George Edward Price was convicted of malice murder in
connection with the shooting death of his estranged wife,
Jackie Price. Appellant now contends that his statement to
law enforcement should have been excluded at trial, that the
trial court failed to consider his motion for new trial on
the "general grounds," and that trial counsel was
ineffective. Finding no error, we affirm.
the record in a light most favorable to the verdicts, the
evidence adduced at trial established as follows. At the time
of the murder, Appellant and the victim had been married for
approximately fifteen years but were recently separated, with
the victim living at the Morgan County residence of her
friend Virginia Blanton. The jury learned that, though the
couple had separated before, Jackie had become set on
divorcing and had informed Appellant of her decision in a
phone call on the evening before the murder. On the day of
the murder, Blanton left the residence at approximately 11:20
a.m., while Jackie remained in bed because she reportedly
felt unwell. Shortly thereafter, Appellant's
conspicuously large, red van was observed in the area by
neighbors who were familiar with both Appellant and his
vehicle. Later that afternoon, a child stopped by the Blanton
residence for a snack and discovered Jackie on the floor in a
pool of blood. The jury heard testimony that, at the time her
body was discovered, the victim had been dead for "quite
some time" and, further, that the residence bore no
signs of forced entry, burglary, or struggle. The medical
examiner testified that the victim had died as a result of
gunshot wounds and that the manner of death was homicide.
was subsequently questioned by law enforcement. After
initially giving various vague and inconsistent accounts of
the day, he ultimately admitted that he had shot his
estranged wife when he visited her to discuss their marriage.
Appellant accurately described details of the murder scene -
including the victim's clothing, her location in the
residence, and the number of times she had been shot - and
his hands tested positive for gunshot residue.
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 summarized above, was sufficient to enable a
rational trier of fact to find Appellant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt of murder. Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
Appellant first contends that his statement to law
enforcement was involuntary under Georgia law and,
consequently, inadmissible. Specifically, Appellant complains
that an investigator suggested that she was going to
personally discuss the case with "the judge," that
Appellant would not see the "light of day," and,
further, that Appellant's hands had tested positive for
gunshot residue even though the results of that test were not
yet available. These arguments are without merit.
relevant statutory provision concerning confessions, as it
existed at the time of Appellant's trial, provided that,
"[t]o make a confession admissible, it must have been
made voluntarily, without being induced by another by the
slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury."
See former OCGA § 24-3-50 (2011). This Court has
consistently interpreted the phrase "slightest hope of
benefit" not in the colloquial sense, but as it is
understood in the context within the statute, focusing
"on promises related to reduced criminal punishment - a
shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges at all."
Brown v. State, 290 Ga. 865, 868-869 (725 S.E.2d
320) (2012). See also State v. Chulpayev, 296 Ga.
764 (2) (770 S.E.2d 808) (2015). However, a statement by law
enforcement "not relating to charges or sentences,
including a promise regarding release after questioning, has
been held to constitute only a 'collateral benefit,'
as that phrase is used in OCGA § 24-3-51, and even if it
induces a confession, it does not require the automatic
exclusion of that evidence." Brown, 290 Ga. at
869. See also former OCGA § 24-3-51 (2011) ("The
fact that a confession has been made under a spiritual
exhortation, a promise of secrecy, or a promise of collateral
benefit shall not exclude it.").
"remotest fear of injury," it is "[p]hysical
or mental torture . . . that prevents a confession from being
admissible[.]" See Browner v. State, 296 Ga.
138, 142 (765 S.E.2d 348) (2014). Further, the employment of
trickery or deceit to obtain a confession does not render the
resulting statement inadmissible so long as those tactics are
not designed to procure an untrue statement and also do not
amount to "a slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear
of injury." State v. Ritter, 268 Ga. 108, 110
(485 S.E.2d 492) (1997); Moore v. State, 230 Ga.
839, 840 (199 S.E.2d 243) (1973).
a statement was made voluntarily is to be determined by
assessing the totality of the circumstances."
Johnson v. State, 295 Ga. 421, 424 (761 S.E.2d 13)
(2014). Though the trial court entered an order with findings
of fact and conclusions of law following a
Jackson-Denno hearing, the relevant facts here arise
solely from Appellant's video-recorded interview with
investigators and, thus, are not in dispute. Accordingly, we
review this claim de novo. See Brown, 290 Ga. at
865; Vergara v. State, 283 Ga. 175 (657 S.E.2d 863)
initial matter, though Appellant had been advised of his
Miranda rights numerous times on the day in
question (and had executed a written waiver), his interview
was non-custodial; the video-recorded statement plainly
reflects that both Appellant and law enforcement understood
that Appellant was free to leave at anytime during the
interview. See, e.g., Heckman v. State, 276 Ga. 141
(1) (576 S.E.2d 834) (2003). During the course of the
interview, investigators implored Appellant to tell the truth
and to help himself, which was not improper. See Stinksi
v. State, 281 Ga. 783 (2) (a) (642 S.E.2d 1) (2007).
Though an investigator intimated that she would go directly
to "the judge" concerning Appellant's honesty
and make a recommendation as to whether Appellant would
"get out," it is permissible "for the police
to tell a suspect that the trial judge may consider [his]
truthful cooperation with the police." (Quotation marks
and citations omitted.) Id. These remarks, which were
"framed . . . in terms of what [the investigator] wanted
to be able to tell the judge," did not render the
statement involuntary. Baughs v. State, 335 Ga.App.
600, 605 (782 S.E.2d 494) (2016). The investigator's
vague references to Appellant "getting out" is, at
most, a possible "collateral benefit" since
"no one promised [A]ppellant that he would not be
charged with a crime or that he would receive reduced
charges, sentencing or punishment if he made incriminating
statements." Woodall v. State, 294 Ga. 624 (4)
(754 S.E.2d 335) (2014). Cf. Brown, 290 Ga. at 869
(no hope of benefit where investigators told defendant he
could "go home" after questioning); In the
Interest in D.T.. 294 Ga.App. 486 (2) (669 S.E.2d 471)
respect to an investigator suggesting during the interview
that Appellant would never "see the light of day"
if he were not truthful, this, again, was an exhortation to
tell the truth, not a promise of a lighter punishment. See
Johnson v. State, 295 Ga. 421, 424-425 (761 S.E.2d
13) (2014) (no hope of benefit where defendant was warned not
to lie because the investigator could, among other things,
"get up and walk out this door and send [his] a** to the
county jail"). Moreover, the remark "amounted to no
more than an explanation of the seriousness of
[Appellant]'s situation." Preston v. State,
282 Ga. 210, 212 (647 S.E.2d 260) (2007). Sosniak v.
State, 287 Ga. 279 (1) (C) (695 S.E.2d 604) (2010)
(investigator's remark that defendant could "get a
needle" simply an expression of the seriousness of the
situation). Regarding the deception concerning the gunshot
residue on Appellant's hands, there is no indication that
this ruse was intended to elicit an untrue confession or that
it offered "a slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear
of injury." As such, it, too, was permissible. See
Drake v. State, 296 Ga. 286 (3) (766 S.E.2d 447)
(2014) (exaggerations of incriminating evidence and false
representations concerning the victim not impermissible
during non-custodial interview); Johnson, 295 Ga. at
425 (interrogator's false claim concerning DNA evidence
did not effect voluntariness of statement); Daniel v.
State, 285 Ga. 406 (5) (677 S.E.2d 120) (2009)
(deception in interview concerning whether defendant was
suspect permissible tactic).
though Appellant was interviewed over the course of
approximately six hours, he was offered food and drink, and
nothing in the video suggests "excessively lengthy
interrogation, physical deprivation, brutality, or other such
hallmarks of coercive police activity" that would result
in the remotest fear of injury. (Quotation marks and
citations omitted.) Drake, 296 Ga. at 290.
Accordingly, after examining the totality of the
circumstances, the trial court did not err in concluding that
Appellant's statement was voluntary.
Appellant next claims that the trial court erred by failing
to consider his motion for new trial on the "general
grounds." Specifically, he contends that the order
denying his motion for new trial does not reflect that the
trial court evaluated the credibility of the witnesses and
weighed the evidence in deciding whether to exercise its
discretion to grant a new trial in its role as the
"thirteenth juror." See White v. State,
293 Ga. 523, 524 (753 S.E.2d 115) (2013) ("In exercising
that discretion, the trial judge must consider some of the
things that she cannot when assessing the legal sufficiency
of the evidence, including any conflicts in the evidence, the
credibility of witnesses, and the weight of the
evidence."). We disagree.
order denying Appellant's motion for new trial states as
follows: "The Defendant's Motion for New Trial,
having regularly come on to be heard before me this day,
argument of counsel for the State and the Defendant having
been heard and considered, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED
that Defendant's Motion for New Trial is DENIED."
While the order does not specifically reflect that the trial
judge exercised its broad discretion as the thirteenth juror,
this Court "must presume that the trial judge knew the
rule as to the necessity of exercising his discretion, and
that he did exercise it." Martin & Sons v. Bank
of Leesburg, 137 Ga. 285, 291 (73 S.E.2d 387) (1911). As
we have explained before, when a trial court enters an order
denying a motion for new trial and, "without more,
recites that the new trial is refused or denied, this will be
taken to mean that ...