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Walton v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 5, 2018



         Following a jury trial, Kynodious Walton appeals his convictions for felony murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, among other crimes, contending that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the trial court made certain erroneous evidentiary rulings.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Walton's convictions, vacate his sentence, and remand this case for resentencing.

         1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that Dennis Igidi lived with his long term girlfriend, Maritza Chick. In the fall of 2012, however, Igidi was in the process of moving out of their shared home. On October 28, 2012, Igidi sent his mechanic to the house to pick up his lawn equipment, but the mechanic discovered that someone was already taking the equipment. The mechanic alerted Igidi, who immediately drove to the house with his three-year-old daughter. Igidi found Walton loading the equipment onto a truck. Walton told Igidi that he had bought all of the equipment for $450 from Chick. Igidi asked to repurchase the equipment, but told Walton that he needed an hour to get sufficient cash. Igidi then called Byron and Bryant Phillips, who were brothers, and requested their assistance. The Phillips brothers complied.

         Once the Phillips brothers arrived, Walton drove away, and Igidi followed, with the Phillips brothers trailing. Igidi testified that he wanted to determine where Walton was going to store the equipment. After five to ten minutes of driving, Walton parked near his cousin's house. Igidi parked behind him, and the Phillips brothers parked behind Igidi. When Igidi got out of the car, with his daughter still inside, Walton jogged over to a group of men. Igidi took a few steps, and was then rushed by Walton and his compatriots. Walton grabbed a gun, cocked it, and said to his cohorts, "Run them pockets, " which Igidi understood to be an instruction to rob him. Igidi saw the other men had guns, as well. Igidi, however, was unarmed.

         When the Phillips brothers got out of their car, Byron heard loud arguing about money and was then rushed. Byron told Walton's cohorts that they were just there for the equipment. Byron and Bryant tried to get back in their car, but, before they could, two of Walton's crew approached, and one of them reached into Byron's pockets and asked, "What you got?" They grabbed Byron's pistol from his pocket, and then drew their weapons and started shooting. Byron and Igidi, who decided to flee the scene, saw Walton shooting a gun. Byron was shot in the arm, and, as he fell to the ground, he also saw Bryant drop. Police were called to the scene, and they found Bryant lying in the street. Bryant died as a result of a gunshot wound to the chest from several feet away.

         This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find Walton guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Walton contends that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to review a police report indicating that Igidi and Chick had a violent disagreement over Igidi's possessions on the night before Bryant's murder.

In order to succeed on his claim of ineffective assistance, [Walton] must prove both that his trial counsel's performance was deficient and that there is a reasonable probability that the trial result would have been different if not for the deficient performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). If an appellant fails to meet his or her burden of proving either prong of the Strickland test, the reviewing court does not have to examine the other prong. Id. at 697 (IV); Fuller v. State, 277 Ga. 505 (3) (591 S.E.2d 782) (2004). In reviewing the trial court's decision, "'[w]e accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the legal principles to the facts.' [Cit.]" Robinson v. State, 277 Ga. 75, 76 (586 S.E.2d 313) (2003).

Wright v. State, 291 Ga. 869, 870 (2) (734 S.E.2d 876) (2012).

         The record shows that, at the beginning of trial, the State moved in limine[2] to exclude any reference to a domestic dispute between Igidi and Chick that occurred on the night before the shooting. The specifics of this confrontation were contained in a police report that was part of the State's discovery package. In response to the State's motion, trial counsel responded that she had no "desire or interest in going into [the] dispute, " even though she wanted to elicit information about the events leading up to the shooting in a general manner. Upon further questioning from the trial court, the State characterized the police report as follows:

Ms. Chick and Mr. Igidi get into an argument, because they're breaking up, over him wanting to get his stuff. She calls the police on him. The police respond. She makes some allegations against him that include him threatening her. I don't know that there's any charges that have come from that.

         Thereafter, trial counsel made no objections, and the trial court granted the motion in limine. At that time, trial counsel had never seen or read the report.[3]

         A review of the record shows that the police report was far more detailed than the State's in-court summary. The report contained allegations from Chick that Igidi became extremely upset and violently threatened her with a gun and a knife. At the motion for new trial hearing, Walton's trial counsel admitted that she was unaware of this information at the time the State presented its motion in limine.

         Pretermitting the question of whether Walton's trial counsel performed deficiently, [4] Walton must still show prejudice. Under the facts of this case, he cannot do so. The record shows that trial counsel cross-examined Igidi as to how upset he was when he confronted Walton about the lawn equipment. Trial counsel also brought forth evidence that Igidi was facing firearms charges with regard to a previous case. Furthermore, on cross-examination, Igidi admitted that he told one of the Phillips brothers, "This bitch[, Chick, ] done sell my stuff, " and that he was angry. Additionally, trial counsel elicited from Walton's girlfriend, Shantae, on direct examination that Igidi was "very aggressive, " "very upset, " and "very angry" when he confronted Walton on the day of the shooting. Therefore, the jury did receive evidence that Igidi was extremely passionate and aggressive regarding the lawn equipment, and that he was angry at Chick for the way she handled the situation. Under these circumstances, and recognizing that the crimes in this case arose from a confrontation between Igidi and Walton, not Igidi and Chick, the information contained in the police report was largely cumulative of information already heard by the jury. As such, Walton was not ultimately prejudiced by the exclusion of the police report, even assuming ...

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