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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

April 16, 2018

WILLIAMS
v.
THE STATE.

          MELTON, Presiding Justice.

         Following a jury trial, Michael Williams was found guilty of malice murder and other offenses in connection with the beating death of four-year-old Nasir Patrick.[1] On appeal, Williams contends that the trial court erred in denying him funds to obtain a medical expert, that his trial counsel was ineffective, and that the trial court erred in striking "juror number 10" for cause. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the record shows that Williams and Yakeera Patrick were in a romantic relationship. Ms. Patrick had two children, Nasir and Joy (ages four and three, respectively). Williams occasionally babysat for Ms. Patrick when she was at work and did not have alternative childcare. In the afternoon on January 25, 2012, the children were alone with Williams while their mother was at work. Around 5:00 p.m., paramedics were dispatched to Ms. Patrick's home, where they found Nasir lying on the floor having a seizure.

         When Nasir arrived at the hospital, he was treated by Dr. Brian Costello, and Nasir was unresponsive to touch, verbal, or painful stimulus. Nasir's right pupil was dilated larger than the left and unresponsive to light, which showed signs of severely increased pressure on the brain.

         Nasir was transferred to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, where he was seen by Dr. Stephen Messner, a child abuse pediatrician. Nasir had a fracture at the back of his skull and swelling of the brain. Blood covered the brain, including under the brain's surface and between the two halves. The location of blood throughout the brain indicated that significant, or possibly repeated, force had been applied to the head.

         Nasir died on February 6, 2012, after being taken off life support. The autopsy by the Fulton County Medical Examiner revealed that Nasir died of blunt force trauma to the head. In the medical examiner's opinion, the fracture to Nasir's skull was the result of an adult pounding Nasir's head against a hard surface, which made the injury "catastrophic, " instantly rendering Nasir "nonfunctional" and "comatose." There was also evidence of two additional impacts, one to the right side of Nasir's head and one to the forehead, which caused bleeding beneath the scalp. The two additional head injuries appeared to have occurred within the same time frame as the fatal injury. Although Nasir had previously experienced febrile seizures, the medical examiner concluded that Nasir's pre-existing medical conditions did not contribute to his death.

         On January 26, 2012, Williams waived his Miranda rights and gave a statement to police. He stated that Nasir had been complaining about his head hurting for a few days. The day Williams was babysitting, Nasir was sweating through his shirt during his nap. After Nasir awoke, he ate, but then threw up. Nasir then played on the floor with his toy trucks. When Nasir stood up, he appeared dizzy, and he fell backwards onto one of his plastic toy trucks and his eyes rolled back in his head.

         Nasir's younger sister, Joy, testified that Williams hurt Nasir with a belt and whipped him in the head and legs with a television remote. While Nasir was at the hospital, Ms. Patrick's cousin, Kearta Sewell, overheard Williams speaking on his phone, where he said, "I whooped him, but I didn't whoop him that much." Williams told a neighbor, Anthony Garrett, that "If that baby die, they going to give me life." When Garrett inquired as to why that would happen, Williams replied, "I ain't mean for that to happen."

         The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Williams guilty of malice murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Williams contends that the trial court erred in denying him funds to obtain a medical expert. We disagree.

         The decision whether to grant or deny a motion for an expert witness rests within the sound discretion of the trial court, and that decision will be upheld on appeal absent abuse of discretion. Crawford v. State, 267 Ga. 881, 883 (2) (485 S.E.2d 461) (1997). In order to obtain funds for an expert witness, a motion on behalf of an indigent criminal defendant

should disclose to the trial court, with a reasonable degree of precision, why certain evidence is critical, what type of scientific testimony is needed, what that expert proposes to do regarding the evidence, and the anticipated costs for services. Lacking this information, a trial court will find it difficult to assess the need for assistance.

Roseboro v. State, 258 Ga. 39, 41(2) (d) (365 S.E.2d 115) (1988). Here, Williams made no showing to the trial court as to what the expert proposed to do regarding the evidence, or what the anticipated cost for the expert's services would be. Due to Williams' failure to provide sufficient information to the trial court to allow the court to make an informed decision about his need for assistance, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion for funds. See id. at 41 (2) (e).[2]

         3. Williams also argues that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to provide the trial court with sufficient information to allow it to grant ...


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