Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Jones v. Medlin

Supreme Court of Georgia

November 2, 2017

JONES
v.
MEDLIN. GARDINER
v.
MEDLIN. LUCCI
v.
MEDLIN.

          HINES, Chief Justice.

         This Court granted applications for certificates of probable cause from Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner, and Dominic Brian Lucci to appeal the denials of their petitions for writs of habeas corpus. The cases are consolidated, and for the reasons that follow, we reverse in each.

         Jones, Gardiner, and Lucci were tried and found guilty of malice murder in the shooting death of Stanley Jackson, as well as of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. See Gardiner v. State, 264 Ga. 329 (444 S.E.2d 300) (1994). The three defendants were Army servicemen stationed at Fort Stewart, near Savannah, and are Caucasian; Jackson was African-American. Evidence presented at the November, 1992 trial showed that, during the day of January 31, 1992, Jones sought to borrow some equipment from a fellow soldier, Sylvia Ann Wallace, after an inspection, and told Wallace that he was going to Savannah that night because "he had somebody that he was going to shoot." When Wallace enquired who that would be, Jones replied, "I got a black guy up there I got to get."

         Shortly after 10:00 p.m. that night, near the intersection of 33rd Street and East Broad Street, James White saw two men fire military-type automatic or semiautomatic rifles[1] through the window of a 1992 black Chevrolet Cavalier while a third man drove the car; Jackson was killed in the shooting. White met investigating officers at the scene and went with an officer to a police station. There, outside a topless bar named Club Asia, which was across the street from the station, he saw a car carrying Jones, Gardiner, and Lucci and told the officer accompanying him that the car appeared to be the one he saw at the scene of Jackson's shooting.[2] The three men went into Club Asia, and were shortly removed by officers and caused to stand under a light outside the bar. From some distance away, White said that he could not be sure that they were the men from the car, but reiterated his identification of it.[3] Later, when White was subpoenaed to appear at a preliminary hearing, he viewed the men more closely and stated that he recognized Jones and Gardiner as the shooters. At the defendants' trial, White identified Jones and Gardiner as the shooters.

         After production of records from the police file about the case in response to a 2010 open records request, the three men filed habeas petitions asserting that, contrary to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215) (1963), exculpatory evidence was not provided to the defense team by the State, namely that: 1) prior to trial, White made statements to police officers that he could not identify the shooters, contradicting his positive identification of Jones and Gardiner at trial; 2) White was coerced into testifying at trial that he could, in fact, positively identify the men; and, 3) a police report of an incident that took place shortly after the shooting, namely that a man told a patrol officer that, at 1:00 a.m. on February 1, 1992, in the Yamacraw Village public housing complex, Caucasian males in a white Chevrolet pick-up truck and a silver Ford Thunderbird, with military style haircuts and semiautomatic weapons, were "threaten[ing] to shoot blacks who hang out on street corners" (the "Yamacraw Report"); it is uncontroverted that at 1:00 a.m. on February 1, 1992, Jones, Gardiner, and Lucci were in police custody.

         As the habeas petitions of each of the three men presented the same assertions, the petitions were consolidated. After an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court determined that the claims were procedurally defaulted and denied relief. The three men applied to this Court for certificates of probable cause to appeal from the habeas court's order. In 2014, this Court determined that the claims were not procedurally defaulted, granted the petitions, and remanded the case to the habeas court, directing it to perform a Brady analysis.

         Upon remand, the habeas court denied relief, determining that the Yamacraw Report would not have been admissible at trial and thus would not qualify as Brady material; the habeas court rejected the argument that, if the report had been produced to the defense at trial, "additional exculpatory evidence could have been gathered" as simply speculation, and ruled that there was no reasonable probability that producing the Yamacraw Report would have changed the outcome of the trial. As to White's habeas testimony, which was contrary to his trial testimony as discussed below, the court noted that there was considerable evidence presented at trial regarding the level of certainty of White's identification, and specifically discredited White's habeas testimony. The petitioners again sought certificates of probable cause to appeal, and these appeals followed.

         "In reviewing the grant or denial of a petition for habeas corpus, this Court accepts the habeas court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless they are clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the law to the facts." [Cit.]" Humphrey v. Lewis, 291 Ga. 202, 204 (II) (728 S.E.2d 603) (2012).

To prevail on a Brady claim, appellant[s] must demonstrate that the prosecution wilfully or inadvertently suppressed evidence favorable to the accused, either because it is exculpatory or impeaching. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. at 87. However, "the Constitution is not violated every time the government fails or chooses not to disclose evidence that might prove helpful to the defense." Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 436-437 (115 S.C. 1555, 131 L.Ed.2d 490) (1995). Brady comes into play only when the suppressed evidence is material, i.e., "only if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A 'reasonable probability' is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 682 (105 S.C. 3375, 87 L.Ed.2d 481) (1985).

Young v. State, 290 Ga. 441, 443 (2) (721 S.E.2d 839) (2012).

         1. During the habeas hearing, White testified that: he told the investigator outside Club Asia that the car the defendants were in "looked like" the shooters' car, but that he did not recognize the three suspects and could not identify any of them as the shooters; he asked investigators to provide him a line-up for identification purposes, but they would not; he was pressured by investigators, prosecutors, and members of the community - including clergymen - to identify the defendants as the shooters; he received anonymous telephone calls to his house that included threats to his family if he did not identify the defendants as the shooters; at a preliminary hearing, he identified Jones and Gardiner as the shooters; when he subsequently told an investigator that he could not truly identify them, he was threatened with being prosecuted for perjury if he did not testify at trial as he had at the preliminary hearing, and he was told that there would "be rioting in the city" if the defendants were not convicted; he then testified at trial, identifying Jones and Gardiner as the shooters;[4] in the years since the trial, he suffered significant mental and physical problems that he traced to his trial testimony; and, until approached in 2010 by a representative of a nonprofit organization that investigates claims of actual innocence of those incarcerated for life or under a death sentence, he told no one that he had testified falsely but his wife, who died before the habeas hearing.

         The habeas court specifically found that White's habeas testimony "lacked credibility." The court further noted that the defense had information that a detective noted that White's identification was incomplete or uncertain, and the uncertainty of his identification was fully explored on cross-examination at trial. Although the petitioners contend that the result of the trial would have been different if the defense had known that White definitively informed investigators that he could not identify the defendants, and that he had been coerced by the State to make a definitive identification at trial, this ignores the factual findings of the habeas court that White's testimony that these events occurred was not credible.[5] These contentions were rebutted by other evidence, the court's credibility determination on these matters was not clearly erroneous, and the unestablished contentions do not form the basis for a Brady claim. See Humphrey, supra.

         2. At the time Jackson was killed, Officer B. J. Herron was assigned to patrol Yamacraw Village, a housing project in Savannah. The Yamacraw Report is handwritten, and was filled out on a Savannah Police Department form by Herron. The report shows Herron as the writer, with a preparation date of February 1, 1992, and the report is addressed to police precincts "1 & 2." The report form's field for "Reference" is filled in with: "Threats on citizen in Yamacraw." The body of the report states:

I was advised by a subject that on 2/1/92 [at 1:00 a.m.] two vehicles entered Yamacraw, silver 2 door 89-91 Ford Thunderbird and a white Chevy pick-up. Both vehicles were occupied by white males who were supposedly armed with semi-automatic weapons. All suspects appeared to have military style haircuts. Any contact with these suspects in any housing ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.