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Rivera v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

December 10, 2018



         Appellant Alejandro Rivera was tried and convicted of malice murder and related offenses in connection with the February 2008 shooting death of Mark Martin.[1] Rivera appeals, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court committed reversible error. We affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence adduced at trial shows that, on February 24, 2008, a group of people, including Rivera and Manuel, traveled to the apartment of George and Robinson to purchase drugs.[2] Rivera and Manuel obtained money from their traveling companions and then headed into the apartment to complete the drug purchase. Rivera and Manuel were welcomed inside by Martin and George. The men walked into Robinson's bedroom, and the group smoked marijuana. At some point, Rivera approached George and asked if he could rob Martin. George said no and then left the apartment to go to his girlfriend's residence.

         Rivera returned to Robinson's bedroom where the two engaged in a quiet conversation; the men bumped fists, and then Robinson took a .38 caliber revolver from the top of his dresser and passed it over to Rivera. Shortly thereafter, Rivera made his way into the living room where Martin was sitting on the couch. Manuel heard Martin say "hold up hold up," after which he saw Rivera shoot Martin in the back as Martin was attempting to run away. George, who was still in the parking lot, heard a gunshot. As he drove away, he saw Rivera and Manuel running out of his apartment.

          Rivera and Manuel shoved their way into the car with their waiting companions and drove away. Though the men did not mention a robbery or a shooting on the drive, when the group reached their final destination, Rivera handed each individual drugs, including cocaine, pills, and marijuana.

         In the meantime, Robinson called George and stated that he had fled the apartment after Rivera had shot Martin. George picked Robinson up at a gas station and the two headed back to their apartment. There, they found Martin laying on the floor, unresponsive. The men moved the victim's body into a bedroom and got rid of a .32 caliber gun that was not involved in the shooting before calling police.

         When officers responded, they located the victim's body under a mattress in a bedroom. Martin had suffered a gunshot wound to the back; he had cocaine, marijuana, and $310 in his pockets. Officers also located marijuana in the living room area, marijuana in George's pocket, and an unloaded .32 caliber gun outside the front entrance of the apartment. Officers swabbed Robinson's and George's hands and testing later revealed the presence of trace amounts of gunshot residue. A GBI forensic analyst determined that the presence of such a small amount of gunshot residue was consistent with the transfer of residue from Martin to Robinson and George as they moved the victim's body, and inconsistent with either of them being the shooter.

         Robinson and George were arrested at the scene, and Manuel voluntarily turned himself in to the police shortly thereafter. All three men were interviewed by officers. Initially, the men lied about their knowledge of the shooting; however, all three eventually made incriminating statements and identified Rivera as the sole shooter.

         During an autopsy, a bullet was recovered from the victim's body and turned over to the GBI for further analysis. The GBI firearms examiner concluded that the bullet did not come from the .32 caliber weapon recovered from the scene, and further determined that that bullet could only have been fired from a .38 special or a .357 magnum revolver.

         After the shooting, Rivera went to his girlfriend's house, where he was visibly upset and crying; he told her that something had happened and that they needed to leave. She refused and asked him to leave. After this, Rivera headed to his estranged cousin's house. When Rivera arrived, he was not acting like himself. He washed some clothes and even spent the night, which he had never done before. The next day, Rivera asked his cousin to drive him to a friend's house. The cousin agreed; when Rivera exited the vehicle, he asked his cousin to pray for his family and then walked in the opposite direction of his supposed final destination. Rivera later fled to Florida with his girlfriend, where he was eventually arrested.

         1. Rivera alleges that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain his convictions because his convictions were based solely upon circumstantial evidence. We disagree.

         It is well established that when this Court evaluates 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. See 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." (Punctuation and citation omitted.) Hayes v. State, 292 Ga. 506, 506 (739 S.E.2d 313) (2013). Moreover, a "reviewing court must consider all of the evidence admitted by the trial court, regardless [of] whether that evidence was admitted erroneously." (Punctuation and citations omitted.) Kemp v. State, 303 Ga. 385, 388 (810 S.E.2d 515) (2018).

         Contrary to Rivera's assertion, the record shows that the State presented both circumstantial and direct evidence at trial, as Rivera was identified as the shooter by two different witnesses, which is direct evidence of Rivera's guilt. See Nance v. State, 239 Ga. 381 (1) (236 S.E.2d 752) (1977). Reviewing all of the evidence presented at trial in a light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, we find that the evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Rivera was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson, supra.

         Rivera also argues that, because the accomplice testimony of Manuel and George was not sufficiently corroborated, his convictions cannot stand. Once again, we disagree. Former OCGA § 24-4-8[3] required corroboration of accomplice ...

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