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Yarn v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 11, 2019


          WARREN, JUSTICE.

         Deondray Yarn was convicted of murder and other crimes in connection with the January 2014 shooting death of Monnie Brabham. On appeal, Yarn contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court abused its discretion in granting continuances over Yarn's objections, and that his trial counsel was ineffective in communicating a plea offer to Yarn. Finding no error, we affirm.[1]

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed that Deondray Yarn, Clifton Roberts, Michael Gooden, Dewayne Seymore, and Ameshia Cosby were members of One-Eight-Trey, a gang affiliated with the Bloods gang. In January 2014, One-Eight-Trey's leader, Kevin Melton, ordered the five members to kidnap LaJerrius Barfield. Barfield had previously been a member of One-Eight-Trey but had defected to start a rival gang, prompting Melton to seek revenge.

         On January 23, 2014, the group drove from Atlanta to Houston County to the house of Tianna Maynard, a highly ranked One-Eight-Trey member. Roberts and Gooden had firearms-a pistol and shotgun, respectively. Maynard had contacted Barfield and arranged for him to come to her home as a pretext for the kidnapping. Barfield, unaware of the group's scheme, asked Monnie Brabham to drive him to Maynard's house in Warner Robins. When the group of five was at Maynard's house, they saw Barfield and Brabham arrive and then leave without exiting Brabham's car.

         With Roberts driving, the rest of the group followed Barfield and Brabham. They stopped their vehicle behind Brabham's at a gas station where Brabham had gotten out to pump gas. Yarn and Gooden then stepped out of their car, both armed-Yarn with Roberts's handgun, and Gooden with his own shotgun. Gooden approached Brabham, who reached for the shotgun, and they struggled for the weapon until Gooden shot Brabham, who died soon thereafter. Barfield started running away and Yarn fired at him. Barfield fell at one point but managed to escape. The incident was captured on the gas station's surveillance video and was witnessed by others at the scene.

         After the shooting, Yarn and Gooden got into Brabham's car and drove it back to Maynard's house. The group searched the car, removing phones that they eventually sold, before abandoning it. They then returned to Atlanta together. On the ride back to Atlanta, Roberts spoke with Melton on the phone and told him what happened. After the shooting, the gang ranks of the five individuals who went to Houston County increased.

         2. Yarn asserts that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for malice murder, aggravated assault, gang activity, and possession of a firearm.[2] Specifically, he asserts that the testimony of accomplices who testified against him was, at times, contradictory, and that confidence in the jury's guilty verdict was therefore so eroded that a new trial must be granted. Because the evidence was sufficient to support each of these convictions, and because resolving contradictions in testimony is reserved for the jury, this enumeration fails.

         When evaluating a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the verdicts and ask whether any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). Our review leaves to the jury the resolution of conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence, credibility of witnesses, and reasonable inferences to be made from the evidence. See id.; Menzies v. State, 304 Ga. 156, 160 (816 S.E.2d 638) (2018). "'As long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case, the jury's verdict will be upheld.'" Williams v. State, 287 Ga. 199, 200 (695 S.E.2d 246) (2010) (citation omitted).

         The testimony of an accomplice must be corroborated to sustain a felony conviction. OCGA § 24-14-8; Bradshaw v. State, 296 Ga. 650, 653 (769 S.E.2d 892) (2015).[3] "'[S]ufficient corroborating evidence may be circumstantial, it may be slight, and it need not of itself be sufficient to warrant a conviction of the crime charged.'" Bradshaw, 296 Ga. at 654 (quoting Threatt v. State, 293 Ga. 549, 551 (748 S.E.2d 400) (2013)). That said, the corroborating evidence must be "'independent of the accomplice testimony and must directly connect the defendant with the crime, or lead to the inference that he is guilty. Slight evidence from an extraneous source identifying the accused as a participant in the criminal act is sufficient corroboration of the accomplice to support a verdict.'" Id. at 655 (quoting Threatt, 293 Ga. at 551). Moreover, the testimony of one accomplice can be corroborated by the testimony of another accomplice. Huff v. State, 300 Ga. 807, 809 (796 S.E.2d 688) (2017) (citing Herbert v. State, 288 Ga. 843, 844 (708 S.E.2d 260) (2011)).

         Here, there was ample evidence to support Yarn's convictions, and Yarn's argument that alleged contradictions between Gooden's and Roberts's testimony undermine the sufficiency of the evidence is without merit. As we have said, our review "leaves to the jury the resolution of conflicts in the testimony, the weight of the evidence, the credibility of witnesses, and reasonable inferences" to be made from the evidence. See Menzies, 304 Ga. at 160.[4] Additionally, there was evidence sufficient to corroborate the accomplice testimony presented at trial and to support the jury's guilty verdicts. Roberts and Gooden both testified that they and Yarn were members of One-Eight-Trey. They also both testified that Melton was the gang's leader; that Melton directed them to kidnap Barfield; that Roberts, Gooden, Yarn, and the rest of the group traveled to Maynard's house to do so; that they followed Barfield to the gas station; that Gooden and Yarn exited the vehicle with firearms and approached the victims; that Gooden and Brabham struggled over Gooden's gun, resulting in Brabham being fatally shot; that Yarn shot at Barfield; and that the gang ranks of the members involved in the shooting increased after the shooting.

         Not only was each accomplice's testimony corroborated by the other, video evidence from the gas station, testimony of other witnesses to the shooting, Barfield's testimony, and ballistics evidence also corroborated Gooden's and Roberts's testimony. That evidence is more than sufficient to sustain Yarn's convictions. See Powell v. State, 291 Ga. 743, 745 (733 S.E.2d 294) (2012) ("[T]he evidence shows . . . a common enterprise at the time of the shooting, that [the defendant] was in the car at the time of the shooting but failed to summon any help for [the victim], and that [the defendant] and [the accomplice] stood together at the front of the car after the shooting, ran off together, and eventually made their ways to the same place.").

         3. Yarn also contends that the trial court abused its discretion in granting, over Yarn's objections, three continuances that the State sought before trial.[5] The record shows that the State sought the continuances because material evidence and three material witnesses for Yarn's trial-Seymore, Gooden, and Roberts-were in federal custody for Melton's trial in North Carolina.[6] The State represented that the three witnesses would testify to being in Roberts's vehicle or participating in the shooting at the gas station and that Yarn fired shots at Barfield. "'[W]hether to grant a motion for continuance is entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.'" Morris v. State, 303 Ga. 192, 194 (811 S.E.2d 321) (2018) (quoting Carter v. State, 285 Ga. 394, 398 (677 S.E.2d 71) (2009)).

         Yarn's argument relies on OCGA § 17-8-25, [7] which requires applications for continuances based on witness absence to show, among other things, that the witness has been subpoenaed. Because the absent witnesses in his case had not been subpoenaed, Yarn contends that the trial court should have denied the continuances for failure to meet the requirements of OCGA § 17-8-25. But Yarn fails to cite any authority to support this assertion, and we previously have rejected the very same argument. See Parker v. State, 282 Ga. 897, 899 (655 S.E.2d 582) (2009) (noting that "a trial court does not abuse its discretion as a matter of law in granting a continuance in the absence of a subpoena") (quoting Carraway v. State, 263 Ga.App. 151, 153 (587 S.E.2d 152) (2003)) (punctuation omitted). Moreover, OCGA § 17-8-33 (a)-which was argued below and on which the trial court relied in its order denying Yarn's motion for new trial-"authorizes a court to grant a continuance whenever required by 'the absence of a material witness or the principles of justice.'" Parker, 282 Ga. at 898 (quoting Dowd, 280 Ga.App. at 564) (emphasis in original). Given our case law interpreting OCGA § 17-8-25, and the broad latitude trial courts have to grant continuances under OCGA § 17-8-33 (a), we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion here. See Parker, 282 Ga. at 898-899. This enumeration of error, therefore, fails.

         4. Yarn argues that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him fully of the sentencing consequences of rejecting a plea offer made by the State, and, in particular, for failing to inform Yarn of the differences between consecutive and concurrent sentences. Because Yarn has failed to establish ...

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