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Holmes v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 19, 2019


          BETHEL, JUSTICE.

         De'Andre Holmes appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial after a jury found him guilty of malice murder and other offenses in connection with the death of Cory Joseph.[1] On appeal, Holmes argues that the evidence presented against him was insufficient because the State failed to prove that venue was proper in Richmond County. He further argues that the trial court failed to exercise its discretion to act as the "thirteenth juror" in ruling upon Holmes' motion for new trial and instead inappropriately applied a sufficiency-of-evidence standard to Holmes' statutory challenge on the general grounds. We conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence to support Holmes' convictions. However, because the record shows that the trial court applied only a sufficiency-of-evidence standard in considering Holmes' motion for new trial on the general grounds, we vacate in part the trial court's order denying his motion for new trial and remand the case so that the trial court may exercise its discretion as the "thirteenth juror" and, in so doing, reweigh the evidence presented at trial. As explained below, we do not reach Holmes' additional enumeration of error regarding the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the State regarding venue.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial showed the following. On the night of March 7, 2007, Wilkins was in her house when she heard a crash outside. Wilkins saw that a car had crashed through the side of her storage shed. Wilkins went outside and saw the car try to back up, but the car was stuck on some bricks. Wilkins saw one man exit the passenger's side of the car and wander through Wilkins' yard. Another man, later identified as Holmes, got out of the backseat on the driver's side and told Wilkins that she should call the police because he did not have insurance.

         Wilkins yelled for her daughter, who was in the house, to call the police. The man who exited the passenger's side of the vehicle ran away across her driveway, down the street. It was dark outside, and Wilkins could not see the passenger's face well. Wilkins then attempted to make Holmes sit down, as he appeared hurt and had a spot of blood on his shirt. Holmes said he was "all right" and ran off.

         One of Wilkins' neighbors came to Wilkins' house after the car crashed into the shed. The neighbor smelled something burning and went to turn off the car. When she reached into the car, the neighbor found a person, later identified as Cory Joseph, unresponsive in the driver's seat of the vehicle.

         Richmond County Sheriff's Deputy Valentina Mancusi responded to the scene a few minutes after Wilkins' daughter called 911. Deputy Mancusi secured the area, found the vehicle still running in Wilkins' shed, and noticed Joseph sitting in the driver's seat, slumped over the console with his head in the front passenger seat. Deputy Mancusi later testified that Joseph appeared to have been shot in the back of the head, had no pulse, and was not responsive. Emergency units responded to the scene shortly thereafter and turned off the vehicle but were unable to revive Joseph.

         Sergeant James Gordon of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office crime scene unit also responded to the 911 call. When Gordon arrived, he spoke with Wilkins and an investigator on site and learned that the man in the car was dead from a possible gunshot. Sergeant Gordon then began photographing and videotaping the scene.

         While examining the vehicle, Sergeant Gordon found that the car's glove compartment was open. He also noticed that Joseph's wallet was open, lying on the vehicle's floorboard with three cards belonging to Joseph strewn next to it. Sergeant Gordon also found a nine-millimeter cartridge casing on the front passenger's side floorboard. Joseph had injuries to his face that were consistent with two marks on the inside of the windshield. Gordon found a white zip-up jacket in the driveway and collected it as evidence. Wilkins believed that the jacket belonged to one of the men who had been in the car. Gordon also noticed that the vehicle's radio had been detached from the console.

         While searching the car, Sergeant Gordon located a dental grill in the vehicle's backseat area. The grill was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for processing and was later found to contain DNA that matched Holmes.

         Sergeant Gordon testified that Joseph suffered a wound to the back of his head that caused him to bleed. Gordon also testified that the pattern of the blood was consistent with Joseph having been shot before the vehicle impacted Wilkins' shed and thrust forward into the vehicle's windshield on impact. Joseph also had an injury around his eye and abrasions on his cheek and chin. The GBI medical examiner who performed Joseph's autopsy determined that Joseph's cause of death was a contact gunshot wound[2] to the back of the head and that his manner of death was homicide. The medical examiner testified that the bullet traveled from the right side to the left side of Joseph's skull in a slightly downward trajectory.

         Settron Bell, a friend of Holmes, testified at trial that he was with Holmes on March 7, 2007. Holmes lived in Waynesboro. Bell and Holmes were given a ride by a third person from Waynesboro to Augusta so that they could go to Bell's cousin's house. Bell testified that, when he and Holmes arrived in Augusta, they were dropped off near an apartment complex, but rather than visiting Bell's cousin, they walked for about 15 minutes to a convenience store. At the store, Holmes asked Joseph for a ride. Bell entered the front passenger seat, and Holmes entered the rear passenger door behind Bell. They drove for about five minutes, and Bell said that Joseph told them that he could not take them any further because he had to go to work. Bell said that he then heard a gunshot, and the car immediately ran off the road and crashed into Wilkins' shed. Bell jumped out and ran away, while Holmes stayed to talk to Wilkins. Bell saw Holmes with a gun earlier that day before Holmes and Bell got into the car with Joseph.

         Bell saw Holmes again about a week after the shooting. Bell said that when he talked to Holmes, Holmes was "kind of crying and stuff and [saying] he didn't really mean to do it[.]"

         Holmes was interviewed by Detective Steve Fanning on April 15, 2007. During the interview, Holmes gave conflicting accounts as to his whereabouts and activities in the hours leading up to Joseph's death. Holmes initially stated that he and Bell went to Augusta to visit his baby's mother and then received a ride to McDonald's and, later, to Burke County. After making this statement, Holmes admitted getting into Joseph's car, but he claimed that two unknown black males were in the backseat with him. In this version, Holmes claimed that one of the unknown men shot Joseph and that Holmes, Bell, and the two men all fled on foot.

         In June 2008, Holmes wrote a letter to Joseph's mother, claiming that as Joseph was dropping them off, Holmes pulled out his gun, and that while checking its chamber, Holmes "slipped." In this letter, Holmes claimed that he did not know the gun was loaded, that Bell told him to hold the gun, and that he blacked out. The sheriff's office obtained a DNA specimen from Holmes and submitted ...

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