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McCammon v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 19, 2019



         Appellant Curtis McCammon was convicted of malice murder, attempted armed robbery, and a gun crime in connection with the shooting death of Nigel James. On appeal, he contends that the evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court erred by denying his motion to exclude testimony about his purchase and use of marijuana and by admitting an exhibit that was not properly authenticated. We affirm.[1]

         1. (a) Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed the following. According to Areon Clemons, on the afternoon of September 1, 2015, Appellant called Clemons to ask for a ride. Appellant and Clemons had been friends for about six months, during which the two men would "[s]moke weed, play basketball together, [and] burglarize houses." Appellant had just stolen some televisions and needed help transporting them. Clemons drove to meet Appellant in the Ellington residential community in Covington, and Appellant told him that Nigel James was coming to meet them to buy the stolen televisions. After James left the community with two televisions, Appellant and Clemons went to buy marijuana from a drug dealer they knew as "Dizzy." That evening, James called Appellant to say that he wanted some money back because one television was not the right size, and they agreed to meet at the community's pool house.[2]

         On the way there in Clemons's car, Appellant told Clemons that he wanted to rob and kill James. Appellant had seen James with cash when James paid for the televisions earlier that day. Appellant told Clemons to stop at Hentrez Reed's house on the west side of the Ellington community so Appellant could get a gun. Reed was using drugs when they arrived. Reed then joined Appellant and Clemons, and Clemons drove to a street near the pool house, where they parked. The three men walked to the rear of the pool house to wait for James. As they waited, Reed showed Appellant how to use the gun and told him not to be scared. When James arrived, Clemons ran back to his car as Appellant and Reed walked toward James's car; the gun was in Appellant's hand. As Clemons ran, he heard several gunshots. Appellant and Reed then returned to Clemons's car; they apparently had not taken anything from James. As Clemons drove away, Appellant and Reed said that they wanted to go rob Dizzy (the drug dealer) because they believed Dizzy would have cash they could steal. Clemons refused, however, and instead he dropped off Appellant and Reed at Reed's house and left.

         James had been shot several times, but he managed to drive away from the pool house area toward the east side of the community. Minutes later, a teenager called 911 to report that a man was yelling for help, saying he had been shot, and banging on the front door of the teenager's home and neighbors' homes. Responding officers found James lying in the grass with a garden hose running water over his bleeding wounds. His car was stopped in the middle of the street with the engine still running; the car had blood and bullet holes in it. James told the officers that he had been shot near the bridge and the lake, which were next to the pool house. He asked the officers for his cellphone, indicating that it would have information about the shooter on it, but the officers could not find the cellphone at that time. James was taken to a hospital, but soon died. The police found about $1, 300 in cash in James's belongings at the hospital.

         Eight days later, police officers arrested Appellant and Clemons as they were driving away from a house that they had just burglarized. In an interview with the police, Appellant admitted that he had sold stolen televisions to James and that James had called him later that day to get a refund for the television that was too small. After telling the police a variety of stories, Clemons confessed to his, Reed's, and Appellant's involvement in the murder. The officers then arrested Reed, who took them to his brother's house to recover the murder weapon, which Reed had hidden behind the washing machine.

         According to Clemons, he and Appellant were in jail in adjoining cells and were talking when Appellant slid a one-page, handwritten document under the door to Clemons. On the front of the document was an affidavit stating (falsely) that Clemons had stolen the murder weapon from Reed's house without Reed's knowledge. On the back was a note indicating that Reed wanted Appellant to sign the affidavit, but that Appellant was not going to do that. Clemons believed that Reed wrote the affidavit and that Appellant wrote the note on the back.[3] Clemons later entered a negotiated guilty plea to conspiracy to commit murder, attempted armed robbery, aggravated assault, and a gun crime, for which he was sentenced to serve a total of 10 years in prison followed by 25 years on probation. In exchange, Clemons testified for the State at Appellant's and Reed's joint trial.

         At the trial, the medical examiner who performed James's autopsy testified that James suffered five gunshot wounds - four to the left side of his torso and one to his right leg. Two of the wounds to his lower torso caused severe and ultimately fatal internal bleeding. Bullets recovered from James's body and from the crime scene matched the gun that Reed had hidden at his brother's house. Cellphone records showed that Appellant's and James's phones called each other three times just minutes before the murder, that Appellant's and Reed's phones were in the Ellington community area at the time of the murder, and that - although Appellant and Reed had no phone contact in the 11 days before the murder - Appellant's phone communicated with Reed's phone 36 times throughout the eight days between the murder and Appellant's arrest.

         Appellant did not testify. His theory of defense was that no physical evidence connected him to the murder and that Clemons was falsely accusing him in exchange for a lesser sentence.

         (b) Appellant contends that the evidence was legally insufficient to support his convictions because it was based entirely on Clemons's testimony as his accomplice, which lacked corroboration and was not credible. We disagree.

In order to sustain a conviction, testimony by an accomplice to the crime must be corroborated by other evidence implicating the defendant. OCGA § 24-14-8; Crawford v. State, 294 Ga. 898, 900-901 (757 S.E.2d 102) (2014). Corroborating evidence may be slight, and may be entirely circumstantial. See Robinson v. State, 303 Ga. 321, 322-323 (812 S.E.2d 232) (2018). "The evidence 'need not be sufficient in and of itself to warrant a conviction, so long as it is independent of the accomplice's testimony and directly connects the defendant to the crime or leads to the inference of guilt.'" Id. at 323 (quoting Parks v. State, 302 Ga. 345, 348 (806 S.E.2d 529) (2017)). "[E]vidence of the defendant's conduct before and after the crime was committed may give rise to an inference that he participated in the crime." Cisneros v. State, 299 Ga. 841, 845 (792 S.E.2d 326) (2016) (citation and punctuation omitted). Once the State has introduced independent evidence implicating the defendant, it is for the jury to decide whether the accomplice's testimony has been sufficiently corroborated. Id.

Mangram v. State, 304 Ga. 213, 216 (817 S.E.2d 682) (2018).

         In this case, Clemons's accomplice testimony about Appellant's participation in James's murder was adequately corroborated by independent evidence. Appellant admitted that he sold stolen televisions to James on the day of the murder and that James called him later that day to ask for a refund for the television that was too small. James's girlfriend testified that he told her that he was going back to "the Ellingtons" to meet the people who had sold him the televisions to ask for a refund. Cellphone records showed that Appellant and James then were in contact three times just minutes before the shooting - and James told the police as he lay dying that his cellphone would point the officers to the shooter. The phone records also showed that Appellant's and Reed's phones were in the area at the time of the shooting and that, after having no phone contact with Reed in the 11 days before the murder, Appellant communicated with Reed - who had the murder weapon - at least 36 times in the days after the murder. Although circumstantial, this independent evidence was more than slight, and it was adequate for the jury to infer Appellant's participation in the crimes. See Mangram, 304 Ga. at 216. See also Crawford, 294 Ga. at 901-902 (holding that cellphone records - the only independent evidence specifically implicating the defendant - were sufficient circumstantial evidence to authorize the jury to determine that the accomplice's testimony was corroborated).

         And as a matter of constitutional due process, although Appellant argues that Clemons was not a credible witness, "'[i]t was for the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence.'" Vega v. State, 285 Ga. 32, 33 (673 S.E.2d 223) (2009) (citation omitted). When viewed properly in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial and summarized above was legally sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). See also ...

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