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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 30, 2017


          GRANT, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Temon Jarmell Williams was convicted of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the October 2012 stabbing death of Shawn Doughty. Williams now appeals, asserting insufficiency of the evidence, erroneous admission of expert testimony, erroneous admission of evidence seized during a search of his residence, and ineffectiveness of his trial counsel for various reasons. Although we find no error regarding Williams's contentions, we affirm in part and vacate in part due to a sentencing error.[1]


         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence at trial showed as follows. On the evening of October 22, 2012, Clarke County Police responded to a call of two males fighting in a neighborhood street and a possible stabbing. Upon arrival, the responding officer found Shawn Doughty lying in the street, bleeding heavily. Shawn's twin sister and another witness, a male neighbor, were watching over Shawn when the responding officer arrived. When the officer asked the sister who stabbed Shawn, she replied that her ex-boyfriend Temon Williams had done so. The sister and the neighbor pointed toward 227 Woody Lane, indicating that Williams was inside. Shawn was unable to make any statements. Officers attempted to aid Shawn until EMTs arrived and transported him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Shawn was stabbed once through the heart and once in the back; both wounds were sharp force injuries.

         At the scene, police saw that the sister was also bleeding, and she told them that Williams had stabbed her as well. She had been stabbed in the back and had a cut on the left side of her face. Officers knocked on Williams's door and loudly announced their presence, but there was no response. Additional officers arrived, including SWAT members, and after a standoff, which included telephone conversations between Williams and his cousin in which Williams claimed he was dying, Williams exited the duplex and was handcuffed. Williams had cut wounds to his wrist and upper chest. While arresting Williams, officers found a hand-written note in his possession, which prompted Williams to say, "That's what's wrong with me right there, that letter right there. Keep that for evidence."[2]

         Upon his arrest, Williams was transported to the hospital where his injuries were treated; they did not require sutures. Williams told medical staff that after he had read the letter, his girlfriend got mad and stabbed him with a kitchen knife. In response to a nurse's question of whether anyone was hurting or threatening him, Williams replied no. The emergency room physician who examined Williams's wounds, Dr. Lewis Earnest, believed the wounds were self-inflicted based on his observations, discussed more fully below.

         When police arrested Williams, they immediately conducted a "protective sweep" of his residence and saw a bloody T-shirt in the living room and a knife in the bedroom, both in plain sight. After exiting the residence, officers obtained a search warrant for the residence (the supporting affidavit referenced the protective sweep and observation of the bloody shirt and knife). These items were then seized when the search warrant was executed. The knife found in the bedroom had blood on it, which matched Williams's DNA. A bent knife was also found outside the residence with blood on it that matched Shawn and his sister's DNA.

         Six days prior to Shawn's murder, on October 16, Williams was released from prison. Shawn's sister had previously been in a relationship with Williams, and maintained that relationship for some time during his incarceration. But she eventually decided to end their relationship, and she informed him of her decision. She agreed to help him as a friend, however, and shortly before his release, secured a residence for him to live in. Around that time, Williams's parole officer contacted Shawn's sister to verify Williams's new address and to advise her of various things concerning his release, including the fact that Williams was HIV positive. The sister confronted Williams about this revelation on the phone, and he assured her that he was going to tell her, and also that if she would just help him out as a friend, then they could go their separate ways. She reluctantly agreed, and had personal items of hers that were in storage moved into the residence to furnish it for Williams (presumably, the 2009 letter was among the items in storage that were moved into Williams's residence). In the days following Williams's release, the sister helped him run several errands, such as visiting his parole officer and being fitted with his ankle monitor. Williams repeatedly asked the sister if she was dating anyone and if she would get back together with him, but she continuously rebuffed him, which made him noticeably upset and angry. On Friday, October 19, after she again refused Williams's advances, he threatened her with a butter knife and forced her to have sex with him. She played along long enough to flee when she had the opportunity the next morning, leaving behind her purse and other personal items. That day, she told him on the phone that "it was over" and she would never be alone with him again.

         She did not disclose these facts to her brother Shawn, who was Williams's good friend. Shawn and Williams "hung out" as friends over the weekend, and on Monday, October 22 (the day of the murder), they arrived at the home of Shawn and his sister's grandmother to retrieve a grill their grandmother was giving Williams. Williams then told them that he lost his ride home and needed a ride back home before his curfew. The sister agreed to take Williams home, but only if Shawn would accompany them; which he agreed to do. On the ride home, Williams sat in the front seat, telling the sister that he loved her and trying to hold her hand, but she told him to stop. When they arrived at Williams's residence, and after Shawn and Williams took the grill into the residence and returned, Williams told the sister that she could go retrieve the items she had left at his residence and that no one would bother her. She went into the residence, but her items had been moved, and, sensing something was wrong, she quickly left. As she walked back outside, she heard Shawn screaming her name from the street, and then saw Williams advancing toward her. She ran, but Williams caught her, stabbing her in the back and then beating and strangling her. Two neighbors heard the commotion. A female neighbor heard the sister screaming. That neighbor then saw the sister running from Williams; Williams caught her and began punching and hitting her. He then pulled something from his pocket, stood behind her, and stabbed her. The other neighbor, the male whom officers encountered when arriving at the scene, heard the sister screaming and saw Williams manhandling her and lifting her off the ground. That neighbor yelled for Williams to stop and told him the police were coming, at which point Williams ran into his residence.

         At trial, Dr. Earnest testified that based on Williams's behavior and the pattern of his wounds-the wrist wounds were of similar depth; the cut to the left wrist was common for a right-handed person cutting himself; the cuts to the wrist were running toward the body, also common for people cutting themselves; the chest wounds' location on the left side of the chest were consistent with a right-handed person stabbing himself; the chest wounds were in two orientations of vertical and horizontal, indicating wrist movement but not defensive wounds; and all the wounds were shallow-it was Dr. Earnest's opinion that Williams's injuries were self-inflicted. He testified that he had only seen wrist injuries like Williams's from self-inflicted injuries.

         Williams also testified in his own defense as follows. While he was down on his knees inside the car looking for a key, Shawn attacked him from behind. Shawn was holding two knives, and Williams snatched one of the knives from Shawn and hit him in the front and then in the back as Shawn came at him. Williams then noticed the other knife was "in me." Shawn ran away. The sister then came out of the residence, saw Williams, and "took off hollering like she fixin' to go tell a lie, " so he chased her, and accidentally cut her with the knife he was holding while he was trying to help her up after she fell. Williams then went into his residence because the male neighbor arrived and told Williams to stop hitting the sister, even though he was not. The trial court charged the jury on self-defense.

         As we have explained, "[i]t was for the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence." Vega v. State, 285 Ga. 32, 33 (1) (673 S.E.2d 223) (2009) (punctuation and citation omitted). Contrary to Williams's contention, the evidence described above was sufficient to enable a rational jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams 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).


         Williams asserts that the trial court erred in overruling his objection to emergency room doctor Lewis Earnest's opinion testimony because the State failed to satisfy the conditions of OCGA § 17-16-4 (a) (4). "We review a trial court's evidentiary rulings under an abuse of discretion standard of review." Smith v. State, 284 Ga. 304, 306 (3) (667 S.E.2d 65) (2008).

         Georgia law requires the prosecution to reduce any relevant oral portions of physical examination reports to writing, and to timely serve the reports on opposing counsel. See OCGA § 17-16-4 (a) (4). Williams contends that the State failed to comply with this rule, and that if the State had complied, then Williams could have retained his own expert to review a written report of Dr. Earnest's opinion and possibly rebut his testimony. He further argues that the trial court's admission of Dr. Earnest's opinion testimony ...

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