DILLARD, P. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.
Dillard, Presiding Judge.
trial, a jury convicted LeAnthony Hillsman on one count each
of cruelty to children in the first degree, aggravated
battery, and aggravated assault. Hillsman appeals his
convictions and the denial of his motion for new trial,
challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his
convictions and arguing that the trial court erred in denying
his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and in
failing to conduct a hearing to determine whether he could
represent himself. For the reasons set forth infra,
in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict,
record shows that in 2012, Hillsman lived with five-month-old
J. M.'s mother (with whom Hillsman was romantically
involved), J. M. (whose father was not Hillsman), and
Hillsman and the mother's three-year-old daughter. On
February 5, 2012, the mother left for work just before 8:00
a.m., and Hillsman stayed home to babysit J. M. Later that
afternoon, a neighbor heard J. M. crying excessively in a
manner that she did not think was normal. As the crying
continued, the neighbor considered calling the police. But a
short time later, the neighbor heard a knock on her door and
opened it to find Hillsman in a panic, claiming that J. M.
was not breathing and that he had no vehicle nor a telephone
to call an ambulance. After quickly determining that J. M.
was, in fact, not breathing, the neighbor agreed to drive J.
M. and Hillsman to the hospital. While en route to the
hospital, Hillsman attempted to administer CPR to J. M., but
the neighbor informed him that he was not administering it
properly for a child of J. M.'s size. Upon reaching the
local hospital, emergency-room physicians determined that J.
M.'s injuries were too severe to be treated there.
Consequently, J. M. was immediately flown to the Medical
Center of Central Georgia in Macon. There, physicians
examined J. M. and determined that he had suffered subdural
hemorrhaging, retinal hemorrhaging, bruising to his sternum,
and a torn frenulum of the tongue, all of which were
consistent with the child having been violently shaken. In
addition, J. M. had also suffered several puncture wounds to
his feet and fractures to several ribs, and had to be placed
on a ventilator.
the nature and severity of J. M.'s injuries, hospital
staff notified local law enforcement, and a sheriff's
department investigator interviewed Hillsman at the hospital.
During that interview, Hillsman claimed that J. M. must have
suffered his injuries by falling off the sofa after he placed
the child there. Later that same day, the investigator
interviewed Hillsman at his home and confronted him with the
fact that the physician who treated J. M. asserted that a
short fall from a sofa could not have possibly caused the
child's injuries. At that point, Hillsman admitted that
J. M. did not fall from the sofa but, instead, he claimed
that the injuries may have occurred when he put the child
down on the sofa too hard. Then, based on this change in
Hillsman's account and the physician's opinion
regarding the child's injuries, the investigator arrested
Hillsman and seized a small kitchen knife that he suspected
caused the puncture wounds to J. M.'s feet.
Hillsman's arrest, investigators conducted a third
interview. And during that interview, Hillsman claimed that
five-month-old J. M. had acquired splinters in his feet while
Hillsman helped him practice walking on the wooden front
porch and that he had then used the kitchen knife to extract
the splinters. Additionally, Hillsman stated that he may have
accidentally injured J. M. while trying to perform CPR on the
child after he had stopped breathing. Nevertheless, shortly
thereafter, the State charged Hillsman, via indictment, with
one count each of cruelty to children in the first degree,
aggravated battery, and aggravated assault.
case then proceeded to trial, during which the two
sheriff's department investigators and the neighbor who
drove Hillsman and J. M. to the hospital testified. J.
M.'s mother also testified and stated that her son, who
was healthy when she left for work on the day in question,
now suffered seizures and had to be fed with a tube. In
addition, the physician who treated J. M. testified that the
child's injuries could not have possibly been caused by a
short fall from a sofa but were instead consistent with him
having been violently shaken. The physician further testified
that the puncture wounds to J. M.'s feet appeared to be
in a pattern and, thus, in contrast to the randomness in
which one normally suffers splinters. Finally, the physician
testified that J. M.'s brain injury required him to be
fed with a tube and that he would need significant
rehabilitation in order to function normally.
the State rested, Hillsman testified in his own defense and
claimed, again, that his attempt to remove splinters from J.
M.'s feet caused the puncture wounds and that his CPR
attempts possibly caused the bruising to the child's
sternum and his fractured ribs. Hillsman also claimed that J.
M.'s shaking injuries may have occurred when he
frantically ran to the neighbor's house while carrying
the child. But at the conclusion of the trial, the jury found
Hillsman guilty on all three counts of the indictment.
Hillsman obtained new counsel and filed a motion for new
trial, in which he argued, inter alia, that his
trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. But after
conducting a hearing on Hillsman's motion, during which
his trial counsel testified regarding his representation, the
trial court denied it. This appeal follows.
outset, we note that when a criminal conviction is appealed,
the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to
the verdict, and the appellant no longer enjoys a presumption
of innocence. And in evaluating the sufficiency of the
evidence to support a conviction, we do not weigh the
evidence or determine witness credibility but only determine
whether "a rational trier of fact could have found the
defendant guilty of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable
doubt." Accordingly, the jury's verdict will
be upheld so long as there is "some competent evidence,
even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to
make out the State's case[.]"With these guiding
principles in mind, we turn first to Hillsman's specific
challenges in this regard.
Hillsman first contends that the evidence was insufficient to
support his convictions on the charges of cruelty to children
in the first degree and aggravated battery. Specifically, he
argues that the State failed to prove that he acted with
malice with regard to either offense. We disagree.
OCGA § 16-5-70 (b), "[a] person commits the offense
of cruelty to children in the first degree when such person
maliciously causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or
excessive physical or mental pain." And for purposes of
this Code section, malice in the legal sense "imports
the absence of all elements of justification or excuse and
the presence of an actual intent to cause the particular harm
produced, or the wanton and wilful doing of an act with an
awareness of a plain and strong likelihood that such harm may
result." Additionally, OCGA § 16-5-24 (a)
provides that "[a] person commits the offense of
aggravated battery when he or she maliciously causes bodily
harm to another by depriving him or her of a member of his or
her body, by rendering a member of his or her body useless,
or by seriously disfiguring his or her body or a member
thereof." And under Georgia law, a person acts
maliciously within the meaning of the aggravated-battery
statute when "he acts intentionally and without
justification or serious provocation." Importantly,
intent is a question for the jury, which is "authorized
to consider all other circumstances connected with the act at
issue as well as the defendant's words, conduct and
matter, Count 1 of the indictment charged Hillsman with
cruelty to children in the first degree by alleging that he
"did unlawfully and maliciously cause [J. M.], a child
under the age of eighteen (18) years, cruel and excessive
pain by shaking and striking said [J. M.] . . . ." Count
2 of the indictment charged Hillsman with aggravated battery
by alleging that he "did unlawfully and maliciously
cause bodily harm to [J. M.] by rendering said [J. M.'s]
brain, a member of said person's body useless. . .
." And as previously discussed, the State presented
evidence that J. M. suffered serious injuries from being
shaken and that his brain function was impaired as a result
of those injuries. Given these particular circumstances,
despite Hillsman's claim that J. M.'s injuries were
the result of running while carrying the child and improper
CPR, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Hillsman acted
maliciously and to authorize the jury to find him guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt of cruelty to children in the first
degree and aggravated battery.
Hillsman also contends that the evidence was insufficient to
support his conviction on the charge of aggravated assault,
arguing that the State failed to show that the kitchen knife
was a deadly weapon. Again, we disagree.
OCGA § 16-5-21 (a) (2), aggravated assault is committed
when a person "assaults . . . [w]ith a deadly weapon or
with any object, device, or instrument which, when used
offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does
result in serious bodily injury[.]" And when a criminal