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Jacobs v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 5, 2018


          MELTON, Presiding Justice.

         Following a jury trial, John Alan Jacobs was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection with the shooting death of his wife, Harriette.[1] On appeal, Jacobs contends that the trial court erred in allowing certain statements of Harriette to be admitted at trial under the residual hearsay exception contained in OCGA § 24-8-807; that the trial court erred in its instruction on good character evidence; and that his trial counsel was ineffective. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at trial revealed that Harriette had filed for divorce from Jacobs after discovering that he had been cheating on her. On October 10, 2014, six days before the couple was scheduled to appear in court in connection with the divorce proceedings, police responded to a call to Jacobs' home. Jacobs met police at the gate of his home and informed them that he had returned home from a festival to find his wife sitting in a rocking chair on the couple's back porch, dead from an ostensibly self-inflicted gunshot wound through her cheek. However, the investigation at the scene revealed that the area had been staged to look like a suicide rather than a murder. Specifically, despite the large amount of blood that had dried and congealed around the place where Harriette's body was seated, the gun found on the floor beside Harriette and near Harriette's outstretched right arm was "essentially clean" and had almost no blood on it, indicating that, according to one of the State's experts, the gun had been placed on the floor "well after the bloodshed event [had] stopped." There was also a coffee stain on Harriette's shirt and a coffee cup, which was turned upside down, on the wood floor on the opposite side of Harriette from where the gun was found. But, much like the gun found at the scene, there were no blood stains on the coffee cup. This showed that the cup had also been placed where it was found after the blood had stopped flowing from Harriette's wound. There was also a blood transfer stain on the right hand arm of the rocking chair that Harriette was sitting in, indicating that Harriette's right arm had originally been resting on the arm rest of the chair while she was in a natural sitting position, and then her arm was moved after it became saturated with blood. Harriette's hands also tested negative for gunshot residue, and the State's medical examiner determined that, based on gun powder stippling, Harriette had to have been shot from a minimum distance of six inches away. The .38 caliber revolver used to kill Harriette was owned by Jacobs, and he kept this gun hidden behind a portrait of a family member in the master bedroom of the house.

         When Jacobs was questioned by the GBI, one of the agents noticed drops of what appeared to be blood on Jacobs' shoe. This led to a forensic examination of Jacobs' clothes, which revealed twenty drops of Harriette's blood on Jacobs' left pant leg and ten drops of her blood on his right pant leg, and revealed that the drops of blood on his shoes came from Harriette's body. The lead GBI agent who investigated the crime scene testified that the drops on Jacobs' clothing appeared to have been caused by Harriette's blood dripping from her body, striking the blood already pooling on the ground, and splashing onto Jacobs.

         At trial, the trial court allowed various witnesses who were close friends and confidantes of Harriette to testify about statements allegedly made to them by Harriette before she died. Specifically, a "really good friend[]" of Harriette's, Marilisse Mars, who had known Harriette through church for years and with whom Harriette had confided about her life, testified that Harriette told her that she was worried and afraid, and that if anything ever happened to Harriette, Jacobs would have been the one who did it. Mars also testified that Harriette told her that, no matter what it might look like, Harriette would never hurt herself. Another witness, Patricia Briscoe, who had been close friends with Harriette since 1993 and with whom Harriette would sometimes spend the holidays, testified that Harriette expressed to her that she was concerned for her own safety, because Jacobs had said that he would throw Harriette into a pond or put her in the woods where no one would ever find her. Briscoe even gave Harriette a set of keys to her sister's house in case Harriette felt unsafe at home and needed a place to stay. Briscoe also testified that Harriette instructed her to "go to the highest mountaintop and yell and scream and tell the world" that Harriette did not hurt herself, if anything ever happened to Harriette. A third close friend, Kimberly Dawn Jacobs, met Harriette in 1974, and she and Harriette were "like sisters" going to school together in high school. Dawn Jacobs reconnected with Harriette at a high school reunion in 2013, and the two remained "like sisters, " communicating several times per week and sharing about their "day to day lives, [their children], what was going on personally, [and] everything." Dawn Jacobs testified that Harriette told her that Jacobs said he could make Harriette disappear and never be heard from again; that Jacobs would disinherit their children; that Jacobs would stop paying for the children's schooling if Harriette ever left him; and that Jacobs said that he did not mind going to prison. Another witness, Chip Allgood, met Harriette when she was fifteen and he was eighteen, and he reconnected with her through Facebook in 2014. After several conversations and getting closer to each other over time, she began having an affair with Allgood. Allgood testified that Harriette told him that Jacobs was very controlling in their relationship and that she only stayed in the relationship as long as she did because she was afraid that her children would not receive financial help if she left him. Allgood also testified that Harriette told him that she had gotten into a scuffle with Jacobs at one point where Jacobs became physically violent with her. In this regard, evidence was also introduced at trial which revealed that Harriette had called the police to her home on two occasions where she was involved in domestic disputes with Jacobs. In one of these disputes, which Harriette also revealed through text messages to Mars, the couple had gotten into a physical fight. Harriette spent the night at Dawn Jacobs' home after this incident. Harriette and Jacobs' son also testified at length about witnessing Jacobs' controlling nature over Harriette.

         The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Jacobs guilty of all of the crimes of 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. Jacobs claims that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence at trial the statements that Harriette made to Mars, Briscoe, Dawn Jacobs, and Allgood. We disagree.

         The admissibility of the statements in question is governed by the residual hearsay exception contained in OCGA § 24-8-807 ("Rule 807") of Georgia's new Evidence Code. That code section states in relevant part:

A statement not specifically covered by any law but having equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness shall not be excluded by the hearsay rule, if the court determines that: (1) The statement is offered as evidence of a material fact; (2) The statement is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence which the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts; and (3) The general purposes of the rules of evidence and the interests of justice will best be served by admission of the statement into evidence.

         Jacobs does not dispute that all of the statements at issue were offered as evidence of material facts; that they were more probative on the points for which they were offered than other evidence which could have been procured through reasonable efforts; and that the general purpose of the rules of evidence and the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statements into evidence. He contends only that the statements did not have sufficient "guarantees of trustworthiness" in order to be admissible under the residual hearsay exception. Jacobs is incorrect.

         In interpreting Rule 807, we must bear in mind that

[i]n 2011, our General Assembly enacted a new Evidence Code, of which Rule [807] is a part. Many provisions of the new Evidence Code were borrowed from the Federal Rules of Evidence, and when our courts consider the meaning of these provisions, they look to decisions of the federal appeals courts construing and applying the Federal Rules, especially the decisions of the Eleventh Circuit. See Parker v. State, 296 Ga. 586, 592 (3) (a) (769 S.E.2d 329) (2015).

State v. Frost, 297 Ga. 296, 299 (773 S.E.2d 700) (2015). Here, Georgia's Rule 807 is based on Federal Rule of Evidence 807, and it is not a Rule that has been carried over from Georgia's old Evidence Code. Compare Rule 807 with Fed.R.Evid. 807 and former OCGA ยง 24-3-1 (describing ...

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