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Taylor v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 2, 2017


          BENHAM, Justice.

         Appellant Mark Antonio Taylor appeals his convictions related to the death of Charles Ernest Weaver.[1] In the early morning hours of December 28, 2012, appellant was wandering around Hall County, trying to figure out a way to get back to Atlanta.[2] He entered the parking lot of a car dealership where he came across a truck, which had its engine running and its lights on. Seeing no one around, appellant entered the vehicle and began driving it in reverse. The victim, who worked at the dealership, attempted to stop appellant from stealing the truck by pulling out a pocket knife and dialing the police on his cell phone. Appellant got out of the truck, pulled out a gun and forced the victim to drop his knife and cell phone. Appellant then forced the victim to walk towards the building and shot the victim once. The victim attempted to run away and hide inside the building, but appellant followed him and shot him a second time. Appellant then fled in the truck, taking the victim's cell phone and pocket knife with him. A significant portion of appellant's encounter with the victim was caught on the dealership's video surveillance system. The victim was found deceased by a coworker. The medical examiner testified the victim died from a bullet that entered and exited his arm and then re-entered his body through his chest, damaging his lungs and a major artery to his heart such that he bled to death.

         Police tracked the stolen vehicle to an apartment complex in Atlanta, used the apartment's surveillance system to link appellant to the truck, and found appellant in an apartment with some of his relatives. Inside the apartment, police recovered the victim's knife and appellant's Hi-Point .45 caliber handgun, which was determined to be the murder weapon. They also found the victim's cell phone in the truck. As he was being arrested, appellant kept repeating "Yeah, I did it" and "I killed him." During his trial testimony, appellant admitted the victim was unarmed both times he shot him.

         1. The evidence summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which the jury returned verdicts of guilty. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2.Appellant complains that trial counsel's questioning of prospective jurors was too brief to be effective and contends counsel should have moved to strike three jurors for cause. In order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, appellant

must show counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced him to the point that a reasonable probability exists that, but for counsel's errors, the outcome of the trial would have been different. A strong presumption exists that counsel's conduct falls within the broad range of professional conduct.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Pruitt v. State, 282 Ga. 30 (4) (644 S.E.2d 837) (2007). If a defendant fails to meet his burden on one prong of the two-prong test, then the other prong need not be reviewed by the Court. Wright v. State, 291 Ga. 869 (2) (734 S.E.2d 876) (2012). The content of trial counsel's voir dire of the jury venire can be a matter of trial strategy and, if within the broad range of reasonable professional assistance, will not sustain a claim that counsel was constitutionally ineffective. See Ford v. State, 298 Ga. 560 (8) (a) (783 S.E.2d 906) (2016); Cade v. State, 289 Ga. 805 (4) (716 S.E.2d 196) (2011); Morgan v. State, 276 Ga. 72 (9) (575 S.E.2d 468) (2003). Likewise, the decision as to which jurors to strike is a strategic decision that, if reasonable, will not support an allegation that counsel's performance was deficient. See Brown v. State, 2017 WL 3468408, ___Ga. ___(4) (___ S.E.2d ___) (August 14, 2017); Simpson v. State, 298 Ga. 314 (4) (781 S.E.2d 762) (2016); Lockhart v. State, 298 Ga. 384 (2) (782 S.E.2d 245) (2016).

         At the motion for new trial hearing, trial counsel testified that once the prosecutor completed her voir dire, there were not many questions that needed to be asked of the prospective jurors. He also testified that appellant assisted with jury selection and any decisions made as to juror strikes were strategic in nature. For example, in reference to Juror 41, who was a domestic violence victim and stated she "did not know" whether her experience would impact her ability to be fair, trial counsel said he decided not to move to strike her because he believed she might be sympathetic to appellant. Our review of the transcript reveals that none of the jurors who were seated on the jury expressed an opinion during voir dire that was so fixed that they could not be fair and impartial.[3] Counsel's performance was not deficient and, accordingly, appellant's claim of ineffective assistance must fail.

         3. Prior to trial, the State sought admission of evidence that appellant's girlfriend expelled him from her car because he punched her in the face. The trial court ruled that the details of the fight were irrelevant and the parties agreed that the only information that would be provided to the jury was that, a day before the shooting, appellant was expelled from his girlfriend's car because of a fight. At trial, appellant took the stand and testified as follows on direct examination:

Q. Did [you and your girlfriend] get into an argument that day?
A. Yes, we did.
Q. And were you riding with her?
A. Yes, I was.
Q. And what happened after [you] all got into an ...

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