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Ware v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 18, 2018

WARE
v.
THE STATE.

          Grant, Justice.

         Appellant Robert Ware was found guilty of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the December 2015 shooting death of his wife, Michelle Ware.[1] On appeal, Ware asserts that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his felony murder conviction, and that the trial court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter and in allowing the State to introduce a piece of "other acts" evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b). Because we find no reversible error, we affirm.

          I.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed that Ware spent the afternoon of December 6, 2015 watching a football game and drinking beer at a friend's house. When Ware got home that evening, he was confronted by his wife Michelle, who expressed frustration about his drinking (an ongoing issue for the couple) and his lack of employment. Ware expressed remorse, but Michelle said that she did not think he'd be able to change. She then said, "Robert, I'm seeing somebody else that I'm in love with." Ware looked at her without speaking, and Michelle continued, "It's not going to work between us because I can't love you no more." Ware then grabbed a pistol from the drawer next to him and shot Michelle at close range in the back of the head. Not wanting their nine-year-old daughter (who was in the shower) to see him, Ware fled the scene.

         After Ware fled, Michelle's nineteen-year-old daughter (Ware's stepdaughter), who was also at the residence at the time of the shooting, found Michelle lying on the floor, bloodied and unresponsive. Michelle's older daughter called 911 and tried, unsuccessfully, to resuscitate her mother. When police arrived, the older daughter told them that Ware had killed her mother, and police issued a "be on the lookout" for Ware.

         That same night, a Georgia state trooper spotted Ware's vehicle driving in Washington, Georgia and activated his blue lights. Ware first increased his speed, but then stopped after a short, high-speed pursuit. Other officers arrived on the scene and Ware was arrested. Police recovered a firearm from Ware's vehicle, and testing later confirmed that it had fired the bullet recovered during Michelle's autopsy.

         Ware admitted to the jury that he shot and killed Michelle after she told him that she was seeing someone else whom she loved. He also testified that about two months before the shooting, he saw Michelle hug and kiss another man at her place of employment. And he told the jury that about a month later, he had discovered a receipt from a Florida hospital under the mattress that he and Michelle shared, but that he had been unaware that Michelle had traveled to Florida. According to Ware, when he confronted Michelle about the Florida receipt, she said "it's nothing." Later, in an unprompted conversation, Michelle said that when she went to the hospital in Florida, she was prescribed something that caused her to have "female issues, " and she asked Ware if he had been having any issues "downstairs." These events led Ware to doubt Michelle's fidelity. Ware's neighbor also testified that Ware had periodically shared his suspicion that Michelle was cheating on him, and had said a few months before the killing that he had come close to shooting and killing her the night before. Forensic evidence, including the presence of Michelle's DNA on the firearm recovered from Ware's vehicle and the presence of gunshot residue on Ware's clothing, further confirmed that Ware was the shooter.

         II.

         Ware argues that the evidence supporting his felony murder conviction is insufficient because he acted on impulse and in the heat of passion when Michelle told him that their relationship was over and that she loved another man, thus showing a lack of evidence that he intended to kill her. This argument is meritless and misplaced. Felony murder does not require intent to kill; rather, "[f]elony murder requires only that the defendant possessed the requisite criminal intent to commit the underlying felony"-in this case, aggravated assault, which also does not require intent to kill. Chapman v. State, 275 Ga. 314, 316 (565 S.E.2d 442) (2002). And in any event, "[c]riminal intent is a question for the jury and may be inferred from conduct before, during and after the commission of the crime." Glenn v. State, 279 Ga. 277, 277-278 (612 S.E.2d 478) (2005) (citation and punctuation omitted). Given Ware's admission at trial that he shot and killed Michelle, his prior statements that he suspected her of "cheating on him" and that he had "almost" shot and killed her before, his flight from the scene and subsequent flight from law enforcement, and the other evidence admitted at trial indicating that he shot Michelle, the evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Ware was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979); see also Faust v. State, 302 Ga. 211, 213 (805 S.E.2d 826) (2017) ("[C]onflicts in the evidence, questions about the credibility of witnesses, and questions about the existence of justification are for the jury to resolve.") (citation and punctuation omitted).

         III.

         Perhaps more relevant to his claims that he acted out of passion, Ware argues that the trial court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Still, we disagree.

         Voluntary manslaughter is the killing of another human being under circumstances that would otherwise be murder when the killer "acts solely as the result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person." OCGA § 16-5-2 (a). A jury charge on voluntary manslaughter "is required only when there is some evidence that the defendant acted" in this manner. Graham v. State, 301 Ga. 675, 677 (804 S.E.2d 113) (2017). "And '[i]t is a question of law for the courts to determine whether the defendant presented any evidence of sufficient provocation to excite the passions of a reasonable person.'" Id. (quoting Campbell v. State, 292 Ga. 766, 767 (740 S.E.2d 115) (2013)).

         We have long held that "words alone, regardless of the degree of their insulting nature, 'will not in any case justify the excitement of passion so as to reduce the crime from murder to manslaughter where the killing is done solely on account of the indignation aroused by use of opprobrious words.'" Brooks v. State, 249 Ga. 583, 585 (292 S.E.2d 694) (1982) (quoting Coleman v. State, 149 Ga. 186, 186 (99 SE 627) (1919)) (emphasis in original) (punctuation omitted); see also Paul v. State, 274 Ga. 601, 605 (555 S.E.2d 716) (2001); Pace v. State, 258 Ga. 225, 226 (367 S.E.2d 803) (1988). We have recognized, however, a limited exception to this rule for words informing a defendant of "adulterous conduct." Brooks, 249 Ga. at 585. In that one circumstance, we have held that words alone may constitute the "serious provocation sufficient to excite" a "sudden, violent and irresistible passion" sufficient to require a jury charge on voluntary manslaughter. Id.

         In Brooks, for example, we found that because the victim taunted her husband "with a graphic description of her sexual activities with other men, " her "adulterous conduct rather than the words describing this conduct" authorized a jury charge on voluntary manslaughter. Id. We reiterated this point in Lynn v. State, finding that the victim's statements to the defendant that she "recently had been unfaithful to him, " was having affairs with other men, and that she could not be satisfied by only one man "might properly have formed a basis for the jury to ...


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