Christopher Moore appeals his malice murder conviction for
the strangling and beating death of his girlfriend, Mandi
Kaiser. He challenges the trial court's
rulings on evidentiary matters, including allowing the State
to introduce evidence of his prior violent acts toward
another girlfriend. He also argues that the trial court erred
by denying a request for a jury instruction on mutual combat
and by failing to grant a mistrial based on a comment by the
prosecutor in closing argument. Moore also argues that his
trial counsel was ineffective in matters related to the other
acts evidence. We conclude that any error in admitting the
other acts evidence was harmless given the strength of the
State's case. Because Moore has not otherwise shown trial
court error or deficient performance by counsel, we affirm.
lived with Kaiser in a Chatham County
apartment.Both had health problems and abused drugs,
and Moore had a peripherally inserted central catheter
("PICC line") in his arm. Speaking to Kaiser on the
telephone on the evening of February 17, 2015, Kaiser's
mother, Karen Collins, could hear Moore yelling in the
background. Kaiser asked Collins to come pick her up but
decided to stay when Collins arrived. One of Kaiser's
younger daughters left with Collins, reporting that Moore
"was acting crazy."
18-year-old daughter, Breanna Hartlaub, and Hartlaub's
husband arrived at Kaiser's apartment later that night to
retrieve clothing for Kaiser's younger daughters. Moore
screamed at Hartlaub, saying she was not supposed to be
there. Kaiser responded affirmatively when Hartlaub asked her
if Moore had "put his hands on" her. Kaiser
indicated she would move out the following day, but declined
to leave the apartment at that time. Collins again spoke with
Kaiser on the telephone around 11:00 p.m. that night, and
Kaiser told Collins that she would break up with Moore and
move back in with Collins the following day.
next day, Kaiser did not respond to phone calls and text
messages from her family members, and she was found dead on
the floor of her apartment. The front door was locked and
there were no signs of forced entry. Kaiser had abrasions and
bruising all over her body, multiple fractured ribs, and more
than ten separate blunt force injuries to her scalp.
Kaiser's injuries also included a bite mark; testing of
the wound showed the presence of Moore's DNA, and a
dental forensics expert testified that Moore made the bite
mark. A medical examiner testified that the cause of death
was a combination of strangulation and blunt force injuries
that could not be caused by improper CPR.
February 20, 2015, Moore waived his rights under
Miranda and spoke with investigators in a recorded
interview. In the interview, Moore maintained that Kaiser was
alive when he left the apartment for the night on February
17. Moore claimed that they had fought over Moore selling
Kaiser's prescription medication, with Kaiser trying to
pull out Moore's PICC line and Moore merely pushing her.
He claimed that after he left, he caught a bus from the mall
and spent the night at a laundromat. Moore also reported that
he tried to call the victim while he was on the bus and the
following day. Surveillance video, cell phone records, and
other evidence undermined Moore's claims about what he
did after he left the apartment. Police observed only
superficial scratches on Moore's body, and his PICC line
was not damaged.
did not testify at the January 2017 trial. He put on a
witness, Dustin Singletary, who testified that he observed
the victim at her apartment on the evening of February 17
screaming and throwing papers, angry that Moore had sold her
pills. Singletary observed no one other than Kaiser and Moore
in the apartment.
counsel told the jury that it should find Moore guilty of
voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, acknowledging to
the jury in closing that Moore may have grabbed Kaiser's
throat but did so "in a moment of passion, and to defend
himself[.]" Counsel also argued to the jury that it was
possible that Kaiser's chest injuries were the result of
Moore improperly attempting to perform CPR on her.
Although Moore does not challenge the sufficiency of the
evidence, we have independently reviewed the record and
conclude that the evidence presented at trial was legally
sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find
beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the crime for
which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).
Moore argues that the trial court erred by allowing the State
to introduce evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b)
("Rule 404 (b)") regarding Moore's violent acts
against an ex-girlfriend. We conclude that any error was
trial, the State gave notice pursuant to Rule 404 (b) that it
intended to offer various evidence of other acts, including
acts against Lisa Bedgood, for the purpose of proving
Moore's intent and that he used violence to control his
romantic partners. In a pre-trial order, the trial court
ruled that various other acts against several ex-girlfriends
would be admissible for the purpose of showing Moore's
intent. At trial, however, the State sought to introduce only
the other acts committed against Bedgood.
testified at trial that in April 2014 she and Moore had a
physical altercation in which he blocked her from exiting
their hotel room. Bedgood also testified that in May 2014
Moore slapped her in the chest and bit her as she tried to
get out of a vehicle. And she described an incident on an
unspecified date in which Moore tried to choke her.
[A] party offering evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b)
must show three things: (1) the evidence is relevant to an
issue in the case other than the defendant's character;
(2) the probative value of the evidence is not substantially
outweighed by its undue prejudice; and (3) there is
sufficient proof for a jury to find by a preponderance of the
evidence that the defendant committed the other act.
Castillo-Velasquez v. State, 305 Ga. 644, 646-647
(2) (827 S.E.2d 257) (2019) (citation and punctuation
omitted). In its pre-trial order, the trial court found
Moore's actions against Bedgood in the April 2014 and May
2014 incidents amounted to batteries that showed an intent to
cause bodily harm to the victim, the same mental state as
required for the pending aggravated battery charge alleged in
Count 4 of the indictment. That charge was based on an allegation
that Moore "maliciously cause[d] bodily harm to"
Kaiser "by rendering her chest . . . useless[.]"
The trial court also found that there was sufficient proof to
enable the jury to determine by a preponderance of the
evidence that Moore committed the acts allegedly committed in
April and May 2014 and that the probative value of those acts
was not substantially outweighed by undue prejudice. The
trial court instructed the jury to limit its consideration of
the other acts evidence to whether the State had proven
intent as to the aggravated battery charge.
argues on appeal that "based on [the extent of
Kaiser's injuries, his] intent was quite clear" and
so the State had little need for Rule 404 (b) evidence to
prove his intent. Thus, he argues, even if the evidence was
relevant to an issue other than his character, the probative
value of the Rule 404 (b) evidence was so minimal that it was
substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice. Assuming that
this argument was preserved,  we find that any error in
admitting the Rule 404 (b) evidence was harmless and thus
does not merit reversal.
The new Evidence Code continues Georgia's existing
harmless error doctrine for erroneous evidentiary rulings.
See OCGA § 24-1-103 (a) ("Error shall not be
predicated upon a ruling which admits or excludes evidence
unless a substantial right of the party is affected. . .
."). In determining whether the error was harmless, we
review the record de novo and weigh the evidence as we would
expect reasonable jurors to have done so. The test for