Dixon and Arrick Camps were tried by a Bartow County jury and
found guilty of malice murder and other crimes in connection
with the shooting death of Robert Carr. They appeal, both
contending that the trial court erred when it refused to
declare a mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct in the cross-
examination of a defense witness. They also argue, each for
different reasons, that the trial court erred when it refused
to grant them new trials based on jury misconduct. We affirm.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict,
the evidence at trial shows that Dixon, Camps, and three
others - Elizabeth Kelley, Stephanie Gardner, and Rebecca
Dover - made plans to rob Carr. The plan originated with
Dover; she told Gardner about the opportunity, and Gardner
invited Dixon and Kelley to participate. Some time later,
Camps also joined the scheme. The robbery was to occur in
Cartersville, and so, in the early morning hours of April 7,
2015, Kelley drove Dixon and Gardner from Marietta to a
Chevron gas station in Cartersville. There, they met up with
Dover and Carr. Dover was highly intoxicated and seemed to
have lost interest in the robbery; she instead expressed a
desire to play "ding-dings, " which apparently are
gaming devices similar to slot machines. The group then drove
Dover (but not Carr) to a Sunoco gas station down the road to
play ding-dings. Dover and Gardner stayed at the Sunoco, and
Dixon and Kelly then picked up Camps from his house not far
away. When they returned to the Sunoco, Gardner got in the
car with Kelley, Dixon, and Camps, and the four drove back to
the Chevron to look for Carr with the intent to rob him
(Dover had remained at the Sunoco). They did not find Carr at
the station but got in touch with him via a cellphone and
arranged to meet him outside a nearby hotel.
the group arrived at the hotel, Gardner invited Carr into the
vehicle, ostensibly to take him to rejoin Dover back at the
Sunoco, and he sat in the back seat next to Gardner and
Camps. But instead of going to the Sunoco, Dixon (who was in
the front passenger seat) directed Kelley to drive to a
secluded area with what looked like an abandoned warehouse.
Dixon then pointed a gun at Carr and told him to get out.
Carr obeyed, and Dixon followed him out. After a verbal
exchange, Dixon shot Carr in the leg. Dixon then jumped back
in the car, and the group drove off. Before going very far,
however, Dixon said he forgot to check Carr's pockets,
and then either Dixon or Camps said that they could not
simply leave Carr lying there but had to go back and
"finish him, " as he could identify them. Kelley
drove back to where Carr was shot, and she saw him walking
and talking on the phone, saying "they shot me, they
shot me." Camps grabbed the gun and jumped out of the
car. Kelley heard gunshots and then saw Camps standing over
Carr, with his arm angled towards the victim. Dixon then
urged Camps to get back in the car, and the group drove off
hurriedly and went back to Marietta. During the course of the
robbery, the group took Carr's backpack, but it was found
to contain little of value. Carr's body was discovered
later that morning. An autopsy revealed that he died of
multiple gunshot wounds to the face, chest, and extremities.
and Camps do not dispute that the evidence is sufficient to
sustain their convictions. Nevertheless, as is our customary
practice in murder cases, we independently have reviewed the
record with an eye toward the legal sufficiency of the
evidence. We conclude that the evidence presented at trial is
sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find
beyond a reasonable doubt that Dixon and Camps are guilty of
the crimes of which they were convicted. See Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61
L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
Dixon and Camps argue that the trial court erred when it
refused to declare a mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct.
On the fifth day of trial, Camps called a witness who was a
close friend of Carr. On cross-examination, the prosecuting
attorney asked the witness why he was upset. When the witness
replied that he was upset at the death of his "best
friend" Carr, the prosecutor asked: "Now, this is a
murder trial. Did you see [Dixon and Camps] talking and
laughing a while ago?" The witness replied, "Yes I
did." The alleged "talking and laughing"
referenced by the prosecutor occurred during a break in
trial, outside the jury's presence. The defendants
contend that this question by the prosecutor was irrelevant,
prejudicial, and impermissibly placed the defendants'
character at issue.
generally review a trial court's denial of a motion for
mistrial for abuse of discretion. Rivers v. State,
296 Ga. 396, 402 (6) (768 S.E.2d 486) (2015); McKibbins
v. State, 293 Ga. 843, 848 (3) (750 S.E.2d 314) (2013).
"[T]he denial of a mistrial is reversible error only if
it appears that a mistrial was essential to preserve the
defendant's right to a fair trial."
McKibbins, 293 Ga. at 848 (3) (citation and
punctuation omitted). Moreover, with regard to prosecutorial
misconduct, OCGA § 17-8-75 provides:
Where counsel in the hearing of the jury make statements of
prejudicial matters which are not in evidence, it is the duty
of the court to interpose and prevent the same. On objection
made, the court shall also rebuke the counsel and by all
needful and proper instructions to the jury endeavor to
remove the improper impression from their minds; or, in his
discretion, he may order a mistrial if the prosecuting
attorney is the offender.
case, pretermitting whether the prosecutor's question
was, in fact, improper, the trial court fully complied with
OCGA § 17-8-75 and did not abuse its discretion in
refusing to grant a mistrial. The defense objected
immediately after the cross-examination in question, at which
point the trial court held a bench conference outside the
jury's presence and rebuked the prosecutor, telling him
that the question was "totally inappropriate" and
"it's not going to happen in this courtroom."
The court then brought the jury back, told them that the
prosecution had been admonished, and instructed them "to
disregard the question or any response that was elicited as a
result of that question."
ordinarily presume that a jury follows such
instructions." Coleman v. State, 301 Ga. 720,
722 (3) (804 S.E.2d 24) (2017). Nothing in this case
undercuts that presumption. To the contrary, the trial court
specifically asked the jurors to "indicate by raising
your hand if you feel that you would be unable to disregard
the previous question and response elicited by the State,
" and none of the jurors raised their hand. In light of
the foregoing, a mistrial was not necessary to preserve the
defendants' right to a fair trial. See
McKibbins, 292 Ga. at 850 (3) (c) (trial court did
not abuse its discretion when it denied a mistrial after
improper statement by prosecutor, "especially because
the trial court promptly admonished the prosecuting attorney
and told the jury to disregard the statement").
Dixon and Camps ask for a new trial due to juror misconduct.
The record reflects the following issues with the jury. On
the morning of the fourth day of trial, four jurors came
before the court for questioning. Two of the jurors, R. M.
and A. H., had expressed concern about a suspicious
individual who was observed in the parking lot writing down
jurors' license plate numbers. Camps had raised concerns
about two other jurors, juror A. S. and alternate juror S.
S., who had been seen talking during the trial. A. S. and S.
S. were questioned separately to determine whether they had
overheard anything about the suspicious activity and whether
the jurors discussed the case among themselves. When A. S.
was asked whether there had been "any discussion amongst
the jurors about this case, about what's going on, "
she replied in the negative, and both defendants said they
had no further questions of her. Juror S. S. also denied
talking to A. S. (who had sat next to her) about the case,
but admitted commenting that Camps's attorney was
"monotonous." S. S. insisted that this was the only
comment she made, even when both defense counsel pointed out
that they had observed as much as 20 seconds of conversation
between her and A. S. during trial.
bench conference, both defendants moved for a mistrial and,
alternatively, for S. S.'s removal. Dixon moved for the
removal of juror A. S. as well. The trial court refused to
grant a mistrial, but did remove juror S. S. without
objection from the State on the ground that she arrived late
for court, slept during trial, and audibly conversed with A.
S. But the trial court refused to remove A. S., explaining:
I did observe communication between those two jurors. Now, I
don't know what the communication was. I don't know
if the communication was [A. S.] telling S. S., you know,
please be quiet, you're talking too loud. I don't
know what the communication was. But when asked this morning,
[A. S.] said here that she didn't have any conversation
about the case. So I'll just reemphasize that with the
jurors again. That's all I can do.
the jury was brought back in, the trial court instructed the
jurors, among other things, not to talk to each other or with
anyone else about ...