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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

September 3, 2019


          Benham, Justice.

         Appellant Delwoun Williams was convicted of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Cornelius Gordon.[1] On appeal, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his request to charge the jury on voluntary manslaughter. We conclude that this contention is without merit and affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence at trial showed that Appellant (also known as "Mad Max" and "Maximilian") was a member of the Bloods gang and, around the time of the crimes, was reportedly selling a significant amount of marijuana. The victim, Cornelius Gordon, was a member of another gang, the Gangster Disciples, and he made a living as a marijuana distributor.

         On the evening of June 25, 2017, Gordon rode with his friend Angela Seecharan and Seecharan's friend Linda Santana, an associate of the Bloods gang, to "the main [Bloods'] trap house on Dean Street" in Gainesville, Georgia. Later, Seecharan drove the trio to a nightclub. While Seecharan and Gordon were sitting in the car in the club's parking lot, Santana exited the club with Daquan Henderson, also a member of the Bloods gang, who asked Seecharan for a ride.

         At Henderson's direction, Seecharan drove the group of four to several locations around town before arriving at a mobile home on Barnes Street around 2:00 a.m. where a group of 10 to 15 people was standing outside. As Henderson exited the car, Seecharan heard gunshots and noticed a short, black male in his early twenties with shoulder-length dreadlocks standing near Gordon's front-passenger window.[2] She also heard someone scream, "I told y'all n****rs, I told y'all, y'all thought this was a game." Seecharan then noticed that Gordon was slumped to the side with a bullet hole in his head; at that point, she drove the car to the hospital where Gordon died several hours later as a result of his injury.

         Seecharan testified that Santana told her she saw "Max" shoot his gun three times. Seecharan looked for Appellant on social media and found a profile for "Maximilian" with a picture showing the person Santana saw shooting. Seecharan gave this information to investigators. At trial, Seecharan confirmed that Appellant was the person in the picture.

         The morning after the crime, investigators located Appellant at a hotel, where they took him into custody and questioned him. In statements recorded by investigators, Appellant offered multiple accounts of what happened the previous night. Though he claimed he did not own a gun, a holster was found on his person during his arrest. Appellant eventually admitted to owning a gun and to firing a gun three times, claiming that he was shooting back at gunfire coming from a truck. Appellant indicated that the bullets he fired were full metal jackets, which, as an investigator noted at trial, were consistent with four of five shell casings recovered at the crime scene.[3] The location at which the casings were found was consistent with Appellant's account of the direction he ran as he fled the scene.

         Jeremiah Words, a former associate of the Bloods gang, was arrested in March 2018 on a charge unrelated to the crimes at issue here. During questioning subsequent to his arrest, he told investigators where Appellant hid the gun. Words later testified at trial that Appellant was armed with a nine-millimeter handgun on the night of the crimes. When the shooting occurred, Words fled the mobile home, and Appellant went with him, commenting that he did not want to be walking around "with that big a** gun on him." Words and Appellant walked around Gainesville and eventually went to the home of the grandmother of Brandon Yarbrough, another Bloods associate. Words and Appellant left cash, marijuana, and the gun with Yarbrough; while there, Appellant commented that "they was shooting at us, so I started shooting back." After leaving Yarbrough, Words and Appellant got a hotel room together. While watching television, they saw coverage of the shooting, and Appellant said he "couldn't have did that because [his] first shot hit [Seecharan's] back door."[4] Words also noted that, as the night went on, Appellant "just got sketchy. He got paranoid."

         When Seecharan's car was processed, a bullet was found in the back of the driver's seat, lodged in the frame; investigators determined, based on the bullet's trajectory, that it came through the rear passenger-side door. A second bullet, which hit Gordon, came through the front passenger-side window.

         Law enforcement located a nine-millimeter handgun in Yarbrough's grandmother's backyard, where it had been buried along with live ammunition; the gun was wrapped in a rag and placed in a plastic bag. A firearms examiner determined that four of the five shell casings recovered from the crime scene were consistent with having been fired from the gun. Moreover, the recovered ammunition was consistent with the shell casings recovered at the scene. Two copper jackets found in Seecheran's car were determined to have been fired from the gun.

         At trial, the State introduced letters that Appellant wrote from jail to Words and Santana that were intercepted. In the letter to Words, Appellant asked Words to take the stand and pin the blame on another Bloods member, Xavier Neal. Appellant's letter to Santana included a similar request.

         Appellant's defense at trial was one of mistaken identity; he posited that Neal was responsible for Gordon's death. Appellant admitted to owning a nine-millimeter handgun and to having it in his possession before the crimes, but he claimed that he and Neal switched guns earlier in the evening, at Neal's request. Appellant also testified that he fired his weapon into the air twice "as like a warning" when he heard gunshots coming from the street. Santana testified for the defense, explaining that she saw Appellant standing 10 feet from Seecharan's car shooting his gun in the air. Santana denied knowing who shot into the car.

         1.Though not enumerated as error by Appellant, in accordance with this Court's practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that the evidence summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2.In his sole enumeration of error, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his request to charge the jury ...

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