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Worthen v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

August 19, 2019


Page 336

          Superior Court, Emanuel County, Kathy Palmer, Judge.

         David Joseph Walker, Georgia Public Defender Council, Appellate Division,  for Appellant.

         Samuel H. Altman, District Attorney, Courtney McGowan Patterson, A.D.A., Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula Khristian Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Christopher M. Carr, Attorney General, Department of Law, Scott Orion Teague, Assistant Attorney General, Douglas County District Attorney Office, for Appellee.


         Boggs, Justice.

          Appellant Jacquez Laquan Worthen appeals his 2014 conviction for felony murder in connection with the shooting death of Robert Lee Parrish, Jr. He contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction as a party to the shooting and that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting gang evidence over his objection. We affirm.[1]

Page 337

          1. (a) Viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence at trial showed the following. Appellant, Jhakeem Armstrong ("Armstrong"), Armstrong’s older brother Jeremy Armstrong ("Armstrong’s brother"), and Reginald Young, Jr. were all members of the "Circle of Ten" sub-group of the Crips street gang. On April 5, 2012, which was the Thursday before Easter, Armstrong’s brother attended a house party across the street from East Georgia State [306 Ga. 601] College with a man nicknamed "Big Man." Parrish’s son and his friends Darshan Habersham and Jakolby Williams were students at the college and attended the same party. "Big Man" twice deliberately bumped into Parrish’s son, prompting Habersham to intervene. Habersham ended up in an argument with Armstrong’s brother, which escalated into a fist fight outside the house in front of other people. Habersham won the fight decisively, with Parrish’s son and Williams eventually having to pull Habersham off Armstrong’s brother.

          On the evening of Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012, Parrish’s son went to a park for a cookout with friends. Numerous people were in the park, including Appellant, who was there with Armstrong, Armstrong’s brother, and Young. At some point, Appellant approached Parrish’s son and accused him of "jumping" Armstrong’s brother with Habersham at the house party in an unfair two-on-one fight; Parrish’s son denied the charge. Appellant said that he had "some boys coming" to the park, and "we’re going to find out what really happened" at the party. Parrish’s son viewed Appellant’s statements as a threat and called his father for help.

         Parrish rushed to the park, found his son, and told him to step aside while he discussed the problem with Appellant. Appellant said to Parrish, "[Y]o, your son jumped my homeboy," meaning Armstrong’s brother. Parrish invoked his and his son’s family ties with Appellant and told Appellant that he therefore should not be fighting with Parrish’s son. Appellant replied that he knew they were related but that he still would fight Parrish.[2]

          By that point, a crowd of 20 to 30 people had gathered around. Armstrong, who had a blue bandanna hanging out of his back pocket, twice said to Appellant, "let’s just go on and do this n**ger," referring to Parrish. As the argument continued and Parrish turned away, Appellant loudly asked Armstrong, "you got that heat cuz[?]" Armstrong immediately pulled out a gun and shot Parrish in the back of the head. Parrish fell to the ground, and Armstrong stood over him and shot him twice more, once in the upper chest and once in the face, killing him. Appellant and Armstrong then fled in the same direction as the crowd scattered.

          Although Parrish brought his loaded nine-millimeter handgun with him to the park, he kept it holstered with the safety on. At no point did Parrish threaten to hurt anyone or point his gun at anyone.

         In addition to testimony about what happened at the house party and in the park, the State presented testimony by Charles Whitaker, an expert in gang investigations. Whitaker testified that the Crips [306 Ga. 602] street gang has a presence in Georgia; that gangs are associated with certain colors; that the color blue is predominantly associated with the Crips; and that he has seen Crips members in Georgia wearing blue bandannas, or sometimes black. He identified certain hand signs associated with the Crips, including two that Appellant and Armstrong regularly made, as well as gang-affiliated tattoos in a photograph of Armstrong. Whitaker also testified that respect is an important aspect of gang culture; that throughout the course of his long career, nine times out of ten, an incident of gang violence started "over somebody being disrespected"; that in gang culture, disrespect ...

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