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Speziali v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 30, 2017


          HINES, Chief Justice.

         Appellant William Speziali was convicted of the malice murder of Jimmy Breedlove and other related crimes. On appeal, he contends, among other things, that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective and that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his convictions. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.[1]

         1. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed that, in December 2010, the victim asked for a pre-warrant hearing in the local magistrate court, telling the judge that appellant had forged three checks on the victim's account. The judge testified that the victim and appellant reached an agreement regarding the dispute before a hearing was held. The agreement was supposed to be completed by February 1, but was not. The judge added that the victim called her numerous times in early 2011, including several times in February, saying that appellant was threatening him and that the victim was afraid that appellant was going to harm him. The last such call was at the end of February or early in March. The judge said that, during the calls, she could hear the fear in the victim's voice.

         Greg Rowland, a friend of appellant, testified that, on March 29, 2011, he and appellant spent several hours running errands and visiting people in appellant's car. Their last stop was the victim's home. It was dark when they drove into the victim's driveway. Appellant parked so that the driver's door of the car was very close to the front door of the victim's mobile home. Appellant got out of the car, told Rowland that he would be right back, and knocked on the door. Rowland then "heard [appellant] say, it's Will. Apparently, [the victim] asked who it was. But I heard [appellant] say, Will, and I heard the door close when he went [in]." Rowland dozed off for a short period of time, and when he woke up, he went to knock on the door. Just before he did, he heard glass breaking. When he knocked, appellant answered and told Rowland that he would be out shortly. Rowland got back in the car and "waited and waited, " and "just before" he was going to knock on the door again, appellant came out and was wearing a different shirt. He got in the car and drove off at a "really excessive speed." Rowland asked appellant why he was driving so fast, and appellant said, "I just beat his ass." Appellant dropped Rowland off at his sister's house. Before appellant drove away, he said, "Greg, don't tell nobody we went to [the victim's] house, and I mean it."

         On March 31, a deputy sheriff responded to a burglary call at the victim's home. When he arrived, one of the victim's neighbors was sitting on his front steps. She told the deputy that she had not seen the victim in a few days and was concerned about him. The door to the mobile home was unlocked, so the deputy opened it and looked in. He saw the victim, who appeared to be dead, lying on the floor. The deputy called for backup and secured the scene. A medical technician arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced the victim dead. He had suffered multiple facial and skull fractures, multiple lacerations of the face and scalp, several fractured ribs, and a nine-inch laceration of his neck that cut his jugular veins and his right carotid artery and would have caused his death within a minute. The victim also had a number of defensive wounds on his arms, hands, and fingers.

         At trial, appellant and the State stipulated that a stain near the gearshift of appellant's car contained the victim's DNA and that the victim's blood was found on the driver's seat of appellant's car. Moreover, the owner of a local automobile sales company testified that he had sold appellant the car he was driving on the day of the crimes. According to him, around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, March 31, appellant called him, said that the gas fumes in the car were so bad that he was afraid to drive it, and asked the automobile dealer to come get the car. The dealer did so, and he testified that he did not smell gas fumes in the car. Later that same day, the GBI contacted him and asked him if he had done anything to the car. The dealer had not and stored the car over the weekend. On Monday morning, the GBI retrieved the car.

         On March 31 and April 15, 2011, an investigator with the sheriff's office and a GBI agent interviewed appellant. On March 31, appellant denied being at the victim's home on March 29. During the April 15 interview, the investigator and the GBI agent asked appellant about finding the victim's blood in his car. Appellant said that the victim had never been in his car, and he added that he had never had a physical altercation with the victim and had not been at the victim's home on March 29. He said that he was last there on February 9, 2011. The GBI agent testified that he did not notice any defensive wounds to appellant's hands or any bruises on his face.

         Appellant testified at trial, claiming that he acted in self-defense. According to appellant, although he and his wife had lived with the victim for three days in early February 2011, his son had stayed with appellant's parents. According to appellant, he owed the victim about $300 or $400, and they discussed appellant doing some work at the victim's home to satisfy the debt. Appellant said that he made partial payments to satisfy the agreement that he and the victim reached in court, but he had not repaid all the money. Appellant maintained that he was not mad at the victim because the victim had helped him by letting him stay at his house and by giving him some money for his truck payments.

         On March 29, when he and Rowland drove to the victim's home, appellant knocked on the door, and the victim let him in. Appellant told the victim that he wanted to work to make some money; that his family was surviving on very little food; and that, when his son got out of the shower recently, appellant noticed that he was "looking like skin and bones." The victim then said that he would pay "to see a picture like that." This upset appellant, and he told the victim that, if they were "anywhere else, [he] would beat his ass." The victim jumped up, asked him why he thought he could "just come over here and just get whatever you all want and not give nothing back, " and approached appellant with a knife drawn. The victim tried to stab him, and, as appellant was backing up, he tripped and fell down. The victim jumped on him, and they struggled over the knife. Appellant pushed the knife up and cut the victim "across the throat."

         Eventually, the victim dropped the knife, and appellant picked it up and hit the victim in the back with it. Appellant then dropped the knife and ran towards the front door, but the victim picked up the knife, ran after him, and blocked his way. According to appellant, he next ran into the kitchen and tripped and a piece of particle board fell. They fought in the kitchen, with appellant trying to escape but the victim successfully blocking him. The victim was bleeding everywhere, and appellant told him that he was hurt badly and needed help. The victim, however, who still had the knife, continued to attack him. Appellant picked up the particle board and hit the victim with it numerous times. The victim fell down and did not get back up. Appellant washed himself off at the sink and left the house.

         Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. However, we conclude that the evidence presented 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. Appellant contends that trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. We disagree.

         To prevail on this claim, appellant must show both that his counsel performed deficiently and that, but for the deficiency, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been more favorable. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). "While the test imposed by Strickland is not impossible to meet, the burden is a heavy one." Wiggins v. State, 295 Ga. 684, 686 (763 S.E.2d 484) (2014).

To prove deficient performance, one must show that his attorney performed at trial in an objectively unreasonable way considering all the circumstances and in the light of prevailing professional norms. Courts reviewing ineffectiveness claims must apply a strong presumption that counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of reasonable professional performance. Thus, decisions regarding trial tactics and strategy may form the basis for an ...

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