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Robinson v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 15, 2018


          Boggs, Justice.

         After a jury trial, Ted Debaise Robinson was found guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, attempted armed robbery, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in connection with the killing of Timothy Lee Buck.[1] His amended motion for new trial was denied, and he appeals, asserting insufficiency of the evidence, the trial court's failure to charge on corroboration of accomplice testimony, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         Construed to support the verdict, the evidence showed that on the evening of June 20, 2012, Robinson, his next door neighbor and "cousin-in-law" Justin Cody Wise, and their acquaintance Antonio Linley met at Robinson's home, where Robinson lived with his wife and father-in-law. The three agreed on a plan to rob the victim because Linley owed Robinson $300, and Robinson had observed the victim in possession of a large amount of cash. When Wise and Linley first went to the nearby house where the victim was visiting, Robinson told them that "a family matter [was] going on, " that a man had alcohol poisoning and 911 had been called. He instructed them to wait until the ambulance drove away. Wise and Linley then approached the house, armed with a baseball bat, but retreated when they realized that they had been seen. Robinson, "furious" because they did not "get the money, " then provided Linley with a revolver belonging to his father-in-law. Linley took the bullets out of the revolver and put them in his sock, but Robinson angrily told him to reload the gun, and that Linley "was going to kill the man and get the money." Robinson accompanied Linley and Wise back to the house, where they found the victim asleep in a chair on the front porch. Linley shot the victim in the head, then entered the house in search of cash and valuables, while Wise turned out the victim's pockets. Finding nothing, and disturbed by the presence of other occupants, they fled.

         In the morning, the owner of the house approached the victim on the porch, believing that he was still intoxicated, but found him "cold" and called police. Police found blood on the porch, loose change, a cigarette lighter, and the victim's wallet, still containing a large amount of money. The medical examiner testified that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Meanwhile, Robinson and Wise, concerned because the victim's death had become known, got Linley out of the subdivision by a path through the woods. As they crossed a stream, Wise threw a rifle into the water, and Linley kept the gun used to shoot the victim.

         Police talked to witnesses and began trying to locate other individuals who may have been present. Robinson was among those interviewed, and he gave a false name to police. Later, after Robinson was identified by the police as a person who had been at the scene of the murder earlier in the day, he told them that he could "help [them] . . . about the dead guy." After he told police that Linley had his father-in-law's gun, Robinson agreed to participate in a controlled telephone call, and then a meeting to retrieve the gun. Linley produced a .38 revolver; the firearm was registered in the name of Robinson's father-in-law. After police interviewed Linley, they recovered a .22 rifle from Pumpkinvine Creek and a baseball bat from the driveway of Wise's residence.[2]

         1. Robinson first contends that the evidence was insufficient because Linley's testimony was not corroborated as a matter of law.

Although OCGA § 24-14-8 provides that corroboration is required to support a guilty verdict in "felony cases where the only witness is an accomplice, " only slight evidence of corroboration is required. The necessary corroboration may consist entirely of circumstantial evidence, and evidence of the defendant's conduct before and after the crime was committed may give rise to an inference that he participated in the crime.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Huff v. State, 300 Ga. 807, 809 (1) (796 S.E.2d 688) (2017). The evidence "need not be sufficient in and of itself to warrant a conviction, so long as it is independent of the accomplice's testimony and directly connects the defendant to the crime or leads to the inference of guilt. The sufficiency of the corroboration is a matter for the jury to decide." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Parks v. State, 302 Ga. 345, 348 (806 S.E.2d 529) (2017).

         Here, the State presented ample evidence corroborating Linley's testimony. A witness testified that Robinson, earlier in the day, was present when the victim opened his wallet to reveal a large amount of cash. Robinson acknowledged to police that he was present at that time. Another witness saw Robinson with Wise inside the house on the night of the murder.

         After initially giving police a false name, Robinson volunteered to help police "about the dead guy" and recover his father-in-law's gun from Linley, who at that time was unknown to the police. Robinson agreed to "do a controlled phone call" with Linley, and police arranged for Wise's mother to bring a cell phone that Robinson sometimes used to the police station to make the call, because Linley would recognize that number. In his telephone conversation with Linley, which was recorded by police and played for the jury, Robinson made incriminating statements regarding the location of the murder weapon, retrieving it, and "get[ting] the story straight." A controlled recovery of the firearm was then arranged; police first searched Wise's mother's vehicle and then followed it to Linley's grandmother's home, where Robinson retrieved a .38 revolver. The revolver was registered to Robinson's father in law, and the bullet recovered from the victim's body was consistent with the firearm. Telephone records from the cell phone that Robinson used to make the controlled call showed 12 calls with Linley on the day of the shooting. This is ample corroboration of Linley's testimony, and the evidence was sufficient under Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Relying on Stanbury v. State, 299 Ga. 125, 130 (2) (786 S.E.2d 672) (2016), Robinson contends that the trial court committed plain error when it failed to instruct the jury on corroboration.[3] In conducting a plain error analysis,

the proper inquiry is whether the instruction was erroneous, whether it was obviously so, and whether it likely affected the outcome of the proceedings. If all three of these questions are answered in the affirmative, the appellate court has the discretion to reverse if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the proceedings below. Satisfying all four prongs of this standard is difficult, as it should be.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) State v. Kelly, 290 Ga. 29, 33 (2) (a) (718 S.E.2d 232) (2011).

         Robinson argues that the trial court omitted the corroboration charge while also instructing the jury that the testimony of a single witness is sufficient to prove a fact. That misleading single-witness instruction amounted to plain error in Stanbury, id. at 131-132 (2), but it was not given here. Robinson argues that the trial court instructed the jury that it "could use Linley's testimony as direct evidence of guilt." As Robinson acknowledges, however, this argument is merely his extrapolation from part of the trial court's general instruction on direct and circumstantial evidence that "[d]irect evidence most ...

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