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Bonner v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

June 27, 2019

BONNER
v.
THE STATE.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          COOMER, JUDGE.

         Lynnward Bonner appeals his conviction for three counts of aggravated assault (OCGA § 16-5-21) on which he was found guilty but mentally ill, one count of criminal damage to property in the first degree (OCGA § 16-7-22), one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (OCGA § 16-11-106), and one count of discharge of a firearm on the property of another (OCGA § 16-11-104). On appeal, Bonner raises three issues: (1) that the trial court erred by improperly admitting other acts evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b), (2) that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request funds for an expert, and (3) that the State committed a Brady violation. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         When a criminal conviction is appealed, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict. Whaley v. State, 337 Ga.App. 50, 50 (785 S.E.2d 685) (2016). The record shows that Bonner lived and worked as a handyman at Shady Acres Trailer Park, which was owned by his mother. Norma Auceda Gomez ("Gomez") and her family were Bonner's neighbors at Shady Acres Trailer Park. Bonner, who had a history of mental health issues, testified that he sometimes experienced hallucinations such as patterns, projected holograms, and faces in clouds and trees.

         Around 6:00 a.m. on September 2, 2015, Bonner purportedly saw a hologram of a man and woman on the side of Gomez's trailer. The man's face looked "mean" and he had seen it on prior occasions. Bonner came to the conclusion that there was an ongoing hostage situation and he asked the hologram of the woman if she was ready to die, to which she shook her head "no." Bonner responded to her saying "no, this has got to end. I'm ready to die if you are," and the hologram woman nodded "yes." Bonner then knocked on Gomez's trailer door and an unfamiliar voice told him to wait a minute. When no one came to the door after a few minutes Bonner left to return to his trailer, and on the way back he encountered what he thought was a drone and he asked it if the situation at Gomez's trailer was legitimate, to which the drone responded affirmatively. He then retrieved his shotgun and ammunition from his trailer, returned to Gomez's trailer, and shot twice into the side of the trailer, where the perceived holograms were located. The shots went into the master bathroom, where one of Gomez's daughters was getting ready for school. The daughter received a minor injury.

         After the shooting, no one came out of the trailer and Bonner returned to his work trailer. On his way back, Bonner saw some children and he did not want them to see the gun so he put it down by his side and away from them. When Bonner returned to his work trailer, he "realized that things weren't going like I thought they were" when no gunmen or hostages emerged from Gomez's trailer. Bonner then saw police cars drive into the park, and he realized that he was "screwed" because he knew that the officers were looking for him. He put the shotgun and ammunition in a bedroom closet and went into the bathroom to hide. Bonner heard the deputies enter the trailer and call out, but he did not respond. He remained hidden in the bathroom until the deputies came in and arrested him.

         At trial, Bonner stated that he believed the holograms were on Gomez's trailer and people were inside the trailer. He said that is why he asked the female hologram if she was prepared to die. He further stated that when he saw the sheriff's cars after the shooting he knew that it was likely that what he had done was not the right thing to do. In addition, he acknowledged that it was not right for him to shoot the little girl.

         Dr. Darcy Shores from the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities (DBHDD) evaluated Bonner on January 4, 2016 and determined that he was incompetent to stand trial. Bonner was then admitted to Central State Hospital. On May 24, 2016, Bonner was again evaluated for competency at Central State Hospital and was determined to have been restored to competency. On December 5, 2016, Dr. Sanjay Shah from the DBHDD evaluated Bonner for criminal responsibility. During that evaluation, for the first time since being arrested, Bonner relayed a version of events that included holograms on Gomez's trailer and a belief that there was a hostage situation. Dr. Shah concluded that Bonner was criminally responsible. Dr. Shah testified at trial that Bonner possessed the mental capacity to distinguish right from wrong because there was no prior documentation of Bonner relaying a version of events that included holograms and hostages. Further, Dr. Shah testified that even if Bonner had actually believed that a hostage situation was ongoing, shooting a gun into the trailer would not have been a justifiable act. Finally, Dr. Shah said that he believed that Bonner's actions after the shooting were inconsistent with an alleged attempt to rescue the people inside the trailer.

         Bonner was found guilty but mentally ill on three counts of aggravated assault, and guilty of one count of criminal damage to property in the first degree, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and one count of discharge of a firearm on the property of another. Bonner timely filed a motion for new trial. Following a hearing, the trial court denied his motion. This appeal followed.

         1. Bonner contends that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of a prior act under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) for the purposes of intent, identity, absence of mistake or accident, and consciousness of guilt. Specifically, he argues that the evidence pertaining to a 2008 incident at Shady Acres Trailer Park had no probative value for any of the purposes listed above. We disagree.

         "[O]n appeal, we review the admission of Rule 404 (b) evidence for a clear abuse of discretion." Gunn v. State, 342 Ga.App. 615, 620 (1) (804 S.E.2d 118) (2017) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         In the 2008 incident, which was admitted into evidence at trial, Bonner attempted to stop a domestic abuse situation that occurred at Shady Oaks Trailer Park. He heard one of his neighbors, who he believed had been a prior victim of domestic abuse, cry out for help. In response to his neighbor's cry for help Bonner fired a gun into the air and told the abusive neighbor to stop. After firing the shot, Bonner believed the abuse was still ongoing. He ultimately fired three shots outside of the neighbor's trailer over the span of several minutes. By that time, police arrived and Bonner returned home.

         (a) Bonner first argues that he was not afforded notice of the purposes for which the Rule 404 (b) evidence would be used at trial. Prior to trial, the State provided notice to Bonner that it would use the evidence to show intent, identity, absence of mistake or accident, and consciousness of guilt. At trial, the trial court instructed the jury to limit its consideration of the evidence to those same purposes. Bonner's notice argument hinges on the State's assertion during the motion for new trial hearing that it had admitted the evidence to rebut Bonner's defense of insanity. Despite this post-trial assertion by the State, the notice Bonner received before trial of the Rule 404 (b) purposes corresponded with the purposes for which the evidence was actually used at trial. Therefore, Bonner's argument that he did not receive proper notice is without merit.

         (b) On the merits, we find that the Rule 404 (b) evidence was admissible for the purpose of intent. In his brief, Bonner argues that by virtue of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, he admitted to the act of shooting into Gomez's trailer, and therefore, his intent was not at issue during trial.

         If we were to adopt Bonner's argument, Rule 404 (b) evidence would never be admissible to show intent when an accused pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. However, the Georgia Supreme Court has held that when a defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity, prior act evidence is admissible insofar as it "aids in identification or shows the state of mind . . . of the accused." Blake v. State, 239 Ga. 292, 295 (1) (236 S.E.2d 637) (1977) (citations omitted). Contrary to Bonner's assertions, he placed his intent at issue during trial by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. See Kirk v. State, 168 Ga.App. 226, 231 (13) (308 S.E.2d 592) (1983) (Trial court did not err in instructing the jury on the State's burden to prove criminal intent where defendant pled not guilty by reason of insanity.). Therefore, the Rule 404 (b) evidence about the 2008 incident involving Bonner was relevant and the State was permitted to use it to show Bonner's intent at the time of the shooting. See Olds v. State, 299 Ga. 65, 75 (2) (786 S.E.2d 633) (2016) ("[B]ecause a plea of not guilty puts the prosecution to its burden of proving every element of the crime - including intent - evidence of other acts that ...


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