Marquis Dequan Tanner was convicted of malice murder and
other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Abel
Carmona, Jr. On appeal, he contends that the evidence
presented at his trial was insufficient to support his murder
conviction; that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to
conflict-free counsel; and that the trial court erred by
admitting into evidence a comment made by a detective during
Appellant's interrogation. We conclude that the evidence
was sufficient, Appellant has not demonstrated a Sixth
Amendment violation, and the comment was harmless.
Accordingly, we affirm.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the
evidence at trial showed the following. On the night of June
18, 2014, Appellant, Endy Becerra, and Tywon Henderson drove
to meet Carmona and two of his friends in the parking lot of
an apartment complex in Dalton, Georgia. Appellant, who was a
convicted felon, was carrying a revolver. Carmona was
carrying $950 that he planned to use to buy a quarter-pound
of marijuana from Appellant. Carmona got into the rear
passenger seat of Becerra's car, and Becerra drove away.
After traveling a short distance, Becerra stopped the car.
According to Becerra, Carmona repeatedly protested that he
did not want to leave in the car because he did not know the
other men. Appellant responded, "Fu*k this, "
pointed his gun at Carmona's neck, and told him to
"give him his fu*king money." Appellant then pulled
Carmona out of the car, and they went behind the car, where
Becerra and Henderson could not see them because the rear
window was tinted. Becerra and Henderson testified that they
heard a gunshot while Appellant and Carmona were outside the
car, and Becerra's rear window shattered. When Appellant
got back in the car, Henderson asked why he had shot.
Appellant replied that his gun "just let off."
then drove Appellant and Henderson to a party nearby.
Carmona's two friends heard the gunshot, drove towards
it, and found Carmona lying unconscious on the ground with a
gunshot wound to his chest. He was taken to a hospital, where
he was pronounced dead. Carmona's friends took the $950
he was carrying after finding it on the ground near his body.
They initially told police officers investigating the
shooting that they had arrived at the apartment complex to
pick up Carmona to go out to eat, but they eventually
admitted that they intended to buy marijuana. They told the
police that there was a machete in their car, but Carmona did
not take it with him when he got into Becerra's car. The
police did not find any weapons on Carmona's body or any
marijuana at the crime scene.
friends gave the police Becerra's name, and during his
interview with the police, Becerra identified Appellant as
the shooter and Henderson as an accomplice to the planned
drug deal. The police searched Becerra's car and found
the bullet that had passed through Carmona in the trunk area.
Becerra told the police that he never saw the marijuana
Appellant was purportedly going to sell to Carmona, and he
assumed that Appellant had planned to rob Carmona from the
night after the shooting, Appellant was arrested. As he was
handcuffed, he said that he knew what the arrest was about
and he "didn't have nothing to do with it."
During an interview with the police the next day, Appellant
continued to assert that he was not involved in Carmona's
death. Henderson was arrested that day.
police later searched the woods behind the house in which
Appellant and Henderson had attended the party after the
shooting. They located in a plastic bag the clothes Appellant
had been wearing that day. The host of the party had found
the bloody clothes and thrown them in the woods on the day
after the shooting. Officers also found the revolver in the
same woods. DNA testing showed that Carmona's blood was
on Appellant's clothes, and ballistics testing showed
that the bullet recovered from Becerra's car was fired
from the revolver. A recording made by a security camera at
the community center across from the party house showed
Becerra's car arriving at the party just after the time
of the shooting and two unidentifiable individuals exiting
and walking toward the woods where the revolver was found
before returning to go into the house.
trial, Henderson testified that he and Appellant had no plans
to rob Carmona. Henderson claimed that Carmona became
aggressive and tried to get out of the car without paying for
the marijuana, and Appellant followed Carmona to get the
money Carmona owed him. Appellant testified that he got the
revolver from a friend and had it with him for protection at
the time of the shooting, as he had been asked to sell
marijuana to someone neither he nor Henderson, who had set up
the drug deal, knew. According to Appellant, Carmona became
aggressive after Appellant showed him the marijuana. Carmona
and Appellant left the car, and when Carmona hit Appellant
twice in the face, Appellant punched Carmona in the face.
Appellant claimed that Carmona then pulled "a
blade" from his waistband, and Appellant responded by
pulling out the revolver, which "just went off."
Appellant admitted that he shot Carmona, but asserted that he
pulled his gun in self-defense.
Appellant contends that the evidence summarized above was
legally insufficient to support his malice murder conviction.
We disagree. Although Appellant asserted at trial that he did
not intend to kill Carmona, "'[i]t was for the jury
to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve
any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence.'"
Vega v. State, 285 Ga. 32, 33 (673 S.E.2d 223)
(2009) (citation omitted). The State presented evidence that
Appellant took a revolver, but no marijuana, with him to the
drug deal; threatened Carmona, who was unarmed, with the gun;
told Carmona to give him Carmona's money; pulled Carmona
from the car and shot him; left the scene immediately,
leaving Carmona lying unconscious on the ground; disposed of
his revolver in the woods before going to a party; and then
claimed to the police that he had nothing to do with
Carmona's death. This evidence was sufficient to
authorize a rational jury to reject Appellant's claim
that he was defending himself when his gun accidently
discharged and to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
of malice murder. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979); Anthony
v. State, 298 Ga. 827, 829 (785 S.E.2d 277) (2016)
("The jury is free to reject any evidence in support of
a justification defense and to accept the evidence that the
shooting was not done in self-defense."). The evidence
was similarly sufficient to support Appellant's
convictions for attempted armed robbery, possession of a
firearm during the commission of a crime, and possession of a
firearm by a convicted felon.
Appellant contends that he was denied his Sixth Amendment
right to conflict-free counsel at trial. See Edwards v.
Lewis, 283 Ga. 345, 348 (658 S.E.2d 116) (2008)
("One component of the right to effective assistance of
counsel is the right to representation that is free of actual
conflicts of interests."). He cannot demonstrate that
such a constitutional violation occurred.
lead counsel before and during trial was Steve Blevins of the
Conasauga Circuit Public Defender's Office. As the trial
date approached, Kelly Wegel of the same office joined the
defense to replace an attorney on maternity leave. About ten
days before trial, Blevins became aware that Wegel was also
representing a man named Dennis Love on charges not related
to this case. The State had contacted Love about testifying
regarding a prior robbery by Appellant and had listed Love as
a witness in Appellant's case, and Wegel had discussed
with Love the possibility of testifying against Appellant.
When Blevins learned of this conflict of interests, the
Public Defender's Office found a lawyer not associated
with the office to represent Love and also appointed an
unaffiliated lawyer to represent Appellant. A week before
trial, however, Blevins, Wegel, and the prosecutor met with
the trial court in chambers, and the State announced that it
would not call Love as a witness. The trial court considered
the conflict resolved and instructed Blevins and Wegel to
continue their representation of Appellant. The other
attorney's brief appointment as Appellant's counsel
beginning of his trial, Appellant addressed the court, saying
that he was confused about who was representing him and that
he was "not comfortable" with Wegel because Love
had told him in jail that she had encouraged Love to testify
against Appellant. The court advised Appellant that the
conflict had been resolved because the State was not going to
call Love as a witness against him. Wegel told the court that
she and Love had discussed the subpoena he received from the
State, and she had advised him of his rights, but she did not
recall encouraging or discouraging Love to testify. Appellant
and Blevins were given some time to discuss whether Wegel
should continue as co-counsel, and Blevins then advised the
court that she would be discharged from the case. However,
later that day, Blevins informed the trial court that Wegel
would be rejoining the defense team, explaining that
Appellant was "fine" with her assisting Blevins in
his defense. After the court confirmed directly with
Appellant that he wanted Wegel to assist, she resumed the
'actual conflict, ' for Sixth Amendment purposes, is
a conflict of interest that adversely affects counsel's
performance, " not just "a mere theoretical
division of loyalties." Mickens v. Taylor, 535
U.S. 162, 171, 172 n.5 (122 S.Ct. 1237, 152 L.Ed.2d 291)
(2002). See also State v. Abernathy, 289 Ga. 603,
607 (715 S.E.2d 48) (2011) ("[I]n order to establish
ineffective assistance arising from a conflict of interest, a
defendant must show the existence of an actual conflict that
adversely affected counsel's performance.").
Wegel's representation of both Appellant and Love posed a
significant conflict issue when Love became a potential
witness against Appellant, and Blevins and Wegel dealt with
that issue appropriately by ensuring that both clients were
appointed new, unaffiliated counsel. Just a few days later,
however, and a week before trial, the concern about
simultaneous conflicting representations dissipated, when the
State announced that it would not call Love as a witness at
Appellant's trial. Compare Mitchell v. State,
261 Ga. 347, 349 (405 S.E.2d 38) (1991) (holding that an
actual conflict existed where defense counsel's
representation of a witness in an unrelated matter precluded
him from cross-examining the witness at the appellant's
when Appellant expressed concern at the outset of his trial
about Wegel's (but not Blevins's) representation of
him, the court, despite explaining that the conflict with
Love that Appellant referenced had been resolved, gave
Appellant the opportunity to discharge Wegel. Compare
Batesv. State, 306 Ga.App. 418, 418-419
(702 S.E.2d 460) (2010) (holding that the trial court did not
err in concluding that any conflict of interest arising from
the same public defender's office representing the
defendant and the woman arrested with him had been resolved
before trial and therefore requiring the defendant to choose
between representation ...