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Jordan v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 22, 2019


          Blackwell, Justice.

         Joseph Lashun Jordan was tried by a Richmond County jury and convicted of murder and other crimes in connection with the fatal shooting of Johnny Luckey.[1] On appeal, Jordan contends that he was entitled to a mistrial after the prosecuting attorney accused his lawyer of trying to deceive the jury, and he also claims that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because his lawyer was absent from the courtroom during a critical stage of the trial. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented at trial shows that Luckey was elderly and lived alone. Believing him to be an easy target, Jordan and his three accomplices-Artavious Feazell, Tracy Lindsey, and Rufus Van-made plans to rob Luckey. Lindsey testified that, on the evening of May 6, 2011, Jordan and the three accomplices drove to Luckey's neighborhood in Richmond County and parked a short distance from his house. Jordan carried a gun. While Van waited in the car as a getaway driver, Jordan, Feazell, and Lindsey made their way to the house and came to the front porch. Before attempting to break in, Jordan and Lindsey walked to the side of the house and looked through a kitchen window, where they saw Luckey sitting on a couch. According to Lindsey, Jordan said, "I'm about to go ahead and shoot," and he fired a shot through the window. Jordan and Lindsey then returned to the front porch, at which time Jordan ripped open the screen door, kicked in the front door, and entered the house, accompanied by Lindsey and Feazell. Once inside, Jordan fired another shot at Luckey, who slid off the couch and lay unmoving on the floor, still connected to his oxygen tank. After checking Luckey's pockets and searching the house for valuables, the three men got back into the car with Van and left the premises. The proceeds of the robbery were two lockboxes that turned out to contain nothing of value.

         Van testified that, as he was waiting in the car during the robbery, he heard a gunshot, and about 10 to 15 minutes later, Jordan, Feazell, and Lindsey came running back to the car. Jordan was carrying a gun, and when the three got in, Feazell and Lindsey both said that Jordan shot Luckey. In addition to the testimony of Lindsey and Van, the State introduced a statement that Jordan made to the police after he had been arrested and given Miranda[2] warnings. In that statement, Jordan confessed to participating in the robbery, and his account of the events was similar to Lindsey's in many respects. One major difference, however, was that Jordan denied carrying the gun, shooting Luckey twice, and kicking in the door-he blamed these actions on Lindsey instead. An autopsy revealed that Luckey died from two gunshot wounds-one to the neck and one to the abdomen.

         Jordan does not dispute that the evidence is sufficient to sustain his convictions. But consistent with our usual practice in murder cases, we independently have reviewed the record to assess the legal sufficiency of the evidence. We conclude that the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Jordan was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Jordan first argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a mistrial based on the prosecuting attorney's accusation in the presence of the jury that Jordan's lawyer was "deceiving" the jury. According to the transcript, the prosecuting attorney made this comment while defense counsel was cross-examining Lindsey and trying to show that it was Lindsey, not Jordan, who actually fired at Luckey. In responding to defense counsel's questions, Lindsey acknowledged that he had pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm during commission of a felony for participating in the robbery, but he denied ever touching the gun. The following exchange then ensued:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: So you're lying-you were lying to the Court- …
[PROSECUTING ATTORNEY]: I'm going to object because [defense counsel] well knows that under the theory of a party to a crime-
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Your Honor, objection to the speaking-objection . . . . He's making a speaking objection-I object to this...
[PROSECUTING ATTORNEY]: Well, she's . . . . She's deceiving-the jury right now.

(Emphasis supplied.)

         At that point, defense counsel asked for a mistrial. The trial court told the jurors to disregard the statements that they had just heard and excused them from the courtroom. After conferring with the lawyers outside the jury's presence, the trial court denied Jordan's motion for a mistrial, but agreed to remind the jury again to disregard the prosecuting attorney's statement. The court noted, "I think they realize-there's no question in my mind that that jury realized that this was a heated exchange because every one of them was smiling." When the jurors came back, the trial court instructed them:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I just want to remind you the last thin[g] I told you before you stepped out was just disregard that-everything you heard in that exchange. It was kind of a heated exchange and just disregard that in its entirety. Pay no attention to that . . . Not between the witness and counsel . . . but between counsel with their objection I think it got kind [of] rather heated and so y'all just disregard that and you [defense counsel] might continue asking your questions.

         Jordan argues that the prosecuting attorney's "deceiving" remark impugned his lawyer's character and credibility and that the court's curative instructions were insufficient to erase the resulting prejudice. We disagree. It is true that "we find distasteful any argument that unnecessarily impugns the integrity of opposing counsel, even if obliquely," Brockman v. State, 292 Ga. 707, 727 (14) (a) (739 S.E.2d 332) (2013) (citation and punctuation omitted), and we do not condone a lawyer accusing another lawyer of deceit in the presence of the jury.[3] Nonetheless, the decision to grant a motion for mistrial lies "within the trial court's sound discretion, and the trial court's exercise of that discretion will not be disturbed on appeal unless a mistrial is essential to preserve the defendant's right to a fair trial." Childs v. State, 287 ...

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