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Renfro v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

February 11, 2019


          MILLER, P. J., BROWN and GOSS, JJ.

          Goss, Judge.

         On appeal from his conviction after a bench trial on charges of rape, incest, aggravated child molestation and child molestation, Kado Renfro asserts that he was deprived of his right to counsel when the trial court allowed him to represent himself, that he received ineffective assistance from his pretrial counsel, and that the court erred in admitting evidence of other acts under OCGA § 24-4-413. We find no error and affirm.

         "On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, with the defendant no longer enjoying a presumption of innocence." (Citation omitted.) Reese v. State, 270 Ga.App. 522, 523 (607 S.E.2d 165) (2004). We neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses, but determine only whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." (Emphasis omitted.) Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         Thus viewed in favor of the judgment, the record shows that the victim, Renfro's biological daughter, was born in 2000 and spent her early childhood in Illinois, where Renfro began molesting her when she was four or five years old. Between 2005 and 2011, Illinois courts barred Renfro from having any contact with the victim. In 2011, however, Renfro petitioned for and received the right to visitation with the victim and her brother. In June 2012, Renfro moved to Duluth, Georgia. In late 2012, Renfro drove to Illinois, picked up the victim, and drove her back to Duluth. During this trip, Renfro molested and raped the victim.

         In early April 2014, the victim again visited Duluth, during which visit Renfro forced her to give and receive oral sex and to have intercourse, during which Renfro told the victim, "When I'm doing this to you, you're not my daughter, you're my lover." Renfro eventually ejaculated onto the victim's back, and the victim suffered from bleeding afterwards. That night, Renfro admitted to his wife, daughter, and son that he had been molesting the victim for some time. He explained that he had targeted the victim because she was the product of a "sinful" or "satanic" relationship and that she and her brother were "made to be sex slaves." On their return to Illinois, the brother told the children's mother about Renfro's admissions, after which the mother called the police and obtained a medical examination, which showed that the victim had blood in her urine consistent with a sexual assault.

         Renfro was arrested and charged with rape, incest, two counts of aggravated child molestation, and one count of child molestation, all arising from his April 2014 contact with the victim. Before trial, the State filed notices of its intention to introduce evidence that Renfro had previously molested or raped the victim's brother and stepsister as well as two daughters of family friends from Illinois. At trial, the victim, her brother, and the two other girls testified as to the details of these incidents. At the conclusion of the bench trial, Renfro was found guilty on all charges, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. His motion for new trial was denied.

         1. Although Renfro does not dispute the sufficiency of the evidence against him, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the evidence is indeed sufficient to sustain his conviction. See OCGA §§ 16-6-1 (defining rape); 16-6-22 (defining incest); 16-6-4 (a), (c) (defining child molestation and aggravated child molestation); Jackson, supra.

         2. Renfro first asserts that his right to counsel was violated when the trial court allowed him to represent himself at trial. We disagree.

Although a criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel at trial, the defendant also has the constitutional right to represent himself, as long as he voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently elects to waive the right to counsel. To establish a valid waiver, the trial court must apprise the defendant of the dangers and disadvantages inherent in representing himself so that the record will show that he knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes open.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Davis v. State, 304 Ga.App. 355, 359 (2) (a) (696 S.E.2d 381) (2010); see also Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 807, 835 (V) (95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562) (1975). "[A] defendant's waiver of his right to counsel is valid if the record reflects that the defendant was made aware of the dangers of self-representation and nevertheless made a knowing and intelligent waiver." (Citation, punctuation and footnote omitted.) State v. Evans, 285 Ga. 67, 69 (673 S.E.2d 243) (2009).

[It is not] required that the trial court probe the defendant's case and advise the defendant as to legal strategies to ensure that a waiver is intelligently made. Indeed, the defendant's technical legal knowledge is irrelevant to the question of whether he validly waives his right to be represented by counsel. The test is not whether the accused is capable of good lawyering[, ] but whether he knowingly and intelligently waives his right to counsel.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Id. Although the State has the burden of showing that a defendant "received sufficient information and guidance from the trial court to make a knowing and intelligent waiver" of the right to trial counsel, a trial court's ruling on this issue is reviewed only for an abuse of discretion. (Footnotes omitted.) Cox v. State, 317 Ga.App. 654, 654-655 (732 S.E.2d 321) (2012).

         This record shows that after learning that Renfro intended to represent himself, the trial court devoted substantial time and effort to ensuring that he understood the dangers of proceeding thus. Specifically, the trial court warned Renfro from the outset that self-representation was "always a bad idea," that Renfro should not represent himself, and that defendants with so-called "sovereign citizen" beliefs such as his had never been successful; provided Renfro with a copy of the indictment, to which Renfro responded that he had "familiarized [himself] with the statutory elements necessary to prove all" the charges; asked whether Renfro understood the lesser-included offenses of the charged crimes, and specifically suggested that he should examine the lesser-included offenses to rape and aggravated child molestation; and confirmed that Renfro did not suffer from any mental disabilities or impairments and had some experience representing himself. The record also shows that the trial court authorized Renfro to keep his previously appointed counsel as stand-by counsel, and that Renfro availed himself of this resource throughout the trial. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ...

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