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Lonon v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

February 7, 2019


          MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.

          Rickman, Judge.

         China Lonon was tried by a jury and convicted of armed robbery, criminal attempt to commit murder, aggravated battery, three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of first degree arson, false imprisonment, theft by taking, and aggravated cruelty to animals. Lonon subsequently filed a motion for new trial and to correct sentence, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdict for the offenses of armed robbery, theft by taking, and aggravated cruelty to animals; that the trial court erred in numerous respects; and that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. After conducting a hearing, the trial court denied Lonon's motion for new trial, but granted his motion to correct sentence and vacated the sentences for theft by taking and one count of first degree arson. On appeal, Lonon contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for criminal attempt to commit murder, first degree arson, and aggravated cruelty to animals; that his trial counsel was ineffective; and that the trial court erred by refusing to merge aggravated assault into aggravated battery and by refusing to merge first degree arson into criminal attempt to commit murder. For reasons that follow, we affirm.

         On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). So viewed, the evidence presented at trial showed that on the afternoon of April 22, 2016, the victim was at his home when China Lonon, Arturo Lopez, and a bald-headed man later identified as Markius Curtis showed up, asking to buy marijuana. The victim knew Lopez and had seen Lonon a few times before, but he did not know Curtis. At Lonon's request, the three men were driven to the victim's home by Cammy Jackson. Lonon did not tell Jackson why they were going to the victim's residence, and there was no discussion of it while she was driving.

         When they arrived, Lonon, Curtis, and Lopez went inside the victim's residence. Curtis asked the victim about purchasing a large quantity of marijuana, and the victim told him that he could not supply it but that he might be able to call someone else about it. Shortly thereafter, Lopez left the residence.

         While the victim was sitting on a couch in the front room, Curtis punched him, and the victim fought back. Lonon got involved, and the victim fought both men until he fell back on the couch. Curtis asked him where he kept the drugs and the money, and the victim replied that he only had money and that it was under his mattress. At that point, Lonon pulled out a machete, and he and Curtis went to get the money. While the victim was on the couch, Lonon started talking to one of the dogs living in the house, "cussing at the dog, telling the dog to come on, I wish you would, and so on and so forth."[1]

         Lonon then told the victim to get up and go into the bedroom and lie down on the floor. While the victim was on the floor, Lonon and Curtis began discussing how they wanted to take the victim's Xbox, his television, and his handgun, which was in the box that it came in when he purchased it. The victim pleaded with Lonon to take the possessions and let him go, promising not to tell anyone. The victim testified that Lonon responded, "we've got to kill him," I know he's going to tell. Curtis suggested that they just "take the stuff" and go. After discussing it briefly, Curtis said that if Lonon thought the victim was going to tell, "we got to do it then."

         After the discussion ended, the victim felt the first chop from the machete Lonon was wielding. He felt at least three chops from the machete before he got up and began to fight back. He made it to the front room and started beating on the door and yelling for help, but Curtis told him to get away from the door, pretending he had a gun that was actually an Xbox controller. At that point, the victim noticed that his couch was on fire. The victim managed to get the door open and run out. As he looked back, he saw Lonon and Curtis run out his back door.

         The victim testified that Lonon and Curtis took his gun and $400 cash, that his house was destroyed by the fire, and that the pit bull belonging to one of his roommates "got killed during the situation." The victim sustained blows to his hand and the back of his head and suffered nerve damage, memory loss, headaches, and nightmares.

         Lopez and Jackson were still outside the residence when Lopez saw the victim come out of his house, screaming for help. Lopez told Jackson to drive, and they went back to Jackson's house, where Lopez was arrested less than two hours later. Lopez testified that he and Lonon are friends and that although he thought that Lonon was going to the victim's house to buy marijuana on the date of the incident, Lonon had discussed robbing the victim twice in the past.

         One of the victim's neighbors came home on the date of the incident and saw a vehicle sitting in the street with two occupants, one female and one male. He then saw someone exit the back door of the victim's house, moving at a fast pace. As he got out of his car, he saw the victim holding his head, covered in blood, and pointing to his house, saying "they're trying to kill me, they're trying to rob me." He also saw smoke billowing out the back of the house. The neighbor and his wife began assisting the victim, and their son called 911. When they asked the victim who had done this to him, all he said was "China."

         An officer with the Rincon Police Department responded to the call, and when he arrived, the residence was completely engulfed in flames and the victim was sitting on the ground covered in blood. He told the officer that he was attacked by two males with a machete and that one of the males was named "China."

         The Chief of Police for the Rincon Police Department responded to the call to assist in crime scene processing. He observed a blood spatter going up the steps of and into the residence, which was completely damaged, and observed an obvious area of struggle between the living room and the bedroom, which contained a pool of blood on the floor and looked like it had been rummaged through. In another bedroom, he found a dead dog on the floor, outside its cage.

         A detective with the Rincon Police Department was called to investigate the scene. As part of his investigation, he spoke to the patrol officers who had interviewed the neighbor and learned that the suspects had run into the fields located behind the victim's residence. The police chief informed the detective that they had picked up a gun box that matched the type of gun taken from the victim, and that the gun box was found on a trail in the woods behind the victim's residence. The detective went to the hospital shortly after the incident and spoke to the victim, who told him that "China," Lopez, and a third man with an odd-shaped head were the ones at his house and that "China" was the one who hit him.

         The evidence room custodian, a sergeant with the Rincon Police Department, got involved in the investigation by sorting through the evidence that had been obtained in the case. He processed a cardboard gun box for prints and sent a portion of the box to a fingerprint expert. There was not enough detail for the expert to match the fingerprints to a specific person.

         An arson specialist with the Effingham County Sheriff's Office responded to the victim's residence and met with the fire department on the scene. He determined that the fire was caused by a human act and observed a burn pattern that was consistent with an ignitable liquid being poured on the floor.[2] The officer testified that when he saw the dead dog, it was in the middle of a bedroom floor, and that no necropsy was performed on the dog.

         An acquaintance of Lonon was incarcerated with Curtis in the Effingham County Jail, and Curtis talked to him about what happened on the date of the incident. Curtis told the acquaintance that he went to the victim's house with Jackson (the acquaintance's sister-in-law), Lopez, and Lonon. While Curtis and Lonon were inside the victim's house, they asked the victim where he kept the money and the marijuana. The victim told them he had no marijuana, but had $400 in a mattress. When the victim showed Lonon where the money was located, Lonon hit him with the machete in the back of the head and the arm. Curtis then went into the living room and started setting the fire. While Lonon and the victim were fighting, Curtis grabbed a chair from the kitchen and hit the victim in the back of the head with it. After the fire was set, both men ran out the back door, down the street, and through a trail into an open area with bales of hay, where they hid.

         1. Lonon contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions as a party to the crimes of attempted murder[3] and first degree arson.[4] He argues that the evidence showed that Curtis set the fire and that it failed to show that Lonon aided or abetted the arson or that arson was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the plan to rob the victim.[5]

         When determining whether the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction, this Court "does not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility. Any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence are for the jury to resolve. As long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case, the appellate court must ...

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