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Menzies v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 29, 2018


          GRANT, JUSTICE.

         Following a jury trial, Christina Menzies was found guilty of felony murder, criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, and related crimes in connection with the shooting death of Menzies's sister Jennifer during an attempted armed robbery.[1] On appeal, Menzies contends that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdicts, that the trial court erred in denying her motion for directed verdict at the close of the State's case, that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move for a mistrial in response to a comment made by the prosecuting attorney in closing argument, and that the trial court erred in failing to exclude certain statements Menzies made while alone in an interview room at the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office. None of these claims succeed, and we affirm.


         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed that Menzies devised a scheme to steal hair (intended to be used in hair weaves) from Kap Suk Sims; Menzies knew Sims because she had purchased hair from her on several prior occasions. Menzies recruited her sister Jennifer and coindictee Jaquan Mareek House to join her in the robbery, which she referred to as a "hair weave jug." House subsequently enlisted his friends, coindictees Brandon Lamothe and James Edwards, for additional assistance. The group planned to sell the hair after the robbery.

         On the morning of December 11, 2013, Menzies told Sims by telephone that she wanted to meet her to buy hair, and that Sims should bring as much hair as possible because Menzies had four cousins and an aunt who were also interested buyers. Menzies asked Sims to come alone, but Sims refused. Still, she agreed to meet Menzies that night.

         Sims called her boyfriend, Barry Morton, and requested that he accompany her to the sale. Morton agreed, and they made arrangements to meet Menzies later that night in the recreation area of the Fountain Crest subdivision in Rockdale County.

         After meeting at Jennifer's house, Lamothe, Edwards, House, and Jennifer drove to the meeting place in one car, with Menzies driving separately in her own car. House, Lamothe, and Edwards had picked up a gun earlier that evening, and Edwards had the weapon with him. Menzies parked her car in the parking lot for the subdivision's swimming pool while House parked nearby. Menzies walked up to the car where House and the others sat waiting, and asked if they were ready. Edwards pulled back the slide to cock his pistol and confirmed that they were ready, and Menzies walked back to her car in the pool parking lot. After a few minutes, House, Edwards, and Jennifer walked toward the swimming pool, while Lamothe remained in the car in case a quick getaway was needed.

         Sims and Morton arrived to find Menzies parked in a dark area of the pool parking lot. Sims got out of Morton's truck and opened the rear door, where she had a box of hair packs for Menzies to look through, while Morton remained in the driver's seat. Menzies told Sims that she liked the hair but that she needed to check with her cousins before buying it. Meanwhile, House, Edwards, and Jennifer had seen that Sims had a man with her, and were debating whether to go ahead with the robbery. Menzies pretended that she was texting her cousins to ask for a second opinion, but actually texted Jennifer, telling her and the others to "come on now," and that "the man in the front" was "big." Jennifer responded, "He got a gun[?]" and Menzies texted, "Idk [I don't know] but come on. Let's do this quik."

         Edwards, House, and Jennifer ran toward Morton's truck. Edwards approached the open passenger door of the truck and pointed a gun at Morton, ordering him to "drop everything." Morton put his hands up in response. House thought that Edwards was pointing the gun at him and fled the scene. Morton, fearing for his life, grabbed his pistol from the seat and rolled out of the truck. Edwards shot at Morton as Morton moved toward the rear of the truck to take cover. Morton returned fire, and Edwards ran away. Sims, meanwhile, had dropped to the ground and played dead when the shooting started, thinking that Morton had been killed.

         Jennifer came around the rear corner of the truck toward Morton. She was wearing dark clothing and holding up a white plastic bag, and Morton could not get a good look at her. Fearing that Jennifer was one of the robbers "coming back to finish [him] off," Morton shot her twice. Jennifer tried to crawl away, but Morton knocked her to the ground and told her not to move. He then called 911. While Morton was on the phone, Menzies pulled her car around to where Jennifer was lying and dragged her into the passenger seat. Morton told Menzies that the police and paramedics were on their way, but Menzies ignored him; she finished loading Jennifer into the car and drove away.

         Based on Morton's description of her vehicle, Menzies was stopped by responding officers. Jennifer was in the front passenger seat and appeared to be dead. Paramedics took Jennifer to the hospital, but ultimately confirmed that she was dead. Menzies told police that she had been a victim of the robbery, and denied that she knew Jennifer. Sergeant Daniel Lang asked Menzies to go to the sheriff's office to give a statement, and she agreed. At that point, Sgt. Lang considered her to be a victim.

         While alone in the police interview room, Menzies spoke aloud to her deceased sister, saying, "Jen Jen, go back into your soul." Later, after police realized that the victim was her sister, Sgt. Lang returned to the interview room and read Menzies her Miranda rights. After Sgt. Lang departed, Menzies again spoke to her dead sister, saying: "Jen Jen, if you're here with me, I'm so sorry . . . I know we didn't have an understanding before, but today I realize I do love you . . . you had the feeling to not do it . . . I shouldn't have took you, but I can't turn back time. I'm so sorry . . . Forgive me, Jen Jen." She was arrested later the same night.

         House was found by responding officers as he fled the area, and they brought him in for questioning. He admitted his involvement in the robbery after being informed that Jennifer had died, and he testified for the State at Menzies's trial.

         At the crime scene, police found Edwards's 9 mm pistol, five matching 9 mm shell casings, and nine shell casings that matched to Morton's .40 caliber pistol. The medical examiner testified that Jennifer had suffered three gunshot wounds caused by two ...

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