Jacob Pike appeals his conviction and sentence for malice
murder and related crimes in connection with the death of
Justin Klaffka. He challenges the denial of severance of his
trial from that of his coindictees, the admission of certain
evidence, and the legal sufficiency of the evidence of his
guilt. For the reasons which follow, the challenges are
without merit and we affirm.
evidence construed in favor of the verdicts showed the
following. On the evening of April 8, 2012, Pike, William
Slaton ("Slaton"), and Klaffka entered the Houston
County mobile-home residence of Garrett Fluellen
("Fluellen") and committed armed robbery.
Slaton's brother, Daniel Slaton ("Daniel"), had
driven the men to and from the crime scene. Anthony Scott and
others were at Fluellen's residence at the time of the
armed robbery; Scott knew Klaffka as he had previously traded
drugs with him. During the armed robbery, Fluellen got a
glimpse of one attacker's face, and was able to run away
and call 911. When Pike, Slaton, and Klaffka returned to
Daniel's car, Pike cut Klaffka on the right thigh and was
"cussing him out" because Pike was angry at Klaffka
for letting Fluellen escape. Pike and Slaton became worried
that Klaffka would implicate them in the armed robbery.
April 10, 2012, Klaffka's girlfriend, Amanda Mitchell,
witnessed a fight between Pike, Slaton, and Klaffka at 119
Dixie Trail in Houston County, where Pike was living along
with Slaton, Daniel, and Pike's brother, David Pike
("David"). Pike and Slaton confronted Klaffka and
began to beat him; Pike hit Klaffka on the right side of his
head. After the beating, Klaffka was bleeding very badly and
was taken into the bathroom shower to be cleaned up. Then
Pike, Slaton, and Daniel walked Klaffka to Daniel's car
and Pike directed Daniel where to drive; the three men drove
Klaffka to a Houston County boat ramp on the Ocmulgee River,
an area known as Knowles Landing. After arriving at the boat
ramp, Klaffka was taken out of the vehicle; Pike held a knife
to Klaffka's neck. The men began to argue and then
Slaton, who was standing behind Klaffka, put his arm around
Klaffka's neck and started to choke him. After a couple
of minutes, Pike told Slaton to "get out of the
way" because he was "doing no good" even
though Klaffka "had the fight already out of him"
and was "hardly doing anything." Pike put his hands
around Klaffka's neck and Pike and Slaton took Klaffka
down to the river. Pike began to simultaneously choke and
attempt to drown Klaffka, and then left Klaffka in the water.
Pike and Slaton got back in the car and removed their
clothing. Pike reached over with his knife to Daniel,
threatening Daniel that if he said anything he would kill
him. Pike stated that "it went too far, that he
couldn't just let [Klaffka] go because he would go tell
the cops." The three men drove back to 119 Dixie Trail;
David had cleaned up the bathroom with bleach. That night,
Pike and Slaton burned their clothes. They told David that
they "threw [Klaffka's] ass off of [Highway] 96,
" and that they had killed Klaffka and floated him down
April 15, 2012, fishermen at Knowles Landing discovered
Klaffka's body floating in the river. The medical
examiner determined that Klaffka's injuries were
consistent with manual strangulation and that the cause of
death was asphyxia due to strangulation in conjunction with
blunt force head trauma.
separate enumerations of error, Pike contends that the
State's evidence as a whole was legally insufficient to
support his murder conviction, and that the trial court erred
in refusing to direct verdicts of acquittal on all of the
charges against him because the State failed to establish
venue in Houston County. But, such contentions are wholly
State presented ample evidence of the elements of the crimes
charged, including that of venue, which is a jurisdictional
element of every crime requiring that the State prove it
beyond a reasonable doubt. Bulloch v. State, 293 Ga.
179, 187 (4) (744 S.E.2d 763) (2013). Consequently, we view
the evidence of venue as we do in a challenge to the general
sufficiency of the evidence, that is, the evidence of venue
is viewed in a light most favorable to supporting the
verdicts in order to determine whether the evidence was
sufficient to permit a rational trier of fact to find beyond
a reasonable doubt that the crime or crimes were committed in
the county in which the defendant was indicted. Propst v.
State, 299 Ga. 557, 561 (1) (b) (788 S.E.2d 484) (2016).
In general, a criminal action is to be tried in the county in
which the crime or crimes were committed. Id.; see
Ga. Const. 1983, Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. VI; OCGA §
17-2-2 (a). However, OCGA §17-2-2 (h) provides
that "if in any case it cannot be determined in what
county a crime was committed, it shall be considered to have
been committed in any county in which the evidence shows
beyond a reasonable doubt that it might have been
committed." And, the provisions of subsection (h) may be
used to determine venue in homicide cases. See Bulloch v.
State, 293 Ga. 179, 187 (4) (744 S.E.2d 763) (2013).
What is more, the State can prove venue by both direct and
circumstantial evidence. Propst v. State, supra at
561 (1) (b).
this case, the State presented testimony at trial
establishing that the crimes against Klaffka culminating in
his murder were committed in Houston County. Such testimony
included, inter alia, that Knowles Landing, the place where
Klaffka's body was discovered, was in Houston County,
that Klaffka was severely beaten at 119 Dixie Trail, which
was in Houston County, and that he was then taken to Knowles
Landing where he was strangled to death. The evidence
established beyond a reasonable doubt that venue was properly
in Houston County. Bulloch v. State, supra at 187
(4). Thus, the failure to prove venue was not a meritorious
basis for granting directed verdicts of acquittal. What is
more, the evidence as a whole was sufficient to enable a
rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that
Pike was guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61
L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
next contends that the trial court erred in denying his
motion to sever because his defense, which was that the
State's evidence did not overcome his presumption of
innocence, was antagonistic to that of his codefendant,
Slaton; Pike argues this was so because in the
joint trial with Slaton he was forced to defend himself
against not only the proof offered by the State, but also the
alibi defense argued by Slaton's counsel,  i.e., that only
Pike and Daniel killed Klaffka and Slaton was not present, so
that he suffered prejudice amounting to a denial of due
process. But, the argument is unavailing.
the transcript of the hearing in the matter reveals that Pike
failed to make the present argument to the trial court. His
argued basis below for severance was the likelihood that at
trial the State would "get into" Slaton's
extensive prior criminal history, and that Pike would get
"lumped up with that, " and thus, prejudice the
jury against him. In any event, even if the present challenge
of antagonistic defenses is preserved for our review,
"antagonistic defenses are insufficient to require
severance in a non-death penalty case absent a showing of
prejudice." Johnson v. State, 301 Ga. 205, 208
(III) (800 S.E.2d 296) (2017).
[I]t is not enough for a defendant to raise the possibility
that a separate trial would have given him a better chance of
acquittal; a defendant is entitled to severance only where
there is a clear showing of harm or prejudice and a showing
that failure to sever would result in the denial of due
process. [Cit.] A defendant cannot rely upon antagonism
between co-defendants to show prejudice and the consequent
denial of due process; a defendant must show that the failure
to sever harmed him.
Kelly v. State, 267 Ga. 252, 253 (2) (477 S.E.2d
110) (1996) (internal citation omitted). Pike's claim
that the joint trial with Slaton forced him not only to
defend against the proof offered by the State, but also to
defend against the defense pressed by Slaton does not
demonstrate the required prejudice and denial of due process
because such a situation exists in any case in which
codefendants have antagonistic defenses. Marquez v.
State, 298 Ga. 448, 450-451 (2) (782 S.E.2d 648) (2016).
What is more, despite Slaton's argued alibi defense, the
jury arrived at guilty verdicts against Slaton as well as
Pike, obviously accepting the State's case which was
substantially the same for Pike and Slaton. There is nothing
to suggest that the outcome of Pike's trial would have
been different had he been tried separately from Slaton.
Simply, Pike has failed to demonstrate that he was prejudiced
by the joint trial so that he was denied due process;
consequently, there is no showing that the trial court abused
its discretion in denying severance. Id.
also contends that the trial court erred in allowing, over
objection, certain autopsy photographs of Klaffka,
maintaining that the photographs were not only gruesome, but
had no independent probative value and served only to
prejudice and inflame the jury. But, there was no error in
admitting the photographs at issue.
as Pike's trial occurred after January 1, 2013, the
effective date of Georgia's new Evidence Code, the code