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Fordham v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

October 25, 2019

FORDHAM
v.
The STATE.

Page 361

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 362

          Brian Steel, Atlanta, for Appellant.

         Darius T. Pattillo, Sharon Lee Hopkins ADA, Duluth, GA, for Appellee.

         DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

         OPINION

         Markle, Judge.

          Following a jury trial, Andrew Fordham was convicted of two counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated assault. Fordham appeals his conviction and from the trial court’s denial of his motion for new trial, as amended, arguing, as is relevant here, that (1) he was denied his constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of the proceeding, (2) he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to object when a witness improperly expressed his opinion on the ultimate issue in the case, and (3) the trial court erred by failing to merge his aggravated battery and aggravated assault convictions for purposes of sentencing. After a through review of the record, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion for new trial, finding that Fordham was not deprived of his right to be present at all critical stages of the proceedings, nor was he denied effective assistance of counsel. However, because the aggravated battery counts and the aggravated assault count merged, we vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), the record shows that, in April 2013, Fordham was in a six-year relationship with his then girlfriend, C. S. On April 28, 2013, Fordham and C. S. were spending the weekend together at her home when Fordham went into the bathroom, presumably to take a shower. He called to C. S. to bring him a towel because he had spilled water on the floor. As C. S. approached the bathroom door, she noticed Fordham was holding a bowl, and he splashed the contents, later discovered to be sulfuric acid drain cleaner, onto C. S.’s face and upper body. C. S. begged Fordham to rinse her off with water, but he refused. Fordham eventually

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called 911.[1] The 911 operator instructed Fordham to rinse C. S. off and he replied that he had, but Fordham told C. S. that he had been told not to rinse her off.

         Emergency Medical Technicians ("EMTs") arrived at C. S.’s home, assessed her condition, and took her outside into the rain to rinse the chemical off of her. C. S. was subsequently taken to Grady Hospital, where she was placed in a medically-induced coma for two months. C. S. suffered chemical burns to 20 percent of her body, including her face and upper chest; she is legally blind in her right eye; and she has undergone at least 13 reconstructive surgeries. She also had to learn to walk again.[2]

         On the day of the incident, detectives took pictures and measurements of the chemical splash marks, and noticed large burn patterns on the carpet outside the bathroom and extending up to eight feet on the walls. One EMT stated that something about the scene did not seem right to him. Another EMT indicated that the story of how the chemical came into contact with C. S. did not make sense, and that Fordham’s explanation kept changing as the EMTs assessed C. S. and the scene. Investigators from the Henry County police department crime scene unit conducted re-enactments of the scene in C. S.’s bathroom and hallway.[3] The re-enactments were inconsistent with Fordham’s claim that he accidentally spilled the liquid onto C. S.

          Fordham testified in his own defense at trial, stating that the incident was an accident, and that he slipped on the ...


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