October 2012, a jury found Dennis Welch guilty of malice
murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death
of Jamie Wright. Welch appeals, contending that the trial
court erred by failing to give a jury instruction on
involuntary manslaughter and that the evidence was
insufficient to support his conviction for malice murder. For
the reasons stated below, we affirm.
Viewed in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict,
the evidence presented at trial showed that, on the evening
of September 22, 2011, Welch entered the home of his
landlord, 85-year-old Jamie Wright, through an unlocked
window in a guest bedroom with the intent to burglarize her
home while she was away. After searching the guest bedroom,
Welch moved on to search the master bedroom. There, he found
a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special pistol in the
nightstand drawer, which he placed in the waistband of his
pants. Before Welch could vacate the residence, Wright
returned home. Upon seeing her headlights in the driveway,
Welch hid in the master bedroom closet. While in the closet,
Welch cocked the pistol and pulled it out of his waistband.
to Welch, after several minutes he emerged from the bedroom,
entered the hallway, and saw Wright sitting in a chair in the
living room. He then walked away from where Wright was
sitting and toward the kitchen, pistol in hand. Welch later
testified that he planned to use the pistol as a
"threatening tool" if necessary. When Welch stepped
into the kitchen, he stepped on a cat food dish, alerting
Wright to his presence. From her seat in the living room,
Wright turned his way and called out, "You're not
supposed to be in here." Welch, with his finger on the
pistol's trigger, turned toward Wright and fired the
pistol, killing Wright.
days later, on September 24, 2011, Wright's body was
found sitting upright in an armchair in her living room. She
died from a gunshot to the upper-left portion of her chest.
At that time, it was also discovered that Wright's truck
was missing. Law enforcement processed the scene, uncovering
evidence of a burglary, including a raised window, damage to
the blinds in the guest bedroom, and a ransacked master
bedroom. While investigators were unable to develop any
identifiable latent prints at the crime scene, "linear
fabric impressions" were developed that were consistent
with those made by a person wearing gloves.
September 25, law enforcement located Wright's truck at
an apartment complex in Gainesville, Florida. The next day,
deputies from the Alachua County Sheriff's Department
were dispatched to the truck's location, where Welch and
his girlfriend, Michelle Ziegenfuss, were arrested without
incident. Law enforcement seized the couple's belongings
from the apartment in which they were staying, recovering
Wright's birth certificate, driver's license,
military identification card, social security card, and
credit card. Investigators also found receipts dated
September 23 for electronics bought from Best Buy and
Walmart, as well as a handwritten check register and a
deposit ticket bearing Wright's signature. A pair of
gloves was also found with Welch's belongings, and a
Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver was found in the
center console of Wright's truck.
Welch was arrested, he was read the Miranda warning
s and questioned at the scene of arrest. Welch waived his
rights and confessed to a deputy that he was burglarizing
Wright's residence when she came home and confronted him.
He admitted to shooting Wright, but claimed that the shooting
was accidental and that "the gun just went off." In
a later interview, Welch told investigators where he disposed
of the spent shell casing. Investigators went to the location
identified by Welch and recovered the shell casing.
trial, Ziegenfuss testified on behalf of the State and
confirmed that she and Welch used Wright's credit card
extensively from the time Welch took the card until the two
were arrested. She also testified that Welch used one of
Wright's blank checks to make a check payable to
Ziegenfuss and that Ziegenfuss deposited that check into her
account. According to Ziegenfuss, Welch confessed to her that
he shot Wright.
State's firearms expert testified that the pistol
recovered from the center console of Wright's truck fired
the shot that killed Wright. Testing indicated that the weapon
was in good working condition, and the firearms expert
testified that she would not consider the pistol to have a
hair trigger. Furthermore, she explained that the gun had a
safety to prevent it from discharging if the trigger was
merely bumped or if the operator's finger slipped off of
the pistol's hammer while thumbing it back.
argues that the evidence against him in regard to his
conviction for malice murder was insufficient. We disagree.
person commits malice murder when he "unlawfully and
with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes
the death of another human being." OCGA § 16-5-1
This meaning of malice murder is consistent with the general
rule that crimes which are defined so as to require that the
defendant intentionally cause a forbidden bad result are
usually interpreted to cover one who knows that his conduct
is substantially certain to cause the result, whether or not
he desires the result to occur. Thus, a malice murder can be
shown not only by evidence that the defendant acted with the
deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another
human being which is manifested by external circumstances
capable of proof, but also by evidence that the defendant
acted where no considerable provocation appears and where all
the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and
malignant heart. In other words, evidence that the defendant
acted with implied malice is, for purposes of demonstrating
[his] guilt of the crime of malice murder, no less probative
than proof that [he] acted with a specific intent to kill.
Moran v. State, 302 Ga. 162, 164 (1) (b) (805 S.E.2d
856) (2017) (evidence that appellant shot victim in the back
of the head from close range as victim begged for his life
was sufficient to support conviction of malice murder).
Evidence at trial authorized the jury to conclude that Welch
put his finger on the pistol's trigger, pointed the
pistol at Wright, and shot her in order to complete the
burglary that Welch admitted he intended to commit. Under
these circumstances, the evidence was sufficient to authorize
a rational jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that
Welch was guilty of malice murder. Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61
L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
2. In a
separate enumeration, Welch argues that the trial court erred
by refusing his written request for an instruction on
involuntary manslaughter based on reckless conduct. Welch
requested the instruction prior to trial, objected when the
trial court refused it, and renewed his objection when the
trial court did not give the instruction. For the ...