DUNN v. The STATE.
-- January 07, 2013
Edwin J. Wilson, Snellville, for appellant.Katherine Lee Iannuzzi, Asst. Atty. Gen., Paula Khristian Smith, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Samuel S. Olens, Atty. Gen., Department of Law, Christa Lea Kirk, Asst. Dist. Atty., Daniel J. Porter, Dist. Atty., Office of the District Attorney, for appellee.
Appellant Phillip Chad Dunn was convicted and sentenced for the malice murder of his wife, Shelley Dyan Dunn, and two counts of child cruelty in the third degree. See OCGA §§ 16–5–1(a); 16–5–70(d)(1).1 In his appeal from the judgment of conviction, appellant contends the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his 2011 conviction for the aggravated assault and aggravated battery of his wife, and in refusing to admit evidence of the victim's blood alcohol level at the time of her death. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of conviction.
1. The victim died on February 15, 2010, as a result of three stab wounds she had received to her back a day earlier. Two stab wounds perforated her right lung, with one wound extending through her diaphragm into the right hepatic vein. The seven- and nine-year-old daughters of appellant and the victim testified that appellant had hurt their mother with a knife in a commercial parking lot where they had met to exchange custody of the children. The older child testified appellant had told her earlier that day that he was going to kill the victim because “she had killed him on the inside.” Two men testified they were returning to their respective vehicles in the parking lot and ran to appellant's and the victim's vehicles when they heard the children screaming and saw the victim on the ground, kicking at a man identified by the witnesses as appellant, who was standing over the victim and swinging at her. After appellant was subdued by the witnesses, one of them saw a kitchen steak knife in the bed of the pickup truck in which appellant had arrived. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy of the victim testified the knife was consistent with the victim's stab wounds.
The evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty of malice murder and two counts of third-degree child cruelty. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); Walker v. State, 290 Ga. 467(1), 722 S.E.2d 72 (2012).2
2. During the trial, the State presented evidence of appellant's prior conviction for aggravated assault and aggravated battery of the victim that resulted from an incident which took place two weeks before appellant fatally stabbed the victim. Appellant contends the admission of the evidence was error because it was not preceded by a hearing held pursuant to Uniform Superior Court Rules 31.1 and 31.3. Such a hearing must precede the admission of evidence of similar acts committed by the defendant, but is not required when the act in issue is a prior difficulty between the victim and appellant. Smith v. State, 270 Ga. 123(2), 508 S.E.2d 173 (1998). “[E]vidence of the defendant's prior acts toward the victim ․ is admissible when the defendant is accused of a criminal act against the victim, as the prior acts are evidence of the relationship between the victim and the defendant and may show the defendant's motive, intent, and bent of mind in committing the act against the victim which results in the charges for which the defendant is being prosecuted.” Wall v. State, 269 Ga. 506, 509, 500 S.E.2d 904 (1998).
Appellant notes the trial court failed to give a limiting instruction on the use of evidence of prior difficulties contemporaneously with the admission of the evidence. The record reflects that no request for a contemporaneous instruction was made, and that the trial court's final instructions contained the limiting instruction. “In the absence of a request, it cannot be said that the trial court erred in failing to give contemporaneous instructions with regard to the state's evidence of prior difficulties.” Laney v. State, 271 Ga. 194(5), 515 S.E.2d 610 (1999).
3. Appellant contends the trial court erred when it refused to permit appellant to ask the autopsist about the victim's blood alcohol level at the time of her death. Appellant wished to use the evidence to support his assertion that the alcohol in the victim's system caused her to act aggressively, thereby providing the provocation necessary to reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter. See OCGA § 16–5–2(a). Such evidence is admissible when there is competent evidence of the effect asserted to have resulted from the chemicals found in the victim's system. McWilliams v. State, 280 Ga. 724, 726 n. 4, 632 S.E.2d 127 (2006). In the case before us, appellant made a proffer of the medical examiner's testimony that the victim's blood alcohol content was .072 and that it was difficult to ascribe how such a concentration affected the victim because the medical examiner did not know the victim's experience with alcohol and could not tell whether it made her euphoric, aggressive, or sleepy. Compare id. In the absence of evidence of the effect the victim's alcohol consumption had on her behavior on the day she was stabbed, the trial court properly excluded evidence of the victim's alcohol use. Webb v. State, 284 Ga. 122(2), 663 S.E.2d 690 (2008); Robinson v. State, 272 Ga. 131(3), 527 S.E.2d 845 (2000).
All the Justices concur.