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State v. Hamilton

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 3, 2019


          WARREN, JUSTICE.

         On November 9, 2015, appellee Paul Hamilton was indicted for the malice murder of Brandon Lay, the felony murder of Lay predicated on aggravated assault, and the aggravated assaults of Lay, Teddi Taylor, and Judy Hewatt. On October 5, 2018, a jury found Hamilton not guilty of malice murder but guilty of the remaining crimes. On October 25, 2018, the trial court, on its own motion, granted Hamilton a new trial on general and legal grounds. The State appeals, see OCGA §§ 5-7-1 (a) (8); 5-7-2 (c), and for the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         1. The evidence presented at trial showed the following.[1]

         Hamilton owned a mobile home at 1302 Charlie Hall Road in Barrow County. Lay grew up in the mobile home with Hamilton and his wife, who was Lay's aunt.[2] When Lay was a teenager, Hamilton required Lay to leave that residence, and the two did not remain in contact with each other. In October of 2015, Lay, who was then 32 years old, was living in Statham, Georgia, with his girlfriend, Teddi Taylor. Lay had recently been released from prison and was doing odd jobs to earn money. Hamilton still owned the property at 1302 Charlie Hall Road, but did not live there, and the mobile home was in disrepair, with the roof and floor sagging in certain spots and items strewn all over the floor of the home.

         The events that led to Lay's death began when Lay and Taylor drove a U-Haul truck to Hamilton's mobile home in the early morning hours of October 17, 2015, to take some household items. Lay proceeded to take items out of the house, including blankets, towels, and a dresser. Around 7:00 a.m. that same morning, James Wilson, Jacob Wilson (James's son), and John Johnson arrived at 1302 Charlie Hall Road to hunt on Hamilton's property. Hamilton had given the Wilsons permission to hunt there. When they arrived, they parked their pickup truck behind Lay's U-Haul. The stories from Taylor and from the Wilsons differ as to what happened next.

         Taylor testified that Lay was locking the mobile home before she and Lay left and that she was standing near the front passenger door of the U-Haul when "a truck come flying in the driveway." The people that were in the truck began yelling at her and Lay to leave, saying that they were going to call 911. Lay told Taylor to tell the people in the truck that they were not stealing, and Taylor walked toward the back of the U-Haul. She explained that this is where her boyfriend grew up and that they were not stealing. Taylor said that the men started shooting at her, that she could "literally feel the bullet just part my hair," and that she and Lay jumped into the cab of the U-Haul, with the men shooting at them the whole time. Lay backed up the U-Haul, ramming James's truck several times and enabling Lay and Taylor to escape.[3]

         James Wilson testified that, when he, Jacob, and Johnson arrived at the property and got out of his truck, it was "dark," although it was starting to get "a little daylight," and that they saw a U-Haul truck parked in the driveway. James walked in front of his truck and was standing 15 to 20 feet behind the U-Haul. He saw a blonde woman standing by the back of the U-Haul, but he did not recognize her and did not get a good look at her. James asked the woman what she was doing and said that he was going to call 911. The Wilsons both testified that they did not fire any shots at Taylor and that, after James said that he was going to call 911, they heard the U-Haul's engine start. The U-Haul then backed up "full throttle." James "jumped out of the way," and the U-Haul rammed his truck multiple times. James, who had a pistol, fired a shot into the ground to try to get the U-Haul to stop. Even though James's truck was in park, the force of the U-Haul's ramming pushed it out of the U-Haul's path. James ran behind his truck, which hit him and knocked him into a ditch. According to Jacob, his father's pickup truck was being pushed toward his father in the ditch, prompting Jacob to fire several shots at the tires of the U-Haul.

         After Lay pushed James's truck out of the way with his U-Haul, he and Taylor drove off in the direction of Old Hog Mountain Road. Because the back of the U-Haul was not closed, some household belongings fell out of the U-Haul on Hamilton's property and along Charlie Hall Road down to its intersection with Old Hog Mountain Road, which was about a quarter of a mile away. Lay drove the U-Haul to a place near the home of an acquaintance, Judy Hewatt, where he parked it. He and Taylor then walked to Hewatt's home.

         The Wilsons reported the incident to the sheriff's office, and James asked his wife, Chanda, to get in touch with Hamilton and tell him about the incident. James also told Chanda that a blonde woman was involved in the incident. A deputy sheriff responded to the Charlie Hall Road property, finished his investigation, and left before Hamilton arrived. When Hamilton arrived, he and the Wilsons were cleaning up some of the items that had fallen out of the U-Haul on the driveway and in the road, and during the cleanup found a purse and cell phone. They called the sheriff's office, and the deputy sheriff returned to the property. The deputy collected the purse and cell phone, and the purse contained a credit card with Taylor's name on it. Hamilton told the deputy that "if I catch anyone else on my property you'll need to call the coroner." About 20 minutes after the deputy left, Hamilton and the Wilsons left the Charlie Hall Road property, with Hamilton leaving first.

         Hewatt testified that, later that morning, she drove Lay and Taylor in her pickup truck to the intersection of Charlie Hall Road and Old Hog Mountain Road, where some items had fallen out of the U-Haul. Hewatt testified that she parked her truck, which had only front-passenger seating, on the side of the road, and she, Lay, and Taylor began picking up items. At the same time, Chanda Wilson and her daughter, Celena, were driving to Hamilton's property and went through the intersection of Charlie Hall Road and Old Hog Mountain Road, where they saw two blonde women and a man picking up household belongings that were spread along the side of the intersection. Chanda then drove down Charlie Hall Road toward Hamilton's property, where she saw Hamilton's car approaching and stopped it. Because she had been told that a blonde woman had been involved in the incident at Hamilton's property, she told him about the people at the intersection and noted that they might have been involved in the early morning incident at his property. When Hamilton left, he drove down Charlie Hall Road toward Old Hog Mountain Road. Shortly thereafter, the four members of the Wilson family left Hamilton's property and headed home in their two vehicles. Their drive home took them to the intersection of Charlie Hall Road and Old Hog Mountain Road.

         When Hamilton arrived at the intersection, Hewatt, Lay, and Taylor were walking back to Hewatt's truck. The three got into the truck, with Hewatt in the driver's seat, Taylor in the middle seat, and Lay in the passenger seat. Hamilton parked his car in front of Hewatt's truck. James and Jacob Wilson arrived at the intersection shortly after Hamilton and parked their truck nearby, with Chanda Wilson and her daughter arriving shortly thereafter. Jacob recognized Taylor as the blonde woman who had been involved in the earlier incident, but he did not tell Hamilton.[4]

         What happened next is also subject to dispute. At trial, Taylor testified that Hamilton got out of his car and approached the driver's side of Hewatt's truck carrying a handgun. She testified that Lay screamed, "he's going to kill us," and pushed Taylor back in her seat. Hamilton then fired his gun, hitting Lay in the head. Taylor added that Hamilton said that he had "killed that motherf**ker dead"; that she did not remember if Hamilton's gun was inside or outside of the truck when he fired; and that neither she nor Lay touched Hamilton before Hamilton shot Lay. On cross-examination, Taylor admitted that, in her initial statement to the police, she did not tell the interviewing officer about going to 1302 Charlie Hall Road earlier that morning or about the incident that happened there. She also admitted that she and Lay had been up most of the night before the incident and had taken methamphetamine with syringes that were later found at Hamilton's property.

         Hewatt testified that, after Hamilton parked his car, he came to the driver's side of her truck with a gun. She also saw James and Jacob Wilson there and testified that they said, "that's her in the middle." According to Hewatt, the Wilsons tried to open her door, and they "kept on saying, he's going to kill you. He's going to shoot you." Hewatt added that the Wilsons "tried to open my door," "so I closed it back and locked it." She then heard the gun go off. Lay was shot in the temple and died. Hewatt testified that she did not know at first that Lay had been shot because Hamilton had his hands on top of her hands on the steering wheel. Hewatt expressed a belief that Hamilton must have "shot with his left hand." Hewatt added that neither she, nor Lay, nor Taylor attempted to grab or fight Hamilton.

         James Wilson testified that when he and Jacob arrived at the intersection of Charlie Hall Road and Old Mountain Road, Hamilton was approaching Hewatt's truck. He and Jacob got out of their truck; James asked Jacob to call 911, which he did; and James walked toward Hewatt's truck. James testified that there was a lot of "hollering going on" and that Hamilton kept telling Hewatt to give him the keys to her truck. At one point, according to James, the truck "revved up" and "made a racket." About that time, James's wife and daughter drove up and parked, and James went to their car to keep them from approaching the scene. According to James, he was not by Hewatt's truck when the shot was fired; Jacob never approached the ...

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