NICHOLS v. THE STATE.
-- January 07, 2013
Willie George Davis, Jonesboro, for appellant.Joshua Daniel Morrison, Senior Asst. Dist. Atty., Paul L. Howard, Dist. Atty., Paige Reese Whitaker, Deputy Dist. Atty., Office of the District Attorney, Paula Khristian Smith, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Samuel S. Olens, Atty. Gen., David Andrew Bikoff, Asst. Atty. Gen., Department of Law, for appellee.
Raymond Nichols appeals his conviction for malice murder in connection with the strangulation death of his mother, Alma Nichols. His sole challenge is that the evidence at trial was insufficient to convict him. Finding the challenge to be without merit, we affirm.1
Nichols contends that the verdicts were decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence and urges that there was evidence raising the possibility that someone else could have committed the murder, thereby creating reasonable doubt.2 But, the relevant inquiry when the sufficiency of the evidence is challenged on appeal is whether the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict or verdicts, would authorize a rational trier of fact to find the appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime or crimes charged. Cutrer v. State, 287 Ga. 272, 274, 695 S.E.2d 597 (2010), citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). Nichols appears to maintain that the evidence is solely circumstantial. Even accepting that premise, in the case of circumstantial evidence, in order to warrant a conviction the proved facts must be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt and exclude every other reasonable hypothesis save that of the guilt of the accused. OCGA § 24–4–6; Cutrer v. State, supra at 274, 695 S.E.2d 597. Questions about the reasonableness of hypotheses, which would include the possibility of another perpetrator, are for the jury to decide in cases predicated on circumstantial evidence. Id.; Sims v. State, 278 Ga. 587(1), 604 S.E.2d 799 (2004).
The evidence construed in favor of the verdicts showed the following. The victim lived with Nichols and another son, David, in College Park. When David died in September of 2008, the mother received $4,000 from his estate. A few days before her death, the mother asked her niece, Thornton, to drive her to the bank to deposit the funds. She explained to Thornton that she wished to use the funds to open a checking account for Nichols. When Thornton told the victim that it would not be easy to open an account for Nichols, the victim deposited the money into her personal account. While endorsing the checks in the presence of Nichols, the victim asked Thornton if she could do “whatever [she] want[ed]” with the money. Thornton replied affirmatively and Nichols left, slamming the door. Thornton suggested giving Nichols a small amount of money, but the victim refused.
On October 12, 2008, the victim's neighbor, Willis, returned home and found Nichols on the front steps of the victim's home; Nichols was screaming and holding the victim. Willis saw smoke coming from the house, checked the victim for a pulse, and called 911. Before paramedics arrived, Nichols stated, “Momma, I'm sorry. Momma, I didn't mean to do it.” He appeared to be intoxicated. When paramedics arrived, Nichols initially refused to allow the paramedics to touch the victim. The mother had no pulse and was not breathing. Doctors pronounced her dead at the hospital.
Police interviewed Nichols and he stated that he arrived home after drinking, started to cook something on the stove, fell asleep, and the house “smoked up.” He told police that he woke up, found his mother unresponsive, and carried her outside.
Despite Nichol's statements to law enforcement and his family that he found his mother unresponsive after the house “smoked up,” the medical examiner determined that the victim died as a result of strangulation effected by pressure from hands; there were hemorrhages in the victim's neck muscles, petechial hemorrhages in her eyes, and a fracture of the hyoid bone, all indicative of strangulation. Smoke inhalation was ruled out as the cause of death because of the lack of soot in the victim's airway, nose, and mouth, and the lack of carbon monoxide in her blood. Also, the fire investigator determined that the amount of smoke produced from the kitchen fire was “insignificant,” and not enough to cause injury or death.
During the course of the police questioning, Nichols changed significant details of his story concerning whether his mother was awake or asleep when he arrived home, where she was in the house, and what occurred after he noticed the smoke. Furthermore, the victim's home appeared secure, with no signs of forced entry.
Simply, the evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find Nichols guilty of malice murder and the remaining crimes with which he was charged in connection with the death of his mother. Jackson v. Virginia, supra.
All the Justices concur.