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Cain v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 5, 2019


          BETHEL, JUSTICE.

         An Irwin County jury found appellant Terry Joe Cain guilty of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Matthew Mobley and the assault of Gregory Johnson.[1] He appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict, finding that his pretrial statement to law enforcement was voluntarily given, and denying his motion for mistrial. Upon consideration, we conclude that these claims are meritless. However, because the trial court erred in sentencing Cain, we remand this case for resentencing.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence presented at trial showed the following. Jennifer Johnson, Cain's sister, was married to but estranged from Gregory Johnson, with whom she had two children. Shortly before Thanksgiving 2010, Jennifer dropped the couple's daughter off at Gregory's house. Gregory noticed the child had problems sitting down, and, upon inspection, he discovered she had severe diaper rash and "a hole on her butt cheek the size of a nickel." Gregory reported Jennifer to DFCS, resulting in animosity between the couple and between Gregory and Cain.

         On December 20, 2010, Cain went to the house at which Gregory was staying. Gregory was sitting on the porch with his brothers, including Mobley. When Cain drove up to the house in his white Pontiac LeMans, he exited his car and asked Gregory, "You going to give me my one?"[2] Cain and Gregory then engaged in a physical altercation during which Gregory struck Cain twice on the side of his face. After being hit, Cain got into his car and left the scene.

         Cain then traveled to his home and retrieved his father's pistol. Cain also called his friend, Rondell Montgomery, [3] and asked Montgomery to accompany him back to Gregory's house "to do a one-on-one fight with a dude to be sure nobody jumped in." Cain then returned to Gregory's home in the white Pontiac with Montgomery as his passenger; his mother, Alicia Harper, and his sister Jennifer followed in Harper's blue Buick.[4] When Harper's car reached Gregory's house, Jennifer, riding in the passenger seat, leaned out the window and began arguing with Gregory, who followed the car on foot as it drove past. As Gregory was still walking down the street near his house, Cain pulled up in his car, stuck a pistol out the window, and shot once at Gregory.[5] Although he was not shot, Gregory, believing he had been hit, slumped over in the road. Gregory was not armed.

         Gregory's brothers remained on the front porch of his house during this time. When they heard a gunshot, Mobley and a third brother, Eddie Stanley, got in Mobley's truck and began driving. Mobley stopped at a stop sign close to the house, and, when he saw Harper's car, he got out of his truck and began chasing Harper's car on foot. Cain then drove up in his car, and Mobley, seeing Cain, turned around and ran toward Cain's window. Cain fired one shot at Mobley, hitting him. Mobley was unarmed.

         Mobley was taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to his right shoulder area, which ultimately proved fatal. The medical examiner testified that the bullet entered Mobley's right arm and traveled through his chest lacerating both lungs. The medical examiner recovered the bullet from the muscle between Mobley's ribs. The medical examiner was unable to determine the range of fire due to the lack of stippling and soot.

         At trial, Doug Douglas, a detective with the Ocilla Police Department, testified that he recovered a .380 semi-automatic handgun that was buried in a flower pot at Harper's house.[6] A firearms examiner testified that the evidence was consistent with the bullet recovered from Mobley's torso having been fired from the gun recovered from Harper's house.

         Cain testified in his own defense at trial, contending that he acted in defense of himself and in defense of his mother, sister, and his sister's children. According to Cain, Gregory began threatening Cain and his sister Jennifer with physical harm in the months leading up to the incident.[7] Cain testified that, earlier on the day of the shooting, Gregory and Mobley forced Cain's car off the road and then approached Cain's car and began punching him through his car window. According to Cain, this incident caused him to fear for his life, so he went to his parents' house and took his father's handgun. Cain claimed that he drove to Gregory's house when Jennifer called him screaming that Gregory was chasing her, Harper, and Jennifer's children. Cain also claimed that, when he shot Mobley, Mobley had his left fist drawn back ready to hit Cain.

         At the conclusion of the State's case, Cain moved for a directed verdict on the ground that the State had failed to disprove his claim of self-defense. The trial court denied this motion, which Cain asserts was error. According to Cain, sufficient evidence to establish his defense of self-defense was presented during the State's case-in-chief. Consequently, Cain argues, the State bore the burden of disproving, before the close of its case, the absence of self-defense, which the State failed to do.

         We addressed and rejected this same argument in Murray v. State, 295 Ga. 289, 290-291 (1) (759 S.E.2d 525) (2014). There, we explained that

an appellate court, when reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for directed verdict in a criminal case, is not confined to a review of the evidence at the close of the [S]tate's case. The entire evidence is to be examined, and so long as all the evidence justifies the conviction under the appropriate standard, no error is shown by the denial of the motion for directed verdict.

(Citation omitted.) Id.

         Viewing the evidence recounted above in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Cain guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). And because decisions of witness credibility and questions of justification are reserved for the jury, the jury was free to reject Cain's claim that he acted in self-defense or defense of others. See Roper v. State281 Ga. 878, 880 (1) (644 S.E.2d 120) (2007). Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Cain's motion for directed verdict. See Smith v. State, 304 Ga. 752, 754 (822 S.E.2d 220) (2018) ("The standard of ...

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