February 2010, there was a fight at a nightclub in Albany,
followed by a shooting in a nearby parking lot. A patron of
the club, LeSheldon Stanford, was killed in the shooting, and
a security guard for the club, George Ferguson, was wounded.
Three years later, Shanard Smith, Anthony Hawkins, and
Shuntavious Seay were tried together on charges arising from
the fight and the shooting, and a Dougherty County jury found
them guilty of murder and other crimes. They appeal from the
judgment of conviction entered upon the verdict of the jury.
With respect to Smith, we see no reversible error and affirm
his convictions. As to Hawkins and Seay, we affirm their
convictions for aggravated assault, which are based on their
participation in the fight inside the club. We reverse,
however, their convictions for murder because the evidence at
trial was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that they were parties to the shooting in the parking lot
outside the club.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the
evidence presented at trial shows the following. In the early
morning hours of February 14, 2010, Stanford and a group of
friends and relatives went to a club in Albany known as
"Nab's" or "Brick City." The club was
crowded with people drinking and dancing. At some point,
several young men began to act aggressively toward Stanford,
flashing gang signs and "bounc[ing] around in [his]
face." A witness later identified Smith as one of the
men flashing gang signs. Eventually, a large group-between 15
and 30 people-began to fight Stanford, chanting
"EMF" as they punched and kicked him.
"EMF" apparently refers to "East Mafia
Family," a street gang that operates in the Albany area,
and evidence shows that Smith, Hawkins, Seay, and a number of
other individuals at the club on the morning of February 14
were affiliated with that gang. Stanford tried to fight back,
and at some point, Jacory Butts-also affiliated with EMF and
a part of the crowd attacking Stanford-said something like,
"Hey Blood, let's get that chopper [and] show him
what it'll do."
and some other security guards eventually pulled Stanford
away from his attackers and escorted him from the club. But
the commotion and fighting continued, spilling out into the
parking lot. Ferguson tried to lead Stanford to his car but
failed to do so because people continued to "fight
[Stanford] and jump on him and stuff." Ferguson
described the situation as "crazy because people was
driving up in cars, stopping in cars, jumping out of cars on
the street, and somehow or another they just knew who this
guy [Stanford] was and they'll jump out and come and jump
and Stanford separated when Ferguson left to attend to a
confrontation between another security guard and Antonio
Seay. The security guard had exchanged blows with Antonio and
knocked him down. Smith and Michael Stephens were with
Antonio, and Ferguson told the three men to leave the
premises. At that point, according to Ferguson, Smith said
"f**k this sh*t" and ran to a car in the parking
lot across the street from the club.
meantime, Kevin Brown, who had accompanied Stanford to the
club, saw him in between two cars with "some guys . . .
jumping on top of the cars, off the cars on top of him."
After the men stopped jumping on Stanford, Brown approached
him and asked if he was okay. Stanford replied that he was,
but he appeared to be looking at someone coming up behind
Brown. At that point, Brown heard gunshots and dropped to the
ground, and Stanford said, "I've been
testified that, when he turned his attention back to
Stanford, he saw Stanford leaning against a car as if he were
tired. Ferguson then heard a shout, and when he turned
around, he saw Smith standing with a gun, which was pointed
at Ferguson. Smith shot Ferguson in the arm and chest.
Ferguson dropped to the ground and heard other shots being
fired. He then heard someone say "Blood EMF" or
"EMF Blood." Ferguson testified that he did not see
anyone other than Smith with a gun, and he did not see anyone
accompanying Smith at the time of the shooting.
other witnesses testified about the shooting. Rolando Frazier
said that he saw Smith shoot Stanford with a black handgun
that looked like a .380-caliber pistol. Stephens testified
that, when he exited the club during the commotion, he saw
Smith run past him, curse, and fire four or five shots.
Another patron, Quintus Porter, testified that, as he walked
outside the club, he saw Smith fire a black gun at Stanford.
All three witnesses had identified Smith as the shooter
before trial in photographic lineups. Antonio testified that,
when he was in jail with Smith, he asked Smith directly if
Smith had shot Stanford, and Smith replied that he
"wished none of that sh*t would have never
happened" and that he "didn't mean to do
evidence against Hawkins and Seay was considerably weaker
than the evidence against Smith. Ferguson testified that
Hawkins and Cavoris Barney were among the people "in the
club fighting." Ferguson also testified that, when he
"broke the fight up," he told Hawkins and Barney to
leave Stanford alone, and they listened to him and left.
Ferguson testified that Seay was present inside the club but
was not "involved in anything," and Ferguson did
not interact with him at all. Frazier wrote a statement for
investigators that was admitted into evidence. In that
statement, Frazier said that he had seen "Peanut,
Akheem, D, Ant, Slab, C-Low and a few other people fighting
on the dance floor." "Ant" and
"CLow" referred to Hawkins and Seay,
respectively. Porter also had given a written statement
to investigators in which he said that, after the shooting,
Smith, Seay, and three others "ran and got in a
four-door car." At trial, however, Porter testified that
he did not actually see Smith get into the car with Seay and
the others; rather, he saw Seay and the others enter the car
and then saw Smith "running towards that way."
and Seay both were interviewed by investigators,
recordings of those interviews were played for the jury. Seay
admitted that he was at the club, but he denied that he
participated in the fight, was a member of EMF, or knew who
shot Stanford. As for Hawkins, he denied being at the club on
the day in question. An investigator, however, testified that
Hawkins came back for another interview (which was not
recorded) and admitted then that he was at the club and that
"they" were yelling "EMF" as Stanford was
beaten. Hawkins also told the investigator that he tried to
break up the fight.
regard to physical evidence, investigators recovered five
.380-caliber shell casings from the scene. An autopsy
revealed that Stanford had sustained six gunshot wounds,
including a wound to his chest that caused extensive
hemorrhaging. Stanford also suffered multiple scratches and
blunt force injuries to his head and body. The medical
examiner testified that the cause of Stanford's death was
"multiple gunshot wounds."
Smith v. The State.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
does not dispute that the evidence is sufficient to sustain
his convictions. But consistent with our usual practice in
murder cases, we independently have reviewed the record to
assess the legal sufficiency of the evidence. We conclude
that the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the
light most favorable to the verdict, was sufficient to
authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a
reasonable doubt that Smith was guilty of the crimes of which
he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560)
Admission of Portions of Recorded Interview with
sole claim of error on appeal is that the trial court erred
when it admitted a recording of his interview with an
investigator in which the officer called him a
"killer" and a "cold-blooded dude" who
would "take a life." These statements, Smith
argues, lacked any probative value and were unduly
prejudicial. See OCGA § 24-4-403
("Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative
value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice . . . ."). Pretermitting whether the trial
court erred when it admitted these portions of the interview,
we conclude that any such error was harmless. See
Fletcher v. State, 303 Ga. 43, 47 (810 S.E.2d 101)
(2018) (a non-constitutional evidentiary error is harmless if
"it is highly probable that the error did not contribute
to the verdict" (citation and punctuation omitted)). The
evidence against Smith was very strong. Four
eyewitnesses-Ferguson, Frazier, Stephens, and
Porter-identified Smith as the shooter. Moreover, Smith
implicitly admitted that he shot Stanford when he told
Antonio in jail that he "didn't mean to do it."
No one testified at trial that anyone else had a gun. Given
the strength of the evidence against Smith, it is highly
unlikely that the statements in the interview about which
Smith complains had any effect on the verdict of the jury.
See Tanner v. State, 303 Ga. 203, 208 (3)
(811 S.E.2d 316) (2018) ("Considering the strength of
the properly admitted evidence of [the defendant's] guilt
and the context of a police interview in which . . . [the
defendant] was claiming that he had nothing to do with
[victim's] death, the jury was highly unlikely to have
been swayed by the detective's passing comment that he
thought [the defendant] would go to prison."); Hood
v. State, 299 Ga. 95, 105-106 (3) (786 S.E.2d 648)
(2016) (erroneous admission of evidence under Rule 403 was
ultimately harmless given the strong evidence of
defendant's guilt). See also Jones v. State, 301
Ga. 544, 551 (3) (802 S.E.2d 234) (2017).
Hawkins v. The State.
Seay v. The State.