Antwan Blount was convicted of murder and related offenses
arising out of the shooting death of Derrick Lee Merritt Jr.
and the wounding of Jamaris Antrellis Walter. On appeal,
Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to
support the convictions and that his trial counsel rendered
constitutionally ineffective assistance. Finding no error, we
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the
verdicts, the evidence adduced at trial established as
follows. On the evening of May 9, 2014, Kisha Pope, Shamilya
McClain, Appellant, and his girlfriend, Kiona Detweiler, were
exiting Bootleggers, a nightclub in Athens-Clarke County,
when a melee erupted in the parking lot. Pope and Detweiler
were part of the fray but were eventually pulled from the
ruckus and deposited in the backseat of a two-door green Ford
Mustang; McClain and Appellant were observed getting into the
drivers' seat and passenger seat, respectively, before
the vehicle drove off. Numerous witnesses testified that, as
the green Ford sped away, shots were fired from the
passenger-side window into the lingering crowd. The gunfire
killed Merritt and severely injured Walter, both of whom were
bystanders. When investigators interviewed Appellant, he
admitted firing from the fleeing vehicle into the crowd, but
he claimed that he did so in response to earlier gunfire and
thrown bottles. The jury heard testimony, however, that an
extensive "grid" search of the parking lot failed
to reveal broken bottles or evidence of shots fired from
argues that there was insufficient evidence of malice or
intent. "When evaluating the sufficiency of evidence,
the proper standard for review is whether a rational trier of
fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt." Morris v. State, 301 Ga.
702, 704 (804 S.E.2d 42) (2017) (citing Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560)
(1979)). "'This Court does not reweigh evidence or
resolve conflicts in testimony; instead, evidence is reviewed
in a light most favorable to the verdict, with deference to
the jury's assessment of the weight and credibility of
the evidence.'" (Citation omitted.) Hayes v.
State, 292 Ga. 506, 506 (739 S.E.2d 313) (2013).
Georgia, the crime of malice murder is committed when the
evidence shows either an express or, in the alternative, an
implied intent to commit an unlawful homicide.'"
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Kitchens v.
State, 287 Ga. 833, 834 (700 S.E.2d 563) (2010).
"Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully
to take the life of another human being which is manifested
by external circumstances capable of proof[, ]" and
malice may be implied "where no considerable provocation
appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show
an abandoned and malignant heart." OCGA § 16-5-1
(b). "It is for a jury to determine from all the facts
and circumstances whether a killing is intentional and
malicious." White v. State, 287 Ga. 713, 715
(1) (b) (699 S.E.2d 291) (2010). Here, the jury heard
testimony that, after his girlfriend had been involved in a
large-scale physical altercation in the club's parking
lot, Appellant - who was a convicted felon - fired a weapon
into the lingering crowd as he was leaving, killing Merritt.
As discussed above, the State also adduced testimony that
nothing found at the scene suggested that Appellant had been
provoked or attacked with guns or bottles.
the evidence as summarized above was sufficient to authorize
a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable
doubt that Appellant was guilty of the crimes of which he was
convicted, see Jackson v. Virginia, supra, and this
argument is without merit.
Appellant also argues, as he did below, that trial counsel
was ineffective in a number of ways. To establish ineffective
assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that his trial
counsel's performance was professionally deficient and
that, but for such deficient performance, there is a
reasonable probability that the result of the trial would
have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668 (III) (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984);
Wesley v. State, 286 Ga. 355 (3) (689 S.E.2d 280)
(2010). To prove deficient performance, one must show that
his attorney "performed at trial in an objectively
unreasonable way considering all the circumstances and in the
light of prevailing professional norms." Romer v.
State, 293 Ga. 339, 344 (745 S.E.2d 637) (2013).
"[T]o show that he was prejudiced by the performance of
his lawyer, [Appellant] must prove 'a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional
errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different. A reasonable probability is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.'"
Arnold v. State, 292 Ga. 268, 269 (737 S.E.2d 98)
(2013) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694 (III)
(B)). "If an appellant fails to meet his or her burden
of proving either prong of the Strickland test, the
reviewing court does not have to examine the other
prong." Rector v. State, 285 Ga. 714, 716 (681
S.E.2d 157) (2009).
Appellant contends that trial counsel was ineffective for
failing to exhaust his peremptory strikes and remove jurors
who, he says, expressed potential bias. Specifically,
Appellant argues that trial counsel should have struck Juror
6, who had worked with the victim's father; Juror 9, who
had met the lead detective and thought he was a "nice
guy"; and Juror 31, who had known and gone to church
with Merritt when Merritt was a child. Even if we were
to presume that trial counsel's failure to strike Jurors
6, 9, and 31 amounted to deficient performance - which we do
not decide - Appellant has failed to demonstrate prejudice.
Notably, Juror 6 was eventually removed from the jury for
cause and, thus, played no role in the jury's verdicts;
Jurors 9 and 31, both of whom were seated on the jury, each
affirmed his or her ability to act as a fair and impartial
juror. Appellant has not suggested that Jurors 9 and 31 were
not qualified to serve, that the jurors harbored any
prejudice toward him, or that Jurors 9 and 31 were unwilling
to acquit Appellant for reasons unrelated to the arguments
and evidence presented at trial. See Simpson v.
State, 298 Ga. 314, 319 (781 S.E.2d 762) (2016).
Accordingly, Appellant is not entitled to relief.
Count seven charged Appellant with Possession of a Firearm by
a Convicted Felon, and the language of that count reflects
that Appellant was previously convicted of "Entering
Auto" and "Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted
Felon." At trial, Appellant stipulated his status as a
convicted felon to avoid having the details of the offenses
being presented to the jury. According to Appellant, this
effort was thwarted when the trial court read the language of
the indictment to the jury at the close of trial and then
provided the indictment to the jury during deliberations.
Appellant asserts that trial counsel should have objected in
both instances and was ineffective for failing to do so.
whether trial counsel performed deficiently in this regard,
Appellant has failed to demonstrate prejudice. At most, the
language of the indictment informed the jury of the statutory
titles of the prior felonies; the jury was not advised of the
relevant facts underlying those convictions, and neither of
the two convictions was the type of prior offense that would
be likely to inflame the passions of the jury and raise a
significant risk of conviction based on improper
considerations. See Wallace v. State, 294 Ga. 257
(3) (b) (754 S.E.2d 5) (2013). Accordingly, Appellant is not
entitled to relief.
Appellant claims that trial counsel was ineffective for
failing to object to testimony concerning Appellant's
statement to investigators and for failing to inquire as to
the voluntariness of that statement. This enumeration of
error, however, includes no meaningful argument and no
citation to authority whatsoever; accordingly, this argument
is deemed abandoned under Supreme Court Rule 22. See Moss
v. State, 298 Ga. 613 (5) (e) (783 S.E.2d 652) (2016).
Even if we consider the merits of the argument,
Appellant's claim is without merit. As trial counsel
testified in the motion for new trial hearing, Appellant
waived his Miranda rights prior to making his
statement, and there was little indication that the statement
was involuntary. Likewise, counsel explained that there was
strategic value in having the statement presented at trial;
the jury learned that Appellant claimed he was acting in self
defense and that the weapon he claimed to have used, a .38
caliber firearm, did not match the murder weapon.
Accordingly, Appellant has failed to demonstrate either
deficient performance or prejudice, and this argument fails.
Appellant testified at the motion for new trial hearing that
trial counsel advised him not to testify because he had two
prior felony convictions; on appeal, Appellant contends that
this advice was unreasonable because the jury was already
aware of those convictions and because a pre-trial order
would have prohibited the State from delving into the details
of those offenses. This argument fails, however, because the
trial court specifically discounted Appellant's testimony
as "less than consistent" regarding "whether
counsel discussed the right to testify and how to make that
decision." Instead, the trial court determined, and the
hearing transcript supports, that trial counsel's advice
on Appellant taking the stand was premised on sound strategic
considerations, such as how a skilled cross-examination of
Appellant could have proved harmful to Appellant's
defense. Further, the record reflects that the trial court
engaged in a colloquy with Appellant concerning his right to
testify, wherein Appellant was fully apprised of his rights
and informed that the decision to testify was his alone to
make. Accordingly, Appellant has failed to demonstrate either
deficient performance or prejudice and, thus, is not entitled
to relief. See Domingues v. State, 277 Ga. 373 (2)
(589 S.E.2d 102) (2003).
Appellant contends that the State, during its closing
argument, presented the jury with erroneous legal standards
concerning implied malice and that, because trial counsel
failed to object, the jury was allowed to find Appellant
guilty of malice murder based on a diminished level of
intent. However, the record reflects that trial counsel did,
in fact, object to the State's argument; as a
consequence, the jury was informed that any instruction on
the relevant law would come from the trial court and that
closing arguments were merely an opportunity for the
attorneys to argue how, in their opinion, the law should be
applied to the facts. Following closing argument, the trial
court adequately and properly instructed the jury on malice,
both express and implied, as well as the State's burden
of proof. "[Q]ualified jurors under oath are presumed to
follow the instructions of the trial court, Holmes v.
State, 273 Ga. 644 (5) (c) (543 S.E.2d 688) (2001), and
[Appellant] has not shown that the jurors were so confused or
misled by the State's argument that they ignored the
trial court's proper instructions setting forth the
law." Allen v. State, 277 Ga. 502, 503 (591
S.E.2d 784) (2004). Accordingly, Appellant has demonstrated
neither deficient performance nor prejudice, and he is not
entitled to relief on this claim.
Appellant next asserts that trial counsel rendered
constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to move
for a directed verdict as to count one, malice murder.
However, this enumeration of error fails to include either
citation to authority or meaningful legal argument; as such,
this enumeration of error is deemed abandoned under Supreme
Court Rule 22. See Moss, supra. Even so, this claim
is meritless; because "the evidence was sufficient to
sustain [Appellant's] conviction for malice murder, any
motion for directed verdict would have failed, and trial