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Smith v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 7, 2019


          BETHEL, JUSTICE.

         Rodney Tyrone Smith and Javon Tyler Jackson appeal from the denial of their motions for new trial after a jury found them guilty of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the shooting death of Stephanie Smith and the shooting of Rasheeda Bostic.[1] Both Smith and Jackson claim that the State presented insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdicts, that the trial court erred in admitting recordings of two witnesses' prior statements, and that their trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence at trial showed the following. On August 20, 2016, around 8:00 p.m., Ebony Washington, Stephanie Smith, Rasheeda Bostic, and Theresa Goldwire were riding together in Savannah in Washington's vehicle, a black SUV. Washington drove the car, Stephanie Smith sat in the front passenger seat, Bostic sat behind Stephanie Smith, and Goldwire sat behind Washington. As Washington drove the car down Jefferson Street past 35th Street, she was having a heated conversation on the phone.

         Suddenly, as the vehicle neared the intersection of Jefferson Street and 32nd Street, multiple gunshots were fired at the car. Bostic had been looking down at her phone when the shots began and was unable to identify the shooter. However, Bostic recalled seeing two men running and shooting at the car as Washington attempted to drive away, and she testified that she was sure more than one person had fired at the car. When an officer arrived at the scene, Bostic told the officer, "he shot me on 32nd Street." Goldwire did not see the shooters because she was using a tablet and then got onto the floor of the car when the shooting began.

         The car came to a stop in the middle of the street at the intersection of Victory Drive and Barnard Street, several blocks from where the shooting began. Goldwire then called 911.

         The car's entire rear window was shot out. Stephanie Smith suffered a gunshot wound to the back of her head and slumped over in the front passenger seat. Bostic suffered a gunshot wound to her back, which broke three of her ribs. Bostic survived her injuries, but Stephanie Smith died four days later. The medical examiner testified that Stephanie Smith's death was caused by a single gunshot wound to the head and that the manner of death was homicide.

         Officers were dispatched to the intersection of Jefferson Street and 31st Street based on ShotSpotter technology that had been deployed in that area. ShotSpotter operates through a series of microphones that alert law enforcement to the presence of gunshots and triangulate the location of the shots, allowing police to respond even in the absence of a 911 call. ShotSpotter detected gunshots at the intersection at approximately 8:07 p.m. on August 20, 2016. Upon arrival at the scene, law enforcement officers recovered 29 nine-millimeter shell casings from the intersection.

         At 2:25 a.m. the next morning, law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant for a residence located at 302 West 32nd Street, which was part of a duplex on the corner of 32nd Street and Jefferson Street. Deonshae Campbell and Dionysha Hearns, who are sisters, resided at the home with their mother. While searching the home around 3:30 a.m., officers found a plastic bag with two nine-millimeter semi-automatic handguns: a Ruger P95 and a Glock 17. The bag containing the guns was submerged in a toilet tank. The guns were covered in a white, chalky substance law enforcement believed to be laundry detergent, as its smell and consistency matched that of laundry detergent found elsewhere in the house. The presence of this substance rendered the guns inoperable at that time. However, a GBI firearms expert was able to remove the white substance from both firearms, perform test shots, and compare the two firearms with the 29 nine-millimeter shell casings recovered from the intersection where the shootings occurred. Nine of the recovered shell casings were matched to the Ruger, and the remaining 20 were matched to the Glock.

         Campbell and Hearns grew up with Jackson, whom they knew as "Tyler," "Light Bright," and "Bright Eyes," and Smith, whom they knew as "NaNa" and "Slim." Smith and Jackson are brothers. At the time of the shootings, Smith lived around the corner from Campbell and Hearns on 33rd Street. In the weeks following the shooting, Campbell and Hearns were both questioned by police. They told police that Smith and Jackson ran into their home after the shooting, each carrying a gun, and both Campbell and Hearns identified Smith and Jackson in photographic lineups as those individuals.

         Campbell and Hearns were both subpoenaed as witnesses by the State, but they initially refused to appear at trial. The trial court issued warrants for their arrest, and they were brought to court by their mother and grandmother.

         Early in Campbell's appearance at trial, she testified that both Smith and Jackson ran into the house at 302 West 32nd Street after the shooting. However, she quickly became uncooperative during the State's examination of her, at one point pulling the hood of her sweatshirt over her head while being questioned about her previous identification of Smith and Jackson in photographic lineups presented to her by law enforcement.[2] The trial court then authorized the State to treat Campbell as a hostile witness. When the prosecutor asked Campbell if she had given any statements to law enforcement after the shootings, she replied that she did. The prosecutor then asked, "Think it might refresh your recollection to see a video recording?" Campbell replied, "I smoked too much weed to remember anything." Over the objection of both Smith and Jackson, [3] the State then played several portions of a video recording of Campbell's interview with law enforcement. In that interview, Campbell told the detectives that she was in the house when the shooting began. She initially stated that she did not know the two men that were on the street corner when the shooting occurred but that they were "out there every day." Campbell stated that when she saw the men on the corner, they were "sometimes" smoking marijuana and that they "might be" selling it, though she had never seen them sell.

         In her interview, Campbell said that when the shooting began, she ran to the door, and, at that time, several people ran into the house, including two men whom she did not know. The men had guns in their hands. Campbell stated that she believed the two men were the shooters because they were "the only dudes on the corner" and that Smith "live[d] around the corner" in a house on 33rd Street. She later stated that one of the men had been hanging out on that corner for "months" selling crack. In the recorded interview with the detectives, Campbell became emotional and began crying. She asked for her grandmother, who was outside the room. Her grandmother and the detectives encouraged Campbell to identify the two men. After this discussion, Campbell identified the two men who ran into the house as brothers named "Tyler Jackson" and "Rodney Smith" (whom she also identified as "Rodney Jackson" and "NaNa"). She told the detectives that she could identify Smith and Jackson in photographs. She also added that when Smith and Jackson ran into the house, she ran out but that they locked Hearns (her sister) in the house with them.

         After the video concluded, Campbell resumed her trial testimony. In that testimony, she stated that she saw Smith on the street corner after the shooting occurred.

         Hearns was also called to testify at trial. She refused to identify Smith and Jackson by their given names, and the trial court declared her a hostile witness. Her testimony continued, but she claimed not to recall seeing anything outside the house at 302 West 32nd Street when the shooting occurred. Like Campbell, Hearns gave an interview to law enforcement that was video recorded. When Hearns could not recall seeing anything outside the house, the prosecutor said, "I'd like to refresh the witness's recollection at this time, Judge, with her video statement to the police." At the trial court's direction, the State proceeded to play for the jury the interview Hearns gave to law enforcement. Neither Smith nor Jackson objected.

         In her recorded interview, Hearns told the detectives that, after the shooting, several people ran into the house, including "Tyler" and "NaNa." She indicated that she could identify both of them in photographs. Hearns stated that she had seen NaNa and Tyler with guns before and that they had guns in their hands when they ran in the house. She also told the detectives that "the black car started shooting at them first" and that NaNa and Tyler were shooting back at the car from the street.

         Hearns stated that she knew NaNa and Tyler were the shooters at the street corner because "they already said-was plotting to do it back once they-because they-NaNa said I got a feeling they was going to come back." Hearns indicated that NaNa and Tyler were plotting about the black car returning to the neighborhood because some men had fired at them from the car three weeks before. She stated that NaNa had recently been robbed by some men and that "he robbed them back." Hearns indicated that the shooting incident outside her house was a response to NaNa's robbery. Hearns also said that NaNa had said that the person he robbed had said that when he saw NaNa he was going to kill him. NaNa also learned that he had a "hit" on him. At the conclusion of the video, Hearns resumed her live testimony and confirmed that the shooting incident was the culmination of "robbery back and forth and shooting back and forth."[4] At trial, the State introduced evidence that Jackson had previously been convicted of theft by receiving stolen property, a felony offense.

         When viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find both Smith and Jackson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which they were convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). See also Brown v. State, 302 Ga. 454, 456 (1) (b) (807 S.E.2d 369) (2017) ("It was for the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence." (citation and punctuation omitted)); Cowart v. State, 294 Ga. 333, 343 (6) (751 S.E.2d 399) (2013) (explaining that, in determining the sufficiency of the evidence, a reviewing court "must consider all of the evidence admitted by the trial court, regardless of whether that evidence was admitted erroneously" (citation and quotation marks omitted)).

         2. Playing of ...

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