verdict would be: we the jury find the defendant not guilty as to count 1.
In regard to count 2, and again count 2 is the charge of malice murder. If after considering the testimony and evidence presented to you, together with the charge of the court, you should find and believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did in Laurens County, Georgia, on or about May 5, 2008, commit the offense of malice murder as alleged in the indictment, you would be authorized to find the defendant guilty. In that event the form of your verdict would be: we, the jury, find the defendant guilty of malice murder. If you do not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of malice murder but do believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, then you would be authorized to find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter and the form of your verdict would be: we, the jury, find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter. If you do not believe that the defendant is guilty of either of these offenses or if you have any reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, then you would be authorized to acquit the defendant in which event the form of your verdict would be: we, the jury, find the defendant not guilty as to count 2.

         The record shows that trial counsel did not object to these instructions on the grounds they were sequential. Because no simultaneous objection on these grounds was made at trial, this purported error can only be reviewed for plain error. See State v. Alvarez, 299 Ga. 213 (1) (790 S.E.2d 66) (2016). In considering whether plain error is shown, this Court has stated:

Reversal is authorized if all four prongs of the standard adopted in [State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29 (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011)] are met: the instruction was erroneous, the error was obvious, the instruction likely affected the outcome of the proceedings, and the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

White v. State, 291 Ga. 7, 8 (727 S.E.2d 109) (2012).

         The standards establishing plain error have not been met in this case. The instructions given are not sequential because they do not, in so many words, instruct the jury to consider "'voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder.'" (Emphasis in original. Citation omitted.) Hill v. State, 269 Ga. 23 (3) (494 S.E.2d 661) (1998).[4] See also James v. State, 270 Ga. 675 (9) (513 S.E.2d 207) (1999). That is, nothing in the trial court's instructions prohibited the jury from considering whether there was evidence of provocation or passion to support returning a verdict of guilty on a charge of voluntary manslaughter. In fact, immediately prior to giving the above-referenced instructions regarding the verdict form, the trial court had admonished the jury as follows in reference to voluntary manslaughter:

[B]efore you would be authorized to return a verdict of guilty of malice murder as alleged in count 2 or felony murder as alleged in count 1, you must first determine whether mitigating circumstances, if any, would cause the offense to be reduced to voluntary manslaughter.

         Thus, when viewed as whole, [5] the instructions were not sequential. See Hayes v. State, 279 Ga. 642 (2) (619 S.E.2d 628) (2005). Moreover, since the jury convicted appellant of malice murder, it necessarily found appellant committed the act in question without the provocation or passion warranting a verdict of guilty on voluntary manslaughter. See Terry v. State, 263 Ga. 294 (430 S.E.2d 731) (1993) ("where the defendant is convicted of malice murder, the problem which Edge seeks to address is not present"); McGill v. State, 263 Ga. 81 (3) (428 ...


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