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Daniels v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 19, 2019

DANIELS
v.
THE STATE.

          PETERSON, JUSTICE.

         Tobias Daniels appeals his convictions for malice murder and other crimes related to the 2015 shooting death of Mikell Wright and attempted robbery of Mikell's brother, Rodregus Wright.[1] Daniels challenges the sufficiency of the evidence as to the crimes against Mikell and argues that the trial court erred by sustaining the State's challenge to two of Daniels's peremptory strikes and by failing to apply the rule of lenity in sentencing him for criminal attempt to commit armed robbery instead of aggravated assault. We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support Daniels's convictions, that the trial court did not commit reversible error in rejecting two of Daniels's peremptory strikes, and that the trial court did not err in sentencing Daniels to attempted armed robbery instead of aggravated assault.

         The trial evidence in the light most favorable to the verdicts shows as follows. On May 31, 2015, a group of teenagers, including brothers Rodregus and Mikell Wright, proceeded toward a Chatham County apartment complex. Mikell went to the home of the "candy man" just outside the complex to buy a lighter, while Rodregus pedaled his bicycle into the complex with Zyonnia Grant riding on the front.

         Antonio Griffin, Zykieam Redinburg, and Daniels were at the apartment complex, and, "after talk[ing] to some girls," together they made a plan to rob Rodregus. Griffin, Redinburg, and Daniels approached Rodregus and Grant, who both were still on Rodregus's bike. Griffin, Redinburg, and Daniels each had something covering part of their faces but were still recognizable. Redinburg pulled out a gun, pointed it at Rodregus's head, and ordered him to empty his pockets. Daniels, who also had a gun, went through Rodregus's pockets and said "go through his pockets" or "check his socks." The group was unable to obtain anything from Rodregus, who rode off on his bike, calling out to his brother.

         Still wearing face coverings, Daniels, Redinburg, and Griffin then walked toward the home of the "candy man" with plans to rob Mikell. Upon encountering Mikell, Daniels and Redinburg both brandished a gun at him. The group was unable to obtain anything of value from Mikell and began to walk away from him. Mikell called after the group, questioning their actions. Daniels handed a gun to Griffin, who shot Mikell several times. Daniels then proceeded to run to his grandmother's house, while his associates ran in different directions. Mikell died of gunshot wounds.

         1. Daniels argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove Daniels guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the offenses against Mikell. We disagree.

         Challenging the sufficiency of the evidence as to his conviction for attempted armed robbery of Mikell, Daniels argues that the evidence failed to prove that he shared with Griffin a common criminal intent to rob Mikell. Under OCGA § 16-2-20 (a), "[e]very person concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be . . . convicted of commission of the crime."

Mere presence at the scene of the crime and mere approval of a criminal act are insufficient to establish that a defendant was a party to the crime, and proof that the defendant shares a common criminal intent with the actual perpetrators is necessary. But such shared criminal intent may be inferred from the defendant's conduct before, during, and after the crime.

Thomas v. State, 296 Ga. 485, 488 (1) (769 S.E.2d 82) (2015) (citations and punctuation omitted). In addition, "[t]he testimony of an accomplice must be corroborated to sustain a felony conviction." Yarn v. State, 305 Ga. 421, 423 (2) (826 S.E.2d 1) (2019) (citing OCGA § 24-14-8). But the corroborating evidence "need not of itself be sufficient to warrant a conviction of the crime charged," and "[s]light evidence from an extraneous source identifying the accused as a participant in the criminal act is sufficient corroboration of the accomplice to support a verdict." Id. (citations and punctuation omitted).

         Here, Redinburg - an accomplice whose testimony required corroboration - testified that his group headed toward Mikell "[t]o rob him." And only Redinburg testified that Daniels brandished a gun when they approached Mikell. But there was evidence apart from this testimony from which the jury could infer that Daniels was a participant in the attempted armed robbery of Mikell. Multiple witnesses besides Redinburg identified Daniels as part of the group that approached Rodregus, with Redinburg pointing a gun at Rodregus. Rodregus and Grant testified that Daniels had his face partially covered, and Rodregus testified that Daniels directed one of his associates to check Rodregus's pockets or socks. Grant, who had been riding with Rodregus on his bike, testified that after the group was unable to obtain anything from Rodregus, another girl reported that Mikell had money; at that point, Daniels proceeded with the group in the direction of Mikell. There was also evidence - a statement to police by a witness other than Redinburg - that the members of the group still had their faces covered even after the shooting of Mikell. This was sufficient to corroborate Redinburg's testimony that Daniels participated in the attempted armed robbery of Mikell. And Redinburg's testimony in particular supported a conclusion that Daniels shared a criminal intent to rob Mikell. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdicts, as we must, see Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979), the evidence was sufficient to authorize a jury to find Daniels guilty of the attempted armed robbery of Mikell. See, e.g., Stewart v. State, 299 Ga. 622, 626-627 (2) (c) (791 S.E.2d 61) (2016) (finding sufficient evidence from which jury could infer appellant acted with a shared criminal intent to rob, where appellant was present for discussion about robbing a particular drug dealer, proceeded to the victims' rooms with others as part of that plan, "perhaps" was armed with a gun, ran away with other perpetrators, and took part in dividing up the proceeds of the robbery).

         Daniels also argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his malice murder conviction, because there was no evidence to corroborate Redinburg's claim that Daniels aided or abetted the murder of Mikell by handing Griffin the murder weapon and no evidence that Daniels shared Griffin's malice aforethought. But there was evidence apart from Redinburg's testimony from which the jury could infer that Daniels was a participant in the murder of Mikell. Rodregus, Grant, and another eyewitness testified that Redinburg pointed a gun at Rodregus when Redinburg, Griffin, and Daniels attempted to rob him. From this evidence, the jury was authorized to conclude that, by the time the group walked away from Rodregus, Daniels was aware that at least one of his associates had a gun and was likely to use it in attempting to rob Mikell. And Grant testified that Daniels did not abandon the group at this point, but instead proceeded with the others in the direction of Mikell. There also was evidence that Daniels remained for the attempted robbery of Mikell and did not seek to aid Mikell after he was shot but, according to another eyewitness besides Redinburg, fled the scene. This was sufficient to corroborate Redinburg's testimony that Daniels participated in the murder of Mikell. And given Redinburg's particular testimony that Daniels pointed a gun at Mikell and then handed the gun to Griffin before Griffin shot Mikell, there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could conclude that Daniels shared a criminal intent to kill Mikell and was a party to the crime of malice murder. See Thomas, 296 Ga. at 486-488 (1) (evidence that appellant participated in convenience store robbery in which patron was shot by appellant's accomplice sufficient to sustain appellant's malice murder conviction); Lattimore v. State, 265 Ga. 102, 102-103 (1) (454 S.E.2d 474) (1995) (evidence that appellant agreed to help associate rob the victim and was seen running from the scene with the associate, who had a gun, seconds after shots were fired sufficient to sustain appellant's malice murder conviction); Adams v. State, 264 Ga. 71, 71-72 (2) (440 S.E.2d 639) (1994) (sufficient evidence to support appellant's malice murder conviction where, on the evening of the murder, appellant put murder weapon into his vehicle, opened trunk for shooter to retrieve weapon, handed shotgun shells to the shooter, and fired another weapon into the air), overruled on other grounds by Carr v. State, 281 Ga. 43, 44 (635 S.E.2d 767) (2006).[2] The evidence thus being sufficient to support Daniels's conviction for malice murder, Daniels's claim that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for felony murder is moot, because the felony murder conviction was vacated by operation of law. See Blackledge v. State, 299 Ga. 385, 387 (1) n.3 (788 S.E.2d 353) (2016).[3]

         2. Daniels also argues that the trial court erred by sustaining the State's challenge to two of Daniels's peremptory strikes under Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (112 S.Ct. 2348, 120 L.Ed.2d 33) (1992). We conclude that the trial court did not clearly err in sustaining the State's challenges.

         Noting that the defendants used all of their peremptory strikes against white jurors, the State challenged the defense's strikes as violating McCollum.[4] At issue here are the State's challenges to the defense's strikes of two jurors: Juror No. 27 and Juror No. 30.[5] The defense explained the strike of Juror No. 27 on the basis that the juror lived in a gated community and her husband had been a longtime school teacher. The State argued that living in a certain area was not a race-neutral explanation and stated that teachers and other school employees had been placed on the jury. Counsel defended the strike of Juror No. 30 on the basis that he was a first sergeant in the military with 27 years of service and had undergone expert firearms training, predicting that if he were placed on the jury "he will be the foreperson and he will run the show. He's been doing it for 27 years."[6] The State responded that a black woman selected for the jury (Juror No. 4) indicated that she had been in the military as well and had firearms training.

         The trial court ruled that the defense explanation as to its strike of Juror No. 27 was "a subterfuge for a racial strike" because gated communities in Chatham County "are typically predominantly Caucasian communities," and other educators were placed on the jury. And, noting Juror No. 4's responses, the trial court said that it could not find the defense's explanation as to Juror No. 30 "to be race neutral based on the circumstances of this case." The trial court put both Juror ...


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