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Lyman v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 15, 2017


          HINES, Chief Justice.

         Inee Lyman appeals his convictions and sentences for malice murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery, all in connection with the shooting death of Christopher Lynn. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.[1]

         Construed to support the verdicts, the evidence showed that Lynn was shot and killed on September 20, 2010, behind a block of apartments. Earlier that day, Lynn and Joycelyn Patrick, who was Lynn's girlfriend and the mother of his child, together with Zykia Adams, engaged in a check-cashing scheme which involved the creation of a bank checking account, and then a series of cash withdrawals from that account at different branches of the bank in which the account had been established, totaling more than the $100.00 originally put into the account. Patrick and Adams had not previously known each other but were put into contact by a man known as "Little B, " and Patrick provided the original $100.00. While executing the check cashing scheme, Patrick drove her car from bank branch to bank branch, with Lynn in the front passenger seat, and Adams in the back seat, behind the driver; Adams's infant was also in the car, in a car seat behind the front passenger, and Yolanda Napier, a friend of Adams's, was seated in the middle of the backseat, so she could take care of Adams's child when Adams was not in the car. When the group arrived at a bank branch, Adams would exit the car, go inside, and cash a check; whenever she returned to the car, Adams gave the money she had received from the bank branch to Lynn.

         After cashing the last check at the last bank branch visited, Adams was given $100.00 as her share of the proceeds, but it was less money than she had anticipated. On the way to the apartment complex where Adams wished to be let out, Adams sent a text message to a man and asked his help in getting her share of the proceeds. When the car arrived at the rear of the apartment complex, Lyman emerged from a building, approached the front passenger side window, grabbed Lynn by the shirt, pointed a pistol at his stomach, and demanded money. Lynn denied having any money, and exited the car; he struggled with Lyman for the gun, and Lyman shot Lynn eight times. Adams, who together with her child and Napier had emerged from the car, urged Lyman to shoot Patrick as well; Patrick had also exited the car. However, Lyman did not shoot her, and Patrick was able to flee the area.

         Adams was named as a defendant in the same indictment as Lyman, and pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter; she was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and testified at Lyman's trial. She testified that, being displeased with the amount of money she was given from the cashed checks, after the last bank branch was visited, she sent a text message to a man named Moonk, and spoke with him on her cell phone; she told him to come and help her get the money she believed she was owed, "or send somebody to get me my money."[2] At Moonk's instruction, Adams directed Patrick to drive to the rear of the apartment buildings; as they did so, they passed a group of men who Adams concluded were there to "jump on [Patrick], and that's what they were there for, " but that did not happen. Rather, as the car stopped, it was Lyman who approached from somewhere behind it, went to the open passenger's window, produced a handgun, pointed it at Lynn, demanded the money, and, as Lynn attempted to get out of the car, shot him.

         The State also presented the testimony of Quinton Hightower, who testified that he had known Lyman for two or three years, but had not spoken with Lyman the day before Lynn was killed, and had not seen Lyman on the day of the shooting; this was contrary to what he previously told an investigator, and Hightower was questioned about his prior statement. During that testimony, he admitted that he had told the investigator that: he had known Lyman for what "seems like" all his life; he had gone to middle school with Lyman; he was with Lyman before the shooting; Lyman told him that he had "a lick, " or a way to get some money, set up by a girl; Hightower was outside the apartment complex at the time of the shooting, and heard it; the shooting was at the back of the complex; he later heard Lyman "say he did it"; Lyman "told me he did it"; and, he picked Lyman's photograph out of an array. Hightower also testified that he told the investigator that which he believed the investigator wanted to hear for fear that his probation would be revoked otherwise, and that he did not want to be at Lyman's trial that day.

         1. Lyman does not contest the legal sufficiency of the evidence of his guilt. Nevertheless, in accordance with this Court's general practice in appeals of murder cases, this Court has reviewed the record and concludes that the evidence at trial authorized the jury to find Lyman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. The trial court instructed the jury that "[t]he testimony of a single witness, if believed, is sufficient to establish a fact. Generally, there is no legal requirement of corroboration of a witness provided you find the evidence to be sufficient." The trial court did not instruct the jury that, in a felony case in which a witness is an accomplice, the testimony of the accomplice alone is not sufficient to warrant a conviction, and the testimony of the accomplice must be corroborated by other evidence. However, Lyman did not request such an "accomplice corroboration" instruction, or object to the failure to give one, and now asserts that the jury should have been informed that the testimony of Lyman's accomplice, i.e., Adams, had to have been corroborated.[3]

         Under controlling precedent at the time of Lyman's trial, it was not error for the trial court to refuse to give an "accomplice corroboration" instruction, even if requested, when an alleged accomplice's testimony was "in fact corroborated by independent evidence. [Cits.]" Hamm v. State, 294 Ga. 791, 795 (2) (756 S.E.2d 507) (2014). And here, Adams's testimony was corroborated, primarily by Patrick's eyewitness account and Hightower's prior statement that Lyman admitted the commission of the crimes to him, and thus, under then-controlling precedent, no accomplice corroboration instruction was required. However, in Hamm, this Court addressed this previous precedent[4] and concluded that, although evidence corroborating an alleged accomplice's testimony may have been presented in a trial,

the sufficiency of the evidence corroborating an accomplice's testimony, including whether the State has presented other witnesses to the same material facts as the accomplice, is an inquiry entirely distinct from whether a jury charge on the principle of accomplice corroboration is warranted. [. . . It] is well-established that requested jury instructions must be given whenever there is "slight evidence" to support them. [Cit.] [Thus, when] there is slight evidence supporting a finding that a witness was an accomplice, the jury should be given proper guidance not only on how to decide whether the witness was in fact an accomplice but also on the extent to which it can rely on that witness' testimony by itself to support a conviction.

Hamm, supra at 796 (2). Accordingly, this Court overruled prior precedent, and held that it is error "for a trial court to refuse to give a requested instruction on accomplice corroboration so long as the State relies in part on other evidence connecting the defendant to the crime." Id. And, this Court specifically noted that when no request was made for such an "accomplice corroboration" instruction, reversal would be warranted only under the "plain error" standard. Id. at 798(n. 8). See also OCGA § 17-8-58 (b).[5] Thus, as Lyman did not request such a jury instruction, reversal depends on whether he can meet the plain error test.

         This Court has previously stated the test for a finding of plain error.

First, there must be an error or defect-some sort of deviation from a legal rule-that has not been intentionally relinquished or abandoned, i.e., affirmatively waived, by the appellant. Second, the legal error must be clear or obvious, rather than subject to reasonable dispute. Third, the error must have affected the appellant's substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means he must demonstrate that it affected the outcome of the trial court proceedings. Fourth and finally, if the above three prongs are satisfied, the appellate court has the discretion to remedy the error-discretion which ought to be exercised only if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings. [Cit.]

Cheddersingh v. State, 290 Ga. 680, 683 (2) (724 S.E.2d 366) (2012). See also Simmons v. State, 299 Ga. 370, 373 (2) (788 S.E.2d 494) (2016). "Beyond showing a clear or obvious error, plain-error analysis requires the appellant to make an affirmative showing that the error probably did affect the outcome below." (Citation and punctuation ...

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