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Smith v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 7, 2018

SMITH
v.
THE STATE.

          Grant, Justice.

         Deion Smith was found guilty of malice murder and arson in connection with the violent death of 15-year-old Jasmine Moore.[1] Smith now appeals, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of the indictment and failing to thoroughly cross-examine Smith's codefendant, Tyberius Murchinson. Because we find that Smith's trial counsel was not constitutionally ineffective, we affirm.

         I.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed the following. Shortly before her death, Moore told her cousin, Murchinson's sister Teyonka, that she might be pregnant with Smith's child. At the time, Teyonka herself was pregnant by Smith. After Smith became aware that Moore might be pregnant, he discussed the situation with Murchinson, telling him that he wanted to kill Moore.

         At the time of the murder, Moore lived with her mother. On the evening of August 8, 2009, Moore's mother left their home at around 9:15 p.m. to go to work. Moore's mother had just recently begun letting Moore stay home alone while she worked the night shift, on the condition that Moore was not to open the door for anyone.

         Sometime after Moore's mother left for work, Smith and Murchinson met at Smith's home. They gathered a kitchen knife, a claw hammer, and cloth gloves for each of them, and walked to Moore's house. Smith carried the hammer, and Murchinson carried the knife. When they arrived at Moore's house, the front door was locked and Moore did not answer the door, so they left and went to a nearby Huddle House. Cell phone records introduced at trial showed several texts between Smith and Moore between 11:08 p.m. and 11:45 p.m., in which Smith told Moore that he and Murchinson were coming back and to open the front door. Moore texted that the front door was open, and Smith responded, confirming that they were on their way. Smith sent no texts between 11:46 p.m. and 12:15 a.m., and although he resumed texting at 12:16 a.m., he never again attempted to contact Moore. The last text message Moore ever sent was to Smith at 11:45 p.m. on August 8, 2009, acknowledging that Smith was on his way to her house.

         A witness encountered Smith and Murchinson walking between the Huddle House and Moore's home shortly before midnight. She recognized the boys and greeted them. They seemed startled to see her, but returned her greeting and kept walking.

         Upon arrival at the Moores' home, Smith went with Moore to Moore's bedroom, while Murchinson remained in the front of the house. After a while, Smith began beating Moore with the hammer, and Murchinson heard Moore exclaim that her head was bleeding. Murchinson stood in the hallway and listened to Moore screaming as Smith continued to hit her with the hammer, following her to the bedroom doorway where she finally fell. Smith handed Murchinson the hammer, and Murchinson hit Moore with the hammer on her head and upper body as she lay on the floor, to make sure that she was dead. Both boys wore the cloth gloves they had brought with them.

         After Moore was dead, Smith and Murchinson poured bleach and dumped paper trash from a wastebasket on her body. Smith went to the stove, lit a piece of paper, and set the debris on top of Moore on fire. When a smoke alarm near her body began going off, one of the two pulled it out of the ceiling. Smith and Murchinson dumped the knife, hammer, and Moore's cell phone in a storm drain near Moore's house and went back to Smith's house to shower and burn their clothing in a fire barrel.

         Later that morning, Moore's mother returned home from work to find the house full of smoke. She called out for Moore and found her body at the end of the hall near her bedroom door. An autopsy revealed that Moore had at least 18 blunt force injuries to the face and head, consistent with being hit with a hammer; at least 8 sharp force injuries to the head, consistent with being cut with a knife; and multiple smaller blunt and sharp force injuries, including defensive injuries to the arms and hands. The autopsy also showed that Moore had been killed before her body was burned-and that she was not in fact pregnant at the time of her death.

         Although Smith and Murchinson were questioned during the initial murder investigation, both denied any involvement in the crime. Smith gave authorities his cell phone number, and cell phone records revealed the text messages between Smith and Moore on the night of the murder. There was not enough evidence to obtain warrants, however, and the case went unsolved for almost five years.

         In June 2014, after attending a three-night Baptist revival, Murchinson turned himself in to the Alma Police Department and confessed his role in Moore's murder. The storm drain that Murchinson identified was searched, and Moore's cell phone and a kitchen knife were discovered inside the drain about a foot apart. Smith and Murchinson were arrested and indicted for malice murder, felony murder, and first degree arson. Days before trial, Murchinson pled guilty to aggravated assault and arson and was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, he testified for the State at Smith's trial.

         Although Smith does not challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, we have reviewed the record according to our usual practice in murder cases and conclude that the evidence introduced at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Smith guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of ...


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