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Stroud v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 28, 2017

STROUD
v.
THE STATE

          GRANT, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Shamell A. Stroud was convicted of murder and related offenses in connection with the 2010 stabbing death of victim Wayne Jackson. Stroud now appeals, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of prior felonies committed by Stroud; and that his trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance in failing to object to the prior crimes evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.[1]

         I.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence shows that on the evening of September 29, 2010, Jackson approached Stroud as he sat at a nightclub bar. After talking for some time, the two left together in Jackson's car, stopped at a different club for a short time, and then drove to Jackson's apartment.

         At 11:31 p.m., the alarm button at Jackson's apartment was activated. Police arrived to find the front door open and Jackson lying on the floor in a pool of blood next to a bloody kitchen knife. No one else was present in the apartment. There were beer and liquor bottles scattered throughout the apartment, and a male pornographic film was playing in the master bedroom. Blood was observed throughout the apartment, including a large amount in the foyer, more blood drops and stains in the living room and kitchen, and blood spatter on the master bedroom wall and bed. An overturned nightstand, a displaced mattress, and a second knife with its handle missing evidenced a struggle in the bedroom. Jackson had suffered multiple stab wounds to his torso and extremities, including at least one stab wound to the chest, two stab wounds to the back, and various defensive injuries, several which were indicative of efforts to grasp the blade end of a knife. A palm print from the doorknob of the apartment was later matched to that of Stroud's right palm.

         Stroud had fled the scene. He bought a bus ticket to New York but was apprehended during a stop in Norfolk, Virginia, where, following a waiver of his Miranda[2] rights, he gave a written statement and submitted to a video-recorded interview. During the interview, Stroud told the investigators that Jackson had falsely told him there was a party at his apartment but that no one else was there when they arrived. Stroud maintained that a friend of Jackson joined them at the apartment; Jackson started taking off his clothes, to get "comfortable"; the friend went into the master bedroom, where Jackson had pornography playing on the television; Stroud went in the bedroom; Jackson declared that "this is the party" and began making sexual advances; Stroud became angry; and he and Jackson began to argue and "tussle." Stroud further maintained that he then retreated to the kitchen; Jackson followed, claiming to have a weapon; Jackson "jumped at" Stroud; Stroud grabbed a knife and stabbed Jackson; Jackson went back to his room; and when Jackson re- emerged, Stroud stabbed him again out of fear that Jackson had retrieved a weapon.

         At trial, Stroud testified in his own defense. Though continuing to assert that the stabbing had been committed in self-defense, Stroud's testimony was inconsistent in many respects with his statements to police; among other things, Stroud claimed that Jackson had "basically held him hostage" and attacked him with a knife when Stroud had spurned his advances, and that he believed he was fighting for his life when he wrested the knife from Jackson. He conceded that he had lied to investigators about the presence of a third person in the apartment and attributed the discrepancies in his earlier statements to being "so stressed out" at the time of his interview. Contrary to the evidence from Jackson's autopsy, Stroud testified that he had stabbed Jackson only once in the back and only two times in total. He admitted on cross-examination that he had stepped on Jackson as he lay in the foyer, leaving a footprint on Jackson's body as he fled the apartment. Stroud was also questioned on both direct and cross-examination about past crimes and acknowledged he had been convicted of felony theft on four prior occasions, beginning in 2003.

         Contrary to Stroud's contention, the evidence described above was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Stroud was guilty 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). This evidence, which included admissions by Stroud himself, established an ongoing altercation during which Stroud stabbed and cut Jackson numerous times with a knife, after which Stroud fled the apartment and left town without seeking help. Stroud's trial testimony conflicted in various respects with both the medical examiner's findings and Stroud's prior oral and written statements to police. Whether the State disproved Stroud's claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt was a question for the jury, which-particularly given Stroud's inconsistent accounts and admitted false statements-was authorized to disbelieve his self-defense claim. See Murray v. State, 295 Ga. 289, 292 (1) (759 S.E.2d 525) (2014); Allen v. State, 290 Ga. 743, 744 (1) (723 S.E.2d 684) (2012).

         II.

         Stroud contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his four felony theft convictions. This evidence-consisting of certified copies of four convictions, two for theft by taking and two for theft by receiving-was introduced during the defense's case-in-chief. Prior to calling the defense's first witness, defense counsel-anticipating that Stroud would elect to testify-sought a ruling regarding the admissibility of evidence of his prior convictions. While arguing that the convictions were more prejudicial than probative, counsel conceded that, if Stroud were to testify, the court "can't keep all the convictions out, " and thus urged the court to admit evidence of only "one or two of [them]." The court ruled that, if Stroud were to testify, the two most recent of the prior convictions-both for theft by receiving-would be admissible for impeachment purposes. Defense counsel's reply was, "[a]ll right."

         The defense first presented three character witnesses, all of whom testified to Stroud's reputation for "peacefulness." Stroud then took the stand and, on direct examination, acknowledged his two prior theft-by-receiving convictions. Also during his direct examination, when questioned about whether he had attempted to render aid to the victim, Stroud testified that "if I could have stopped the situation, I would have. I'm a good person, I'm not a bad person."

         At the conclusion of Stroud's direct examination, the State moved for leave to introduce evidence of the remaining two convictions, on the ground that, by testifying that he was "a good person, " Stroud had placed his character in evidence. Defense counsel essentially conceded the issue, responding, "I'm not going to argue that." The trial court ruled that the two remaining theft-by-taking convictions would be admissible, and the State offered evidence of all four convictions during its cross-examination of Stroud.

         Though Stroud now asserts that the trial court erred in admitting the prior convictions evidence, he is precluded from claiming error by virtue of his acquiescence in the admission of this evidence in the trial court.[3] In the initial colloquy on this issue, Stroud's counsel effectively invited the admission of "one or two" of the convictions and affirmatively agreed when the court ruled it would allow evidence of the latter two. Similarly, with regard to the two earlier convictions, when the State reopened the issue following Stroud's testimony on direct examination to being "a good person, " defense counsel stated he was "not going to argue." Stroud thus cannot challenge these rulings on appeal. See, e.g., Adkins v. State, 301 Ga. 153 (2) (800 S.E.2d 341) (2017) (despite earlier, overruled objection to certain evidence, defense counsel, by eliciting that evidence at trial, waived right to challenge its admission on appeal); Stewart v. State, 286 Ga. 669, 672 (4) (c) (690 S.E.2d 811) (2010) (defendant cannot complain on appeal to a ruling in which he acquiesced at trial); Nance v. State, 280 Ga. 125, 130-131 (9) (623 S.E.2d 470) (2005) (counsel's statement that he had no objection to admission of evidence effected a waiver of his right to appeal this issue).

         Even assuming these rulings were properly preserved, the trial court did not err in admitting Stroud's prior theft-by-receiving convictions because this evidence was admissible under former OCGA § 24-9-84.1 (a) (2).[4] This Code ...


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