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Blaine v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 11, 2019

BLAINE
v.
THE STATE

          MELTON, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Michael Blaine was tried on a 38-count indictment and convicted of numerous offenses, including murder, in connection with a string of robberies that took place between October 2005 and September 2006.[1] Blaine appeals, arguing that the prosecutor made improper statements during closing arguments, that he was denied his rights to due process and access to the courts, and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at trial established that, at all relevant times, Blaine, a convicted felon, led a group of people around DeKalb County with the purpose of robbing drug dealers and others. Tori Moore, Jamal Callaway, Quazzard James, Berry Welborn, Johnny Travitt, Walter Landers, Cara Johnson, Curtis Frezzell, and Darren Batteast were some of the individuals involved in this group; however, not all participated in every robbery.[2] Blaine would choose the targets of, and devise the plans for, every robbery, and then the group would execute his directions. After each robbery was completed, the group would split up whatever proceeds and items were taken.

         Armed robbery of Terrell Crook (Counts 1-2)

         On October 12, 2005, Crook was selling drugs out of a motel room at a Super 8 off of Panola Road in DeKalb County. Blaine chose Crook to be the target of a robbery and enlisted Landers and Moore for help. Moore was to act as the lure/getaway driver and Landers was to assist with the robbery. That evening, Crook ran into Moore and invited her into his room for a conversation. The two spoke for a few minutes, after which Moore indicated that she needed to leave. Thereafter, Blaine and Landers kicked in the door; Blaine held a gun to Crook's face and said, "you already know what it is." As Crook lay on the floor, Blaine hit him in the back of the head with the gun. The men then raided Crook's motel room, taking his clothes, drugs, money, a gun, and a PlayStation video game unit.

         Murder of Eric Banks (Counts 1, 3-10)

         On November 17, 2005, Blaine called Landers about robbing someone at Pinewood Apartments in DeKalb County. When Landers declined to participate, Blaine recruited James and Welborn. Moore drove Blaine, James, and Welborn to the back of the apartment complex and dropped them off so the men could commit the robbery. Blaine was carrying a .380 caliber gun and James carried a Makarvo 9 mm.

         The men went to the apartment of Banks, a known drug dealer; Welborn approached the front door while Blaine and James hid nearby. Banks, who was also armed, greeted Welborn at the door and then led him into the kitchen where the two got into an argument over money. The men walked back to the front door and, as soon as Banks walked outside, Blaine and James drew their weapons and started shooting. Banks' roommate, who was home during the confrontation, ran outside; he found Banks on the ground covered in blood and saw the shooters running from the scene. Blaine shot toward the roommate as he fled, after which the roommate grabbed his 9 mm Ruger and returned fire. Blaine, James, and Welborn jumped into Moore's car and the group drove off. During the drive, Blaine told Moore that "he left a ni**er leaking."

         Officers responded to the scene and found Banks lying on the ground, unresponsive; they recovered two Ruger 9 mm cartridge casings, seven Makarov 9 mm cartridge casings, one CBD .380 cartridge casing, and one MRP .380 cartridge casing near Banks' body. Banks' .45 caliber weapon was on the ground near his body. Officers also located cocaine inside the home packaged in individual small baggies. An autopsy revealed that Banks had suffered four gunshot wounds: one to the face, one to the right shoulder, one to the left chest, and one to the left abdomen. The gunshot wound to the chest, which was the wound that caused Banks' death, left soot on his clothing, suggesting he was shot at close range.

         Blaine called Landers later that evening and told him that the robbery "didn't go good," that "people got shot, and he thinks the person is dead, and [Landers] need[ed] to stay away from those apartments for a while." Blaine admitted to Landers that he and James shot Banks, but only after the victim refused to put his own weapon down.

         Armed robbery of Dhanajay and Bandana Gupta (Counts 1, 11-21)

         On December 14, 2005, Moore dropped Blaine, Landers, and Callaway off at Towering Pines Apartments in DeKalb County so the men could conduct another robbery. The men put on masks, hid under some stairs, and waited for the Guptas, the married residents, to return. As soon as the Guptas arrived, Blaine, Landers, and Callaway forced their way inside the apartment. They tied the Guptas' hands together, held them at gunpoint, hit them both over the heads with guns, demanded money, and ransacked the apartment. At some point, the men separated the Guptas and continued to hit them. They also threatened to shoot them and hurt them with knives they had warmed over the stove in the Guptas' kitchen.

         After the men took some jewelry and money from the home, they demanded the Guptas take them to the Citgo gas station down the street, which the couple owned. The men directed the Guptas to get into their own van at gunpoint; Blaine got into the driver's seat and drove everyone to the gas station. Once there, Mr. Gupta activated the silent alarm, and then opened the safe in the back of the store. Blaine and Callaway took money from the safe and ransacked the store.[3] Moore picked up the men and the victims at the gas station and drove everyone to an abandoned house where the group continued to beat the Guptas and threaten their lives. After some time, the Guptas lay still and pretended to be unconscious. The group then left the victims at the house and fled the scene.

         The Guptas were able to escape and return to the Citgo where they met the police, who had responded to the silent alarm. Mr. Gupta was taken to the hospital where he ...


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