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Stephenson v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

October 15, 2019


          DILLARD, P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ.

          Hodges, Judge.

         In March 2015, a jury found Douglas Edward Stephenson guilty of one count of giving a false statement in a government matter, for which he was sentenced to five years, and two counts of misdemeanor stalking, for which he was sentenced to consecutive twelve month sentences for each count. Stephenson filed a motion for new trial, which the court denied. He appeals, arguing the evidence was insufficient on all counts. For the reasons that follow, we affirm Stephenson's conviction for giving a false statement in a government matter, but reverse his convictions for misdemeanor stalking.

Our standard of review in this case is well-established:
On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and an appellant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence. This Court determines whether the evidence is sufficient under the standard of Jackson v. Virginia, [1] and does not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility. Any conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence are for the jury to resolve. As long as there is some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case, we must uphold the jury's verdict.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Marlow v. State, 339 Ga.App. 790, 792-793 (1) (792 S.E.2d 712) (2016) (giving a false statement); see also Austin v. State, 335 Ga.App. 521 (782 S.E.2d 308) (2016) (stalking).

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence shows that on December 21, 2013, Stephenson spent less than ten minutes shopping in a Buckle store located in an Augusta mall. While in the store, Stephenson attempted to socially engage with three young women, including the two victims in this case, who, at the time of the trial, were 14 years old and 21 years old. One of the victims testified that Stephenson made her nervous because he stood so close to her, but she helped him while he was looking at boots, and he didn't threaten her in any way or make any sexually-suggestive comments. In fact, this victim spent four or five minutes discussing boots with Stephenson. Stephenson left the store a few minutes later, while the girls continued shopping. The victims never told Stephenson at the Buckle store that he was making them nervous or that he should back away from them.

         After the girls left Buckle, they returned to their parked car outside the Macy's entrance and went to seven other stores and businesses before returning home, never seeing Stephenson or his red Mustang convertible at any of the locations or their parking lots. In addition, the victims never received any Facebook messages or suspicious calls and never saw anyone suspicious at their homes or university following the incident.

         On January 6, 2014, over two weeks later, Stephenson drove to a Kohl's store located in Evans, Georgia. A video of the Kohl's parking lot shows that Stephenson drove into the lot after another vehicle dropped off the victims, two of the girls Stephenson had previously encountered in Buckle. Stephenson pulled over to the curb for approximately four minutes, then parked his car and entered Kohl's through a different entrance than the victims. He remained in the store approximately 30 minutes.

         After entering the store, Stephenson at some point approached the victims and interjected two comments during their conversation. The girls walked off, but Stephenson followed them and attempted two to four times to engage them in conversation over approximately 20 minutes. According to the victims, Stephenson never touched them, made any sexually derogatory comments or obscene gestures, or threatened any harm. He simply followed them around the store and watched them as they moved around the store: "It was - - it was looking, basically." The girls were nervous and scared, so they reported Stephenson to a store manager and called 911. According to the Kohl's loss prevention supervisor, the girls clearly did not want to be around Stephenson and they "were in a panic mode."

         Kohl's trained their video surveillance cameras on Stephenson once alerted to the situation, and a record of the last eight minutes of Stephenson's time in the store was played for the jury. This video shows Stephenson looking around as he waits in a customer service line for over five minutes, and then him leaving the store; it does not show any contact with the victims or depict the victims in the video. Stephenson left the store before police arrived. Upon driving away from the store, Stephenson turned his vehicle to the left, but then circled back to go the opposite direction, passing the front of the store, where he slowed down and steadily looked into the store as he passed.

         The victims admitted at trial that they never told Stephenson to go away or leave them alone. In fact, they never spoke with him at Kohl's. In addition, despite wearing short sleeves showing distinctive tattoos on both arms at both Buckle and Kohl's, the victims did not recall seeing Stephenson prior to the Kohl's incident until they returned home.

         On January 7, 2014, Stephenson voluntarily went to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office unannounced to discuss the situation. He was instructed to return the following day for an interview, which he did. The interview was recorded and played for the jury. Detectives asked Stephenson if he had recently been to Buckle in the mall, and Stephenson responded that he had. However, when asked, "Had you ever seen these girls before?" Stephenson replied, "Never." The Buckle surveillance video showed this statement was false.

         After reviewing all the information, the detectives acquired arrest warrants for providing a false statement in a government investigation and misdemeanor stalking for each victim. A subsequent search of items seized from Stephenson's home following his arrest, including two cell phones, a tablet, an Apple ipad, a sheet of paper with Facebook addresses, a computer, photographs and correspondence, did not reveal any communications or connection between Stephenson and the victims. Social media searches and a call to Stephenson's gym likewise revealed ...

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