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Veal v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 15, 2017


          Peterson, Justice.

         Anthony Torrence Veal challenges his convictions for numerous crimes, including malice murder, committed in the course of an armed robbery.[1] Veal argues that the trial court erred in failing to strike for cause potential and actual jurors who knew the murder victim or had a business relationship with the bank where the crimes occurred and that his counsel was ineffective for failing to move to strike the jurors for cause. Veal also argues that his due process rights were violated by the trial court's failure to rule on his motion for new trial for over 17 years, and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue post-conviction relief in a timely fashion. Veal did not preserve his argument that the challenged jurors were disqualified from serving as a matter of law, and trial counsel was not ineffective because a motion to strike on the only basis Veal asserts would have been meritless. Because Veal has failed to demonstrate that he was prejudiced by any post-conviction delay, his due process and ineffective assistance of counsel claims related to the delay also fail. We affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence shows that, at about 9 a.m. on the morning of April 15, 1997, a black male carrying a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun entered the Lake Sinclair branch of The Peoples Bank in Putnam County, Georgia. The man was wearing camouflage pants, a black shirt with light print, dark gloves, sunglasses, and a bandana over his face. Without saying a word, the man shot branch manager Larry Ellington in the stomach, causing injuries that led to Ellington's death. After shooting Ellington, the man approached a bank teller, pointed the gun at her, and demanded that she give him money. The teller gave the man $13, 525 in various denominations of cash; the man then fled into the woods behind the bank.

         Police officers learned that, around the time of the robbery, a white, low-rider Mitsubishi truck had been parked on the Jackson Road causeway, located directly behind the bank and the wooded area. Witnesses testified that they also saw a black male walking near the truck, holding a white bucket, and wearing a black cap and bandana. A retired state patrol trooper specifically identified Veal as the black male he saw on the Jackson Road causeway.

         A few hours after the robbery, police officers stopped a white Mitsubishi truck as it was leaving the nearby Hy-Lite manufacturing plant. Veal was driving the truck and gave the officers permission to search it. Police found a brown bag containing over $13, 000, bundled in wrappers bearing the name of The Peoples Bank. The bank teller confirmed that the recovered money was the same money that she gave the armed robber.

         Police also searched the woods behind the bank and found a dark colored t-shirt with white lettering, a pair of sunglasses, and a fishing rod and reel that was later identified by one of Veal's friends as the rod and reel he lent to Veal. A dive team also searched the lake located directly off the Jackson Road causeway and found a sawed-off double barrel shotgun that had three pieces of red tape around the barrel. One of Veal's former co-workers identified the shotgun as the same one he saw in Veal's possession less than a week before the robbery.

         Police later learned that Veal was scheduled to start his shift at the Hy-Lite plant at 7 a.m. on the morning of the armed robbery, but he did not arrive until 9:30 a.m. Veal left work at about 10 a.m. and returned twenty minutes later. A witness testified that at about 10 a.m., he saw a black male driving a white truck pull into a restaurant parking lot located less than a mile from the Hy-Lite plant and throw something into the dumpster. The witness testified that the white truck was the only vehicle that appeared in the parking lot after the garbage had been collected earlier that morning. Police searched the dumpster and found a black baseball cap that was a type usually worn by Veal, a white bucket, camouflage pants and bandana, and oil cans that had Veal's fingerprints.

         1. Veal does not dispute that the evidence is sufficient to sustain his convictions. Nevertheless, we have independently reviewed the record and conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Veal was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Veal argues that the trial court erred in failing to strike for cause five people who served on the jury and five other individuals who were on the panel of prospective jurors, because they stated during voir dire that they either banked at The People's Bank or had previously worked with Ellington, the murder victim, at the bank. Veal concedes that he did not make a request to strike the jurors. Therefore, the issue was waived for direct review. See Lewis v. State, 291 Ga. 273, 275 (1) (731 S.E.2d 51) (2012) (where a party remains silent after hearing evidence that might disqualify a prospective juror, the party has impliedly waived his right to raise the disqualification issue on appeal); Passmore v. State, 274 Ga. 200, 201 (5) (552 S.E.2d 816) (2001) (defendant did not preserve juror disqualification issue because he failed to challenge juror for cause at trial); see also Thompson v. State, 294 Ga. 693, 700-701 (755 S.E.2d 713) (2014) (Nahmias, J., specially concurring) (noting absence of legal authority requiring a trial court to excuse jurors for cause without any request from a party).

         Nevertheless, because Veal also raises the issue in his claim that trial counsel was ineffective, we consider the alleged errors within the analytical framework of an ineffectiveness claim. To prevail on his ineffectiveness claim, Veal must show that trial counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance caused him prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984).

         (a) The jurors and panel members who banked at The Peoples Bank

         Five jurors and three panel members stated that they had banked at The Peoples Bank, including at the Lake Sinclair branch where the crimes occurred. Some of these jurors had interactions with Ellington, the murder victim, or with his daughter.

         Veal argues that these jurors were per se disqualified as a matter of law under the reasoning of Kirkland v. State, 274 Ga. 778 (560 S.E.2d 6) (2002) and Lowman v. State, 197 Ga.App. 556 (398 S.E.2d 832) (1990). In Kirkland, we held that a shareholder of a corporation was disqualified from serving as a juror in a case where the corporation was a party at interest as the victim of the charged offense. 274 Ga. at 779 (1). In Lowman, members of an electric membership corporation were disqualified from serving as jurors in a criminal trial in which the corporation was the victim of the crime charged, because the members had the ability to receive revenues and assets of the corporation. 197 Ga.App. at 557 (2).

         Kirkland and Lowman are inapposite to the circumstances here. Unlike the individuals in those cases who had ownership interests in the victim corporations, there is no evidence that the jurors who banked at The Peoples Bank had similar rights or interests. Rather, the uncontradicted testimony of the president of The Peoples Bank, given at the motion for new trial hearing, established that the bank is privately held and its customers have no shareholder status. The bank president also testified that the bank's customers would ...

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