EDWARDS v. The STATE.
-- September 23, 2013
James S.V. Weston, Trotter Jones, LLP, Augusta, for Appellant.Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Senior A.A.G., Paula Khristian Smith, Senior A.A.G., Samuel S. Olens, A.G., David Andrew Bikoff, A.A.G., Department Of Law, Madonna Marie Little, A.D.A., Rebecca Ashley Wright, D.A., Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, Charles R. Sheppard, Augusta Judicial Circuit Distritct Attorney's Office, Evans, for Appellee.
Loviet Nushan Edwards was tried by a Richmond County jury and convicted of two murders in connection with the killings of Tykiah Palmer and her unnamed baby, among other crimes. Edwards appeals, contending that the trial court erred when it admitted a prior statement of a witness, and when it admitted certain photographs of the victims.1 For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the trial court did not err when it admitted this evidence, and we affirm.2
1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence shows that Edwards—who was 15 years of age—was playing outside with several friends on February 17, 2010. Two of his friends began playing roughly, and as a result, one suffered a cut to his face. Edwards and his friends then were joined by several other persons, including Palmer, who was the sister of the boy who had been cut. An aunt of the same boy chastised Edwards for failing to protect the boy, and she and Palmer then began to walk away. Edwards said something that caused Palmer to turn around, and Palmer slapped him across his face. In response, Edwards pulled a gun from his back pocket, and he shot Palmer twice, once in her chest, and once in her back. Palmer—who was pregnant—was rushed to a hospital, where doctors delivered her baby in an emergency procedure. The baby girl was born alive, but she died soon thereafter. So did Palmer. Although Edwards does not dispute that the evidence is legally sufficient to sustain his convictions, we independently have reviewed the entire record to assess the legal sufficiency of the evidence. We conclude that the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Edwards was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319(III)(B), 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).
2. Edwards contends that the trial court erred when it admitted a prior statement of a prosecution witness. At trial, that witness—who had observed the rough play in which the boy was injured, as well as the shooting that followed—testified that Edwards gave a gun to the boy. The witness also testified that the rough play occurred after the same boy pointed the gun at another child. The prosecuting attorney then asked the witness about her earlier statement to investigators, and she admitted that she never mentioned anything to the investigators about a gun in connection with the rough play, and in fact, she had told them that she did not see a gun during the rough play. The witness acknowledged the inconsistencies between her earlier statement and her testimony at trial, and she offered that she was “using this time now [at trial] to tell the truth.”
Later, the prosecuting attorney offered a recording of the earlier statement of the witness as a prior inconsistent statement, and the trial court admitted it. Pointing to case law about the admissibility of prior consistent statements, Edwards contends that this ruling was error, but we disagree. “Any party, including the party calling the witness may attack the credibility of a witness,” former OCGA § 24–9–81,3 and “[a] witness may be impeached by contradictory statements previously made by [her] as to matters relevant to [her] testimony and to the case.” Former OCGA § 24–9–83.4 The prosecuting attorney laid a proper foundation for the prior inconsistent statement in this case, questioning the witness about the circumstances of her earlier statement to investigators and affording her “an opportunity to admit, explain, or deny the prior contradictory statement.” Byrum v. State, 282 Ga. 608, 610(4), 652 S.E.2d 557 (2007) (citation and punctuation omitted). The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the earlier statement of the witness. See Rollins v. State, 262 Ga. 698, 699(1), 425 S.E.2d 285 (1993).
3. Edwards also contends that the trial court erred when it admitted certain photographs of the victims, which he claims are post-autopsy photographs. The record shows, however, that none is a post-autopsy photograph. Three photographs depict the baby before she died, and these photographs were relevant to show that the baby was, in fact, born alive.5 The remaining photographs depict the victims after they died, but before any autopsy, and these photographs were relevant to establish the identities of the victims, as well as to show the extent of their injuries.6 See Stewart v. State, 286 Ga. 669, 670(3), 690 S.E.2d 811 (2010). None were unnecessarily or unfairly prejudicial, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the photographs. See id. at 671(3), 690 S.E.2d 811.
All the Justices concur.