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Barnes v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 22, 2019

BARNES
v.
STATE.

          Bethel, Justice.

         Following his conviction for the murder of Jack Thomas Beasley, Jr., Desmond Barnes appeals the denial of his motion for new trial.[1] Barnes argues that he received ineffective assistance when his trial counsel: made an inflammatory statement during cross-examination of one of the State's witnesses; failed to secure a jury charge on mutual combat; and failed to move to dismiss the jury panel when a potential juror made a prejudicial statement. Barnes further argues that the trial court erred in not granting his objection to the court's instruction on malice murder. For the following reasons, we disagree and affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented at trial showed the following. On March 9, 2011, Barnes argued with his girlfriend about text messages she received from another man. Barnes struck his girlfriend and stormed out of the home after his mother intervened. As Barnes was walking down the street, Barnes's mother heard him shouting profanity at Jack Thomas Beasley, Jr., a neighbor.

         Later that day, Barnes was seen in the local grocery store, where he informed several people that he had "knocked out" Beasley. Barnes also requested a paper towel to wipe some blood from his hand. One of Beasley's family friends, who was also in the store, left to go check on Beasley.

         When the family friend arrived at Beasley's home, he found Beasley in the yard badly beaten and attempting to crawl on his hands and knees back into his house. Beasley was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he died from his injuries the next day.

         Barnes later told police that as he was walking by Beasley's house, Beasley grabbed him, slammed him into the ground, and then choked him. Barnes claimed that he eventually got to his feet but that Beasley would not let go of his legs. Barnes stated that he then kicked Beasley several times, eventually knocking him out. However, Barnes told his girlfriend a contradictory story - that the incident occurred because Beasley was "in his business." Further, law enforcement officers who observed Barnes after the incident did not see any marks on Barnes's neck consistent with being choked. Barnes also made inconsistent claims to police regarding the location of the altercation and whether Beasley was responsible for Barnes's black eye.

         Barnes does not challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. Nevertheless, in accordance with this Court's practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Barnes guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979); see also Vega v. State, 285 Ga. 32, 33 (1) (673 S.E.2d 223) (2009) ("It was for the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence.") (citation omitted).

         2. Barnes argues that he received ineffective assistance when his trial counsel: (a) made an inflammatory statement during cross-examination of one of the State's witnesses; (b) failed to secure a jury charge on mutual combat; and (c) failed to move to dismiss the jury panel when a potential juror made a prejudicial statement.

In order to succeed on his claims of ineffective assistance, [Barnes] must prove both that his trial counsel's performance was deficient and that there is a reasonable probability that the trial result would have been different if not for the deficient performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674) (1984). If an appellant fails to meet his or her burden of proving either prong of the Strickland test, the reviewing court does not have to examine the other prong. Id. at 697 (IV); Fuller v. State, 277 Ga. 505 (3) (591 S.E.2d 782) (2004). In reviewing the trial court's decision, we accept the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless clearly erroneous, but we independently apply the legal principles to the facts. Robinson v. State, 277 Ga. 75, 76 (586 S.E.2d 313) (2003).

(Punctuation omitted.) Wright v. State, 291 Ga. 869, 870 (2) (734 S.E.2d 876) (2012). Furthermore, "[t]rial tactics and strategy . . . are almost never adequate grounds for finding trial counsel ineffective unless they are so patently unreasonable that no competent attorney would have chosen them." (Citation omitted.) McNair v. State, 296 Ga. 181, 184 (2) (b) (766 S.E.2d 45) (2014).

         (a) Barnes contends that his trial counsel's choice of words while questioning a GBI witness had a "cumulative effect" of harming his right to a fair trial and that his trial counsel was therefore ineffective. We disagree.

         When Barnes's trial counsel questioned the witness about the attack, the following exchange occurred:

Q: Maybe I'm beating a dead horse to death, but you still haven't told me how he got on the ground. I mean, did he just come up to him and cold cock him and knock ...

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