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Drews v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 19, 2018


          BENHAM, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Herbert Drews was convicted of crimes related to the death of James David Ayers, who was a 70-year-old man, and the aggravated battery of Troyce Warren.[1] For reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. Appellant alleges the evidence was insufficient to show that he was an active participant in the crimes at bar. Viewed in a light most favorable to upholding the jury's verdicts, the evidence shows as follows. Appellant and Ayers, whose nickname was "Lucky, " had lived together in a single-wide, two-bedroom mobile home ("the house") in Bartow County. Although the two were unrelated, appellant described his relationship with Ayers as that of a son. Ayers was an altruistic man, who allowed numerous people to live in the house rent-free. Ayers was also known to keep at least $1, 000 to $1, 500 in cash on his person and would pay for food and other things for the residents in the house. On February 5, 2012, the following people were living in the house: Ayers, Jamie Gatlin, Robert Miller, [2] Ken "Goose" Coffman, [3] Becky Sears, [4]and Troyce Warren.[5] Although appellant's name was still on the lease, he had not been living at the house for at least a month prior to February 5, and he testified at trial that he had not been at the house at all for the two and a half weeks preceding the incident. At the time he was last at the house, appellant stated that he and Ayers had agreed that Warren was not to live there, although apparently Warren sometimes spent the night with Sears.

         On the night in question, most of the house's occupants had gone to bed. Ayers had a room on one end of the house and Gatlin and Miller occupied the second bedroom at the opposite end of the house. Goose Coffman was watching television on the couch in the living room, which was also where he slept. Sears and Warren were in a room they had constructed on the front porch during the two and a half weeks immediately prior to February 5.

         Appellant testified he had consumed half a pint of rum and two shots of whiskey that night. He decided to go over to the house to get his dog. Since appellant did not have a vehicle, he had his friend Barrett Muhlenbruch pick him up from Derinda Rader's[6] hotel and drive him and Rader to the house. Once they arrived, appellant exited Muhlenbruch's white truck and put his dog in the bed of the truck. Appellant said he then headed towards the house while Muhlenbruch and Rader eventually drove up the hill to visit a nearby neighbor.

         Jamie Gatlin testified she heard appellant's voice and looked out of her bedroom door and saw appellant standing in the doorway to Ayers's room. Gatlin said appellant raised his voice. At that point, she closed her door and woke up Robert Miller. Soon thereafter, she said she heard hitting and kicking and, when she and Miller[7] looked out their bedroom door, they saw appellant and Troyce Warren fighting.

         Becky Sears testified she heard appellant attempting to kick in the door to her room on the porch. Because the door swung outward, appellant could not kick it in and so he eventually "snatched" the door open. Sears said appellant stood in the doorway holding a knife in his hand which was covered in blood. According to Sears, appellant said "Lucky's dead and it's all y'all's f'ing fault." Appellant then attacked Warren with the knife. The two men started fighting, with the altercation moving from the porch into the living room of the house. Warren testified he beat the "dog crap out of" appellant until police arrived. Robert Miller also joined in the fight and was credited with taking the knife from appellant.

         Meanwhile, Sears went to check on Ayers and found him sitting on his bed bent over, bleeding profusely. Sears screamed for assistance and then tried to stop the bleeding with towels. Gatlin entered the room and called 911 at Ayers's request. Sears left the house when Gatlin called 911 because she was the subject of an outstanding warrant. As she left the house, Sears said she saw a white truck parked outside with appellant's dog in the back and a white female and a Hispanic male inside the truck's cab. Sears said she walked up to Debbie and Gary Coffman's house, [8] which was a neighboring house at the top of the hill from the house where the incident occurred.

         The first officer who arrived in response to Gatlin's 911 call broke up the fight and dragged appellant out of the house. Because Robert Miller told one of the police officers that money had been stolen from Ayers, appellant was searched, Muhlenbruch was detained and searched at the Coffmans' house, [9] and Muhlenbruch's truck was searched, but no money was ever found. Police recovered a bloody knife in a trash can in the kitchen, which is where Miller told police he placed the knife upon taking it from appellant. The knife later tested positive for appellant's blood DNA. Appellant testified that the knife was his, but he denied he was in possession of it on the night in question.[10]

         Eventually, appellant, who was under arrest, Warren, and Ayers were transported to the hospital for treatment of their injuries. A doctor and nurse testified appellant was treated for superficial injuries to his face. A doctor who treated appellant and Warren said that Warren's injuries were more serious than appellant's injuries, although not life-threatening. Specifically, Warren had stab wounds to his chest, his chin, and his leg. These wounds had to be closed with stitches or staples.

         When Ayers arrived at the hospital, he was conscious, had a normal brain scan, and was treated for the nine stab wounds he received to his body. Nevertheless, doctors intubated Ayers so that his airway would not be constricted by any swelling from the stab wounds to his neck. In spite of medical intervention, the trauma of being stabbed eventually caused a series of complications leading to Ayers's death on February 9, 2012. Ayers developed atrial fibrillation or an irregular heartbeat. This condition caused him to be susceptible to blood clots and, because of the stab wounds, doctors were unable to treat him with a blood thinner. Eventually, a blood clot developed in Ayers's heart and then broke free, traveling to his brain causing a "massive" stroke. The stroke rendered Ayers comatose and caused significant brain injury from which his treating physicians determined he would not recover. Ayers's daughter made the decision to remove Ayers from life support and he died the next day. The medical examiner testified that the cause of death was "multiple complications and multiple sharp force injuries, " and that the manner of death was homicide.

         At trial, appellant took the witness stand in his own defense. He testified that after he exited Muhlenbruch's truck and began walking towards the house, he became angered at seeing the room on the porch, which had not been there when he was last at the house two and a half weeks earlier. He stated he wanted to see who was behind "the wall" and so he pounded on the door and then opened it. He saw Sears reclined on the bed and Warren sitting on the bed. He said when he saw Warren he asked, "What the f**k are you doing here?" and then said, "No f**king way." Appellant stated that Warren responded to him by asking him what he was going to do about it. At that point appellant said he headed towards the front door of the house, but could not remember exactly what happened next. He acknowledged there was a fight, testified that he was in and out of consciousness during the fight, and said that Warren beat him, Sears stomped on his back, and Miller hit him. He also stated that Miller asked him, "Where is the money?" Appellant denied ever seeing Ayers that night and said he learned of Ayers's death while in jail. Appellant admitted that he had been drinking and that no one in the house knew he was coming over to get his dog that night.[11]

         The jury was authorized to discredit appellant's testimony that he never saw Ayers on the night in question and to reject appellant's theory that Troyce Warren actually stabbed Ayers and that the other occupants of the house were in on it to steal money from Ayers. See Jones v. State, ___ Ga. ___ (1) (b) (807 S.E.2d 344) (2017). The evidence summarized above was otherwise sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which the jury returned verdicts of guilty. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Appellant contends trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance when he failed to investigate allegations raised by a supplemental police report and attendant dashboard camera video. In order to ...

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