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Morris v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 14, 2017

MORRIS
v.
THE STATE.

          HUNSTEIN, Justice.

         Appellant Anthony Bernard Morris was tried and convicted of murder and related offenses in connection with the shooting death of Sidon James.[1] Morris appeals, claiming that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court erred during its charge of the jury. Finding no error, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence adduced at trial established that, on September 16, 2011, Morris obtained drugs from Raheem Williams and Sidon James with the promise of future payment. Later that day, when Morris returned to pay for the drugs, Williams brandished a weapon and demanded he pay more than originally owed; Morris complied, handing over $100 at gunpoint. Angry over being robbed, Morris borrowed a 9 mm handgun from a friend and went to a house where Williams and James were known to reside with the intention of shooting Williams. Upon his arrival, Morris entered the residence and brandished the weapon as he confronted James, demanding to know Williams' whereabouts. James refused to answer and begged Morris not to shoot; Morris ignored James' plea and shot him six times, then left to continue his search for Williams. Witnesses to the shooting testified at trial that James was unarmed and was not being aggressive toward Morris at the time of the shooting.

         Law enforcement responded to the scene and found James unresponsive on the floor with multiple gunshot wounds. They recovered nine 9 mm shell casings, which were later determined to have been fired from a Glock 9 mm pistol; no gun was recovered from James' person.

         The medical examiner testified that James sustained six gunshot wounds to his head, torso and extremities which, he concluded, were the cause of James' death; the medical examiner further noted the presence of stippling on two of the wounds - one to the head and one to the abdomen - indicating those were sustained at close to intermediate range.

         Morris was arrested later that evening when law enforcement located him in a backyard a few blocks away from the scene of the crime. During his interview, he told law enforcement "I told y'all I was going to keep it 100, it's not a (sic) incident, it's a murder." He told officers that he had been robbed by Williams and James earlier in the day and further admitted that, after having two separate run-ins with Williams and James, he obtained a firearm and went in search of Williams. He admitted that he brandished his weapon the moment he saw James, asked for Williams' location, and thereafter, shot James, claiming that he had acted in self-defense; Morris admitted, however, that he continued to shoot James even after he had fallen to the ground. Morris also remarked to law enforcement that he wished he had shot Williams instead of James since Williams was his original target.

         On appeal, Morris argues that the evidence relied upon by the State was insufficient to support his convictions because the State failed to prove malice aforethought for malice murder and because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not justified in shooting James. We disagree.

         When evaluating the sufficiency of evidence, the proper standard for review is whether a rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). "'This Court does not reweigh evidence or resolve conflicts in testimony; instead, evidence is reviewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, with deference to the jury's assessment of the weight and credibility of the evidence.'" (Citation omitted.) Hayes v. State, 292 Ga. 506, 506 (739 S.E.2d 313) (2013).

         (a) Sufficient Evidence for Malice Aforethought

         Here, there was sufficient evidence to establish Morris' intent to commit malice murder. Prior to the shooting, Morris acquired a gun and then headed to the house where Williams and James were located in search of Williams. With his weapon drawn, Morris approached James demanding to know Williams' whereabouts. After James refused to reveal Williams' location and begged for his life, Morris shot him numerous times and continued to shoot him even after he had already fallen to the ground. Clearly, this was sufficient evidence to authorize the jury to find that Morris had acted with malice aforethought in shooting James.

         (b) Proof of Lack of Justification Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

         Regarding his allegation that the State failed to prove his acts were not justified beyond a reasonable doubt, Morris relies upon his statement to law enforcement wherein he stated that he saw James make a gesture like he was reaching for a gun prior to shooting him. However, the jury also heard the testimony of eye witnesses that James was unarmed and not aggressive, that no weapon was located on James' person, and that Morris continued to shoot James after he was on the ground.

As we have explained many times before, conflicts in the evidence, questions about the credibility of witnesses, and questions about the existence of justification are for the jury to resolve. The jury is free to reject any evidence in support of a justification defense and to accept the evidence that the shooting was not done in self-defense.

(Punctuation and citations omitted.) Anthony v. State, 298 Ga. 827, 829 (785 S.E.2d 277) (2016). Based on the foregoing, the evidence authorized the jury to find Morris guilty beyond a reasonable ...


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