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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

April 17, 2017


          Peterson, Justice.

         Appellant Ladarrius Jones was convicted of two counts of malice murder for the shooting deaths of Thaddeus Nelson and Randy Wilder; four counts of aggravated assault for shooting in the direction of Amanda Hill, Alexis Jenkins, Audra McCluster, and Shametia McCluskey; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.[1] Appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove venue, the trial court erred in failing to give a jury charge on voluntary manslaughter, and his aggravated assault convictions should have merged with his malice murder convictions. We affirm because the State established venue beyond a reasonable doubt, the voluntary manslaughter charge was not warranted under the evidence presented, and the aggravated assault offenses did not merge with the malice murder convictions because the crimes involved different victims.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the trial evidence, as summarized in our opinion disposing of co-defendant Jarquez Jones's appeal and as adopted by Appellant, showed the following.

[Jarquez Jones], his brother Samuel Jones, and his cousin Ladarrius Jones [Appellant] were part of the "Bluff Gang, " a rap group in the Atlanta neighborhood known as the Bluff. On September 13, 2010, [Jarquez] and Samuel's mother posted insulting remarks on Samuel's girlfriend's Facebook page. Samuel's girlfriend and the four aggravated assault victims were members of the "Young Crew, " or "YC, " another rap group in the Bluff. After several more insults were exchanged via Facebook, members of the Bluff Gang and YC took the online dispute to the streets. That night, [Jarquez] and some YC members including Alexis Jenkins had a confrontation, during which insults were exchanged and YC members may have threatened [Jarquez] with a gun and a taser. In response, [Jarquez] drew a gun and then shot at the YC members as they ran away.
Around 3:00 p.m. the next day, September 14, [Jarquez] and YC members had another confrontation, during which [Jarquez] put a gun to Jenkins's head and then fired a shot into the air. Jenkins threatened to get her cousins to fight [Jarquez], but she did not display a weapon.
Around 10:00 p.m. that night, [Jarquez] again confronted YC members on the street. A witness who saw the encounter testified that [Jarquez] looked like he was going to fight the YC members, and they appeared to exchange angry words. As the witness turned away, the YC members ran past her and she heard gunshots. Several other witnesses, most of whom were YC members, testified to seeing [Jarquez] shoot at the fleeing group of YC members, which included Jenkins, Hill, McCluster, and McCluskey.[2] . . . Wilder and Nelson, who were not involved in the dispute between the Bluff Gang and YC, were standing in the area when the shooting began and were the only people hit by the gunfire; they both died from their gunshot wounds. When the first police officer arrived on the scene, Jenkins, who also testified at trial, told him that [Jarquez] and others had been shooting at them. [Jarquez] and his co-indictees[, including Appellant, ] were not located that night, but they were arrested six days later after being pulled over for speeding. No witnesses saw any YC members with guns on September 14, and shell casings were recovered only from the area where [Jarquez] had been seen.

Jones, 296 Ga. at 663-64 (1).

         Witnesses testified at trial that Appellant was with Jarquez during the 3 p.m. incident on September 14, and that he and Jarquez shot at several YC members at about 10 p.m. Appellant called Antonio Daniel, who testified that at about 8 p.m. on September 14, one of the YC members threatened him with a gun, and he began to walk away and then started to run when he heard a gun shot. Daniel stated that he ran to a club called "Man Spot" or "Spot, " where he encountered Appellant, Jarquez, and Johnny Jordan, the owner of the club. According to Daniel, he talked to Appellant, Jarquez, and Jordan for a few minutes before they heard gunshots, at which time they went inside the club, locked the doors, and did not exit until they heard police sirens. Jordan testified that he heard more gunshots while the group was inside the club and they did not exit the club until they heard police sirens and thought it was safe. Jordan and Daniel both stated that Appellant was not outside at the time of the second round of gunfire and did not have a gun. Jordan stated that the "word on the street was that Bluff Gang boys were firing at [YC] girls" and there was some crossfire.

         1. Appellant argues that the State failed to establish venue, because there was no evidence that the murder victims' "cause of death was inflicted" in Fulton County as required by OCGA § 17-2-2 (c). Appellant argues that although Wilder and Nelson were found in Fulton County, the recovered shell casings showed that the gunshots that killed them were fired between 30 to 291 feet away from where they were found, and no evidence was presented that the shots were fired in Fulton County. We disagree that venue was not established beyond a reasonable doubt.[3]

         A criminal case must be tried "in the county where the crime was committed." Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. VI. Venue is a jurisdictional fact that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in every criminal trial, and the State may use both direct and circumstantial evidence to meet its burden. See Crawford v. State, 297 Ga. 680, 682 (3) (777 S.E.2d 463) (2015). Although the burden of proving venue rests with the State, "the determination of whether venue has been established is an issue soundly within the province of the jury." Id.

         Murder generally is "considered as having been committed in the county in which the cause of death was inflicted." OCGA § 17-2-2 (c). "If it cannot be determined in which county the cause of death was inflicted, it shall be considered that it was inflicted in the county in which the death occurred." Id.

         Here, medical examiners employed by Fulton County testified that Wilder's cause of death was massive internal bleeding as a result of a gunshot wound to his abdomen, and Nelson's cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Appellant acknowledges that the evidence shows that the victims both suffered these wounds and died at 540 Paines Avenue, an address located in Fulton County.

         Appellant reads the language of OCGA § 17-2-2 (c) regarding where the "cause of death was inflicted" as requiring the State to prove that guns were fired in Fulton County, and argues that there is no evidence to establish this point. But that is not what this language means. Although the evidence shows that Appellant and Jarquez fired guns 30 to 291 feet away from where Wilder and Nelson were found, Wilder and Nelson did not die simply because shots were fired. The victims died because bullets struck their bodies and "inflicted" fatal injuries.

         The authorities cited by Appellant do not support a different reading of the phrase "cause of death was inflicted." Rather, the cases merely emphasize the point that venue has to be established beyond a reasonable doubt by record evidence. See Twitty v. State, 298 Ga. 204, 206-208 (2) (779 S.E.2d 298) (2015) (reversing defendant's murder conviction because the "cause of death" was "inflicted on a boat ramp" and there was no evidence showing that the boat ramp was located in the county where the defendant was tried); Jones v. State, 272 Ga. 900, 903-904 (3) (537 S.E.2d 80) (2000) (evidence that murder location was on a certain street and was across from a home located in Fulton County was insufficient to establish venue); King v. State, 271 Ga.App. 384, 387 (1) (609 S.E.2d 725) (2005) ("Establishing venue of a near-by site does not establish the venue of the crime site itself.") (quoting Chapman v. State, 275 Ga. ...

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