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Taylor v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 5, 2018


          MELTON, Presiding Justice.

         Following a jury trial, Yvette Taylor appeals her conviction for the felony murder of Theodore Crew, contending that the trial court made a number of evidentiary errors, including the introduction of improper character evidence and an allegedly involuntary confession.[1] For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the record shows that, at the time of the murder, Taylor served as a live-in caretaker for Crew, a disabled older man. On the evening of Crew's death, around 11:40 p.m., Taylor asked a neighbor, Tanya Griffin, for a ride to the store. While Griffin was getting ready, Taylor returned to her apartment to wait. When she returned to Griffin's apartment 15 minutes later, she was upset and complained for 10 to 15 minutes to Griffin about Crew, who had soiled himself. Taylor then changed her mind about going to the store. Around 12:15 a.m., Griffin saw Taylor go upstairs to her apartment. Thereafter, Taylor's neighbors began to hear noises including shouting, loud bumping like somebody hitting a wall, and sounds of a scuffle. One neighbor heard Crew say "Candace, " which is Taylor's nickname, and heard Taylor repeatedly shout "motherf***er."

         The next morning, Taylor called 911 and reported that she had found Crew dead. Crew's nude body was found on the bathroom floor; he had suffered 21 blunt force and 17 sharp force injuries on his head, neck, arms, chest, and hands. The medical examiner ruled Crew's death a homicide. Despite the signs of violent infliction of injury, there was less blood throughout the home than would be expected from Crew's injuries. Along with other factors, this indicated that the apartment had been bleached and cleaned.

         In an initial statement, Taylor told an inspector that she went straight to her mother's apartment and did not return to her own apartment after visiting Griffin. Later, at the police station, Taylor continued to maintain that she spent the night at her mother's apartment the night Crew was killed. She told police that Crew had been drinking beer that evening, a fact that may have explained why he was confused that "Candace" was in the apartment. The police terminated this questioning when Taylor asked for a lawyer.

         Taylor's mother, Irene, originally stated that Taylor stayed with her the night of the murder. However, she later admitted that Taylor came to her apartment but then left at some point. The following morning, Taylor woke Irene up between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., and told Irene not to scream and that Crew was dead. Irene then went to Taylor's apartment while Taylor called the police. Irene saw Taylor carrying a brown IGA bag and advised Taylor not to dispose of the bag in the dumpster near the apartment, as it would likely be searched. The police found a brown IGA bag in a wooded area near the apartment containing clothes, bloody paper towels, and a beer can of the same brand found in Taylor and Crew's refrigerator. They also found a box cutter a few feet from the bag.

         After Taylor had been arrested and was being held in jail, Sergeant April March, a corrections officer at the jail, became worried that Taylor was not eating sufficiently. She told Taylor that, if she would eat, Sergeant March would take her to the outdoor recreation area for a cigarette break. Taylor agreed, and during this cigarette break, the two started to talk about another inmate. Taylor then spontaneously admitted that she was tired of cleaning up after the victim and him watching her all the time. She added,

I cut him, I admit that but I didn't kill him. I asked him if he wanted me to take him to the hospital because it kind of freaked me out. He said, no . . . so I left and asked some girl for a ride. Other people saw him fall and stuff. We were partying and I'm not a murderess.

Sergeant March reported this statement to investigators.

         This evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find Taylor guilty of the crime for which she was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 71 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Taylor contends that the trial court erred when it admitted her videotaped police interrogation into evidence over trial counsel's objection, contending that the contents of the videotape improperly contained opinions given by police officers regarding her guilt, veracity, and character. We disagree.

          As an initial matter, we must consider the substance of Taylor's objection to this evidence at her Jackson-Denno hearing and at her subsequent trial. At the Jackson-Denno hearing, Taylor objected to "the instances where officers were throwing out scenarios about how [Taylor murdered Crew]." She argued that these scenarios should be redacted and that it was improper to admit the police officer's "varied ideas of how [Taylor] might be guilty." Taylor, however, gave no underlying basis for her objection. At trial, Taylor renewed her objection as to the "issues made at the Jackson-Denno hearing." She repeated that she found it objectionable to admit "scenarios thrown out by the police officers [as to] what might have happened." But, again, Taylor gave no specific grounds for this objection before the trial court denied it. For the first time, Taylor provided a reason for her objections in her motion for new trial, arguing that the police officers' statements improperly presented opinions regarding her guilt, veracity, and character. Taylor also argued that she had been unduly prejudiced as a ground for her objection for the first time on motion for new trial. Under the new Evidence Code, which applied to the trial of this case:

(a) Error shall not be predicated upon a ruling which admits or excludes evidence unless a substantial right of the party is affected and: (1) In case the ruling is one admitting evidence, a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was not apparent from the context.

         OCGA § 24-1-103 (a) (1). Therefore, Taylor's arguments are subject only to a plain error analysis. See OCGA § 24-1-103 (d) ("Nothing in this Code section shall preclude a court from taking notice of plain errors affecting substantial rights ...

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