Charles Richardson was convicted of murder and associated
offenses arising out of the shooting death of Kyle
Jennings. Appellant now challenges his convictions
on the basis that he received ineffective assistance of
counsel; finding no error, we affirm.
the record in a light most favorable to the verdicts, the
evidence adduced at trial established as follows. In a prior
drug transaction, Jennings paid Appellant with a counterfeit
$100 bill and received $95 in change; Appellant sought out
Jennings and spoke with him about the counterfeit money.
Later, Appellant shot Jennings outside a convenience store
where Jennings and his friends, Terrell McBride and Cyruss
Hearst, had gone to make purchases. Hearst testified that he
had exited the store with the victim, saw Appellant approach
the victim, heard Appellant repeatedly say, "Let me get
that," and watched as Appellant shot Jennings. According
to Hearst, Appellant retreated across the street to his car
after the shooting. McBride testified that he was inside the
store when he heard gunshots, ran outside, made eye contact
with a person he knew as "Chuck," and saw him run
across the street to a car he recognized as belonging to
Chuck; McBride identified Appellant as the person he saw and
testified that Appellant had a gun. Appellant was apprehended
months later in Chicago.
Though not raised by Appellant as error, in accordance with
this Court's standard practice in appeals of murder
cases, we have reviewed the record and find that the
evidence, as stated above, was sufficient to enable a
rational trier of fact to find Appellant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was
convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99
S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
his enumerations of error, Appellant asserts that he received
ineffective assistance of counsel in three different ways. To
succeed on his claims, Appellant bears the heavy burden of
showing "both that his counsel performed deficiently and
that, but for the deficiency, there is a reasonable
probability that the outcome of his trial would have been
more favorable." Slaton v. State, 303 Ga. 651,
652 (814 S.E.2d 344) (2018). See also Strickland
v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 694 (104 S.Ct.
2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984).
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. Courts reviewing
ineffectiveness claims must apply a strong presumption that
counsel's conduct fell within the wide range of
reasonable professional performance. Thus, decisions
regarding trial tactics and strategy may form the basis for
an ineffectiveness claim only if they were so patently
unreasonable that no competent attorney would have followed
such a course. If the defendant fails to satisfy either the
"deficient performance" or the
"prejudice" prong of the Strickland test,
this Court is not required to examine the other.
(Citation omitted.) Slaton, 303 Ga. at 652-653. We
address each of Appellant's claims in turn.
Prior to trial, Appellant's mother provided trial counsel
with the name and contact information of Renaldo
Hollingsworth, whom she identified as a potential exculpatory
witness. Likewise, in pre-trial discovery, the State
mentioned Hollingsworth as a person who was present at the
scene of the crimes. Trial counsel did not call Hollingsworth
as a witness, and Appellant claims ineffective assistance of
counsel as a result.
hearing on Appellant's motion for new trial,
Hollingsworth - a close friend of Appellant - testified that
he was across the street from where the shooting occurred.
After hearing gunshots, he ducked, and when he immediately
looked up again, the person he saw running away from the
scene did not fit Appellant's physical description.
According to Hollingsworth, he was available to testify at
trial, had given Appellant's mother his contact
information for the purpose of passing it on to trial
counsel, but he never heard from counsel; he acknowledged,
however, that despite his apparent enthusiasm to testify and
his close relationship with Appellant, he never sought out
trial counsel directly. Indeed, trial testimony reflects that
Hollingsworth was actively avoiding any involvement in the
case and fled from law enforcement who were seeking a witness
statement. Trial counsel testified that he recalled learning
about Hollingsworth and that, though he had no specific
recollection as to whether he spoke with Hollingsworth, he
was certain he would have attempted to reach Hollingsworth as
part of his standard pre-trial investigation.
motion for new trial court was entitled to believe
counsel's testimony on this issue, see Warren v.
State, 283 Ga. 42, 44 (6) (656 S.E.2d 803) (2008), and
likely did as the court denied [Appellant's] amended
motion [for new trial]" with respect to this claim.
Thomas v. State, 300 Ga. 433, 439 (796 S.E.2d 242)
(2017). At most, Appellant demonstrated that Hollingsworth
never actually spoke with trial counsel; however, trial
counsel testified that he would have attempted to reach out
to Hollingsworth, and it does not follow that trial counsel
did not pursue Hollingsworth as a witness simply because
Hollingsworth and trial counsel never connected. Cf.
Hudson v. State, 284 Ga. 595, 589 (669 S.E.2d 94)
(2008) (no deficient performance where trial counsel made
good-faith effort to locate witness but was unsuccessful).
Accordingly, Appellant has failed to demonstrate deficient
Appellant cannot demonstrate prejudice. While Appellant
contends that Hollingsworth's testimony would have been
helpful to his defense, trial counsel used
Hollingsworth's absence at trial to great advantage,
eliciting testimony that Hollingsworth was a person of
interest in the shooting and was actively evading law
enforcement. Trial counsel also used Hollingsworth's
absence to question the quality of the State's
investigation-police were unable to locate or question
him-and to suggest that Hollingsworth was the actual shooter.
Accordingly, the trial court did not err when it denied
relief on this claim.
During closing argument, the State asserted that the
testimony of certain witnesses was "the truth." The
prosecutor then argued in his final closing that, "My
job that I took an oath to do is to seek the truth.
That's what the State is doing in this case."
According to Appellant, the prosecutor improperly vouched for
the credibility of witnesses, attacked the credibility of
trial counsel, and attempted to bolster the prosecution's
standing with the jury, and, as such, he says that trial
counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object.
arguments are judged in the context in which they are
made." Adams v. State, 283 Ga. 298, 302 (3) (e)
(658 S.E.2d 627) (2008). With respect to the prosecutor's
first remarks, we conclude that the prosecutor permissibly
urged the jurors to conclude the prosecution's witnesses
offered credible testimony based on the evidence presented.
See Menefee v. State, 301 Ga. 505, 515 (4) (a) (iii)
(801 S.E.2d 782) (2017). Here, the prosecutor's
references to the truth were made in the context of asking
the jury to apply their common sense when, for example,
judging the credibility of witnesses. Where a
prosecutor's argument was not improper, trial
counsel's decision not to object does not amount to
deficient performance. See Lamar v. State, 297 Ga.
89, 93 (3) (772 S.E.2d 636) (2015).
respect to the prosecutor's second argument - that it was
his job to "seek the truth" - even assuming that
trial counsel was deficient for failing to object, Appellant
has failed to demonstrate prejudice. The statement, while
troubling, was made in response to the argument from defense
counsel that, with respect to his intense cross-examination
of witnesses, he "had a job to do" and that he was
there "to stand up for [Appellant] and help him."
Viewed in the context of dueling attorneys exchanging
arguments concerning their role in the judicial process,
"the improper remarks of the prosecuting attorney did
not undermine the fundamental fairness of the trial,"
Powell v. State, 291 Ga. 743, 749 (733 S.E.2d 294)
(2012), and the jury - which was instructed that the
arguments of counsel ...