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Doyle v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

January 13, 2020

DOYLE
v.
THE STATE.

          MELTON, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Following a jury trial, Matthew Doyle appeals his convictions for the murder of Lyndon "Pookie" Tucker and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.[1] Doyle contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that the trial court erred by failing to charge the jury on the requirement for corroboration of accomplice testimony. Because we conclude that the trial court plainly erred, we reverse.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence shows that, around 8:00 p.m. on December 17, 2010, Tucker's girlfriend dropped him off at his job as a security guard at Midtown Towing. After dropping Tucker off at work, Tucker's girlfriend attended a party at "The Yard," a club located a short distance from Midtown Towing. At the party, two groups of men began fighting. One of the participants in the fight was her cousin, a young man nicknamed "Poochie."

         Keith Richardson, a drug addict who often drove Doyle's co-defendant Lewis Parks to various places in exchange for money or drugs, received a call from Parks, who wanted Richardson to take him to pick his son up from The Yard. Richardson drove his blue Ford Explorer to Parks's house, where three men got in his car. Parks sat in the front passenger seat, while Doyle climbed in behind Richardson.[2] When they arrived at The Yard, the men sat in the car and discussed "hurting somebody or jumping on somebody" and "getting payback" for something. After about 20 minutes, Parks directed Richardson to drive to Midtown Towing. Apparently, the men mistakenly believed that "Pookie" was somehow related to "Poochie."

         Just before 4:00 a.m., the men arrived at Midtown Towing. Doyle jumped out and ran behind the car. Although Richardson testified at trial that he did not see any weapons the night of the shooting, the lead detective on the case testified that Richardson told him that he had seen Parks "rack" a gun while in the passenger seat and Doyle holding a gun when he got out of the car at Midtown Towing. After Doyle exited the vehicle, Richardson heard gunshots. He started to drive away, but Parks told him to "hold up" so Doyle could get back in the car. Richardson then drove the men back to Parks's house, where he dropped them off.

         Tucker, who had been sitting in Midtown Towing's guard shack, died from eight gunshot wounds, all of which were consistent with the type of injury that results from bullets fired from a high-velocity weapon. The shell casings recovered at the scene and the bullet removed from Tucker's body were consistent with those fired from either an SKS or AK-47 rifle.

         The subsequent police investigation found a witness who lived across the street from Midtown Towing. The witness had heard the gunshots and had seen a blue Ford "truck," with one man hanging out the passenger window and another man standing outside the vehicle. Several months after the shooting, an individual named Kerry Henderson contacted the lead detective. Henderson told the detective that, on the night of the shooting, her cousins had borrowed her car to go to the party at The Yard. In the early morning hours, her cousins called her and told her that her car had sustained damage during a fight. When she arrived at a nearby apartment complex to inspect her vehicle, she saw a blue SUV pull up with Parks in the passenger seat.

         At trial, Henderson admitted to meeting with the lead detective about the shooting, but insisted she could not recall the details of her conversation with him. The lead detective then testified that Henderson told him that she saw Parks, whom she referred to as "Fat Lewis," and a man named "Matthew" or "Matt" the day after the shooting, and that they admitted to shooting Tucker.[3] The detective obtained Parks's cell phone records, which placed him near Midtown Towing at the time of the shooting. The records also indicated that Parks's cell phone had pinged towers along the route that Richardson described driving when he returned the men to Parks's house.

         This evidence was sufficient as a matter of constitutional due process to enable the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Doyle was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (III) (B) (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979). Nonetheless, contending that Richardson was an accomplice, Doyle claims that there was insufficient corroboration of Richardson's testimony. Even if we assume without deciding that Richardson was an accomplice, we disagree. Georgia law requires corroboration in felony cases where the only witness testifying to the defendant's participation in the crime is an accomplice. OCGA § 24-14-8 ("The testimony of a single witness is generally sufficient to establish a fact. However, in certain cases, including . . . felony cases where the only witness is an accomplice, the testimony of a single witness shall not be sufficient."). "[T]he corroborating evidence may be circumstantial and slight, and need not be sufficient in and of itself to warrant a conviction, so long as it is independent of the accomplice's testimony and directly connects the defendant to the crime or leads to the inference of guilt." Lewis v. State, 301 Ga. 759, 761 (1) (804 S.E.2d 82) (2017).

         Here, the detective's testimony regarding Henderson's report of the confession by "Fat Lewis" and "Matthew" or "Matt" was barely sufficient corroborating evidence from which the jury could infer Doyle's guilt. From this testimony, the jury could infer that "Matthew" or "Matt" was Matthew Doyle, thereby satisfying the statutory requirement for corroborating evidence.

         2. Doyle contends that the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury as to the corroboration requirement for accomplice testimony. Under the circumstances of this case, we agree.

         The trial court did not instruct the jury to determine if Richardson was an accomplice, nor did it include the accomplice-corroboration charge in its instruction to the jury. Rather, the trial court gave the jury the following charge: "The testimony of a single witness, if believed, is sufficient to establish a fact. Generally, there is no legal requirement of corroboration of a witness - provided you find the evidence to be sufficient." Doyle neither requested that the accomplice-corroboration charge be added, nor objected to its omission.

         "[W]here no request for the accomplice charge is made at trial or the defendant otherwise fails to properly preserve this ground for appeal," we review the trial court's failure to give the instruction for plain error. Hamm v, State, 294 Ga. 791, 797 (2) n.8 (756 S.E.2d 507) (2014). We have adopted the federal plain-error test, as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 135 (II) (a) (2009), which requires:

First, there must be an error or defect - some sort of deviation from a legal rule - that has not been intentionally relinquished or abandoned, i.e., affirmatively waived, by the appellant. Second, the legal error must be clear or obvious, rather than subject to reasonable dispute. Third, the error must have affected the appellant's substantial rights, which in the ordinary case means he must demonstrate that it affected the outcome of the trial court proceedings. Fourth and finally, if the above three prongs are satisfied, the appellate court has the discretion to remedy the ...

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