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SANDS v. STATE

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Court of Appeals of Georgia.

SANDS v. The STATE.

No. A11A0423.

Decided: July 07, 2011

Sheri Layne Smith, for Sands. Kenneth W. Mauldin, Jon Richard Forwood, for the State.

Antonio Andrette Sands was charged with eleven counts of various sexual offenses against four boys. A jury found him guilty on all counts, his amended motion for new trial was denied, and he appeals. In three enumerations of error, he asserts the general grounds, complains of the introduction of a similar transaction, and contends the trial court erred in admitting a videotaped forensic interview of one of the victims. Finding no error, we affirm.

1. We first address the general grounds. Sands's enumeration of error complains only that “[t]he conviction of the Defendant of the crime of Sexual Battery is not supported by adequate evidence to overcome the presumption of his innocence by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” In his argument, he goes beyond the single count of aggravated sexual battery to argue that the evidence was insufficient on all counts, but cites no legal authority in his perfunctory, two-page argument. Court of Appeals Rule 25(a).

Regardless, we find the evidence sufficient to uphold the convictions on all counts under the standard established in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 SC 2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979). Accord Hammontree v. State, 283 Ga.App. 736, 737(1) (642 S.E.2d 412) (2007) (victim's testimony alone sufficient to sustain conviction for child molestation). The entire argument on appeal consists of Sands's assertions that the victims were “troubled” and “known to tell lies.” But “on appeal, the jury, not this Court, is tasked with determining witness credibility, and it was authorized to resolve any credibility issues against” Sands. (Citation omitted.) Fogerty v. State, 304 Ga.App. 546, 547(1) (696 S.E.2d 496) (2010).

2. Sands next complains that the trial court erred in admitting the similar transaction testimony of another adolescent boy. Sands argues that his sexual contact with this 17–year–old male was “sex between two mutually consenting adults” and was therefore insufficiently similar to the offenses charged, which involved the molestation of boys aged 11, 13, 13, and 8. But the similar transaction victim testified that he was not a willing participant and that he hid in the bathroom and called his father after Sands attempted to rape him anally, and that he then fled the house and called 911.

“In reviewing whether sufficient similarities exist to create a logical connection between the independent act and the instant act such that the former tends to prove the latter, this Court must focus on the similarities between the two acts rather than the dissimilarities.” Rolle v. State, 286 Ga.App. 191, 192 (648 S.E.2d 712) (2007). We find such similarities here. After Sands took over the pastorship of a small evangelical church, he befriended male adolescent children from his congregation who were living in homes with challenging circumstances. He offered to “mentor” them, in one case telling the congregation that “God told him that he needs to be a mentor” to a boy. After establishing a relationship, he took the boys to his home or to the homes of other members of the congregation and molested them, including various acts of sodomy.

The conduct with the similar transaction witness followed this pattern of behavior, although this witness was not a church member but came in contact with Sands when Sands offered him a ride in his van, told him about the church, invited him to a church job fair in Florida, and met with his father to obtain permission for the witness to attend it with Sands. The witness then left with Sands, who took him to the apartment of a church member where he would hold a “retreat” with boys.

“[T]his court has held that the sexual molestation of young children or teenagers, regardless of the type of act, is sufficiently similar to be admissible as similar transaction evidence.” (Citation and footnote omitted.) Williams v. State, 263 Ga.App. 22, 24(2) (587 S.E.2d 187) (2003). “Here, the similarities between the present offense and similar transaction were numerous and obvious; therefore, the difference in the victims' ages does not make the similar transaction inadmissible.” (Citations omitted.) Kingsley v. State, 268 Ga.App. 729, 730(1) (603 S.E.2d 78) (2004) (similar transaction committed against adult admissible in child molestation prosecution). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the similar transaction evidence. Id.

3. Finally, Sands complains of the admission of a videotaped statement of one of the victims, who was 12 years old when interviewed and 13 when he testified at trial. Contrary to Sands's assertion, the victim's prior consistent statements to others are not inadmissible hearsay; they are admissible under both OCGA § 24–3–16, the Child Hearsay Law, and Cuzzort v. State, 254 Ga. 745 (334 S.E.2d 661) (1985). See Hall v. Vargas, 278 Ga. 868, 871(2) (608 S.E.2d 200) (2005); Fiek v. State, 266 Ga.App. 523, 525(1) (597 S.E.2d 585) (2004) (trial court did not abuse discretion in admitting videotaped interviews of child victims).

The victim testified and was subjected to a vigorous cross-examination. Moreover, since Sands's trial strategy was to accuse the victims and their families of lying and engaging in a conspiracy against him, the videotaped interview was also admissible as a prior consistent statement because the victim's credibility was attacked. Hall, supra, 278 Ga. at 871(2). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of the similar transaction.

Judgment affirmed.

SMITH, Presiding Judge.

MIKELL and DILLARD, JJ., concur.

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