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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 27, 2017

JONES
v.
THE STATE.

          Boggs, Justice.

         In 2010, Daryl Keon Jones was tried before a jury on charges of malice murder, felony murder, and cruelty to children in the first degree in the death of his girlfriend's 17-month-old daughter.[1] The jury acquitted Jones of malice murder and was unable to reach a verdict on the charges of felony murder and cruelty to children, resulting in a mistrial on those counts. When the State retried Jones in 2012, the jury found him guilty of both felony murder and cruelty to children in the first degree. Jones now appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions, and asserting that the trial court erred in denying his plea in bar on double jeopardy grounds. We disagree and affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented at Jones' second trial showed that the 17-month-old victim, B. H., and her mother lived with Jones, who was the mother's boyfriend, and Jones' three children from a prior marriage, including his eight-year-old son, A. J.

         On April 30, 2009, B. H.'s grandfather went to Jones' apartment at noon to visit B. H. and stayed for three hours to play with her. He described her as fully aware and awake throughout the visit, but noticed small bruises on top of her head and on her right eyebrow. The grandfather testified that a month earlier, he had spoken to the mother about the bruises B. H. "had gotten over some period of time. . . . [B. H.], especially during the last two months of her life, had constant bruising."

         When the grandfather left the apartment at around 3:00 p.m., B. H. seemed fine. Some time after this, the mother left to attend a class, and Jones was left alone in the apartment with the children. That afternoon, A. J. heard crying and noise and witnessed Jones grab B. H. by the back of the head and hit her forehead onto the living room floor several times. A. J. went outside for a while and then to his room. Moments later, he heard a "big boom, " and when he looked, B. H. "was on the ground and she wouldn't blink and her eyes were open." Jones picked B. H. up, checked her pulse, and began administering CPR. A. J. testified that he had seen Jones on other occasions choke B. H. and similarly slam her head onto the floor while telling her to "be quiet or shut up, " but had not told anyone what he witnessed because he was afraid.

         B. H. was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and though still breathing, was determined to be "very nearly brain dead." She had multiple facial bruises and retinal bleeding, and a CT scan revealed her brain was swelling and covered with blood. The physician who treated her testified at trial that the bleeding was consistent with cases involving abuse or "very, very high speed car accidents where a child has been ejected and rolled, " and that B. H.'s injuries were not consistent with a fall or with an underlying medical condition. She concluded that B. H. would "have had to take multiple, repetitive beatings to the head" to result in the injuries she sustained. B. H. died from her injuries when repeated CPR attempts became futile.

         A forensic pathologist performed an autopsy on B. H. and observed 36 external injuries and bruises to her head and face, some of which were old, healing injuries and some of which were recent, and 58 external injuries to her entire body. Additionally, the right side of her brain was flattened. His examination revealed hemorrhages, swelling of the brain, and a completely transected corpus callosum, which divides the two halves of the brain. The pathologist agreed with the treating physician that B. H.'s injuries could not have been caused by an underlying medical condition or an ordinary fall, and that the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries.

         The evidence outlined above was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979); Walden v. State, 289 Ga. 845, 846 (1) (717 S.E.2d 159) (2011) ("The jury was free to reject Appellant's version of events, which it obviously did." (Citations and punctuation omitted.))

         2. Jones asserts that the trial court erred in denying his plea in bar because double jeopardy prohibited his retrial. "The allied doctrine of issue preclusion ordinarily bars relitigation of an issue of fact or law raised and necessarily resolved by a prior judgment." (Citations omitted.) Bravo-Fernandez v. United States, ___ U.S. ___ (I) (A) (137 S.Ct. 352, 196 L.Ed.2d 242) (2016). The United States Supreme Court "first interpreted the Double Jeopardy Clause to incorporate the principle of issue preclusion in Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970)." (Footnote and citations omitted.) Id. at 358 (I) (B). The Court in Ashe held that the rule of collateral estoppel in criminal cases is to be applied "with realism and rationality." Ashe, supra, 397 U.S. at 444.

Thus, rather than merely examining the verdict, to determine the preclusive effect of an acquittal the court must examine the record of the prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Giddens v. State, 299 Ga. 109, 114 (2) (a) (786 S.E.2d 659) (2016), citing Ashe, supra. And "[t]o effectuate this preclusion, the defendant has the burden of proving from the record what facts were 'actually and necessarily decided in his favor.'" (Citation omitted.) Id. at 113 (2) (a).

         It is relevant to our analysis here that, in Yeager v. United States, 557 U.S. 110 (129 S.Ct. 2360, 174 L.Ed.2d 78) (2009), the Supreme Court explained that a jury's inability to reach a verdict "should play no role in determining the preclusive effect of an acquittal.[Cits.]" Id. at 117 (I). The Court reasoned that

[a] hung count is not a "relevant" part of the "record of [the] prior proceeding." See Ashe, 397 U.S., at 444, [ ] Because a jury speaks only through its verdict, its failure to reach a verdict cannot--by negative implication--yield a piece of information that helps put together the trial puzzle. A mistried count is therefore nothing like the other forms of record ...

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