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Supreme Court of Georgia.


No. S14A0441.

Decided: June 16, 2014

Brian Steel, The Steel Law Firm, P.C., Atlanta, for Appellant. Madonna Marie Little, A.D.A., Rebecca Ashley Wright, D.A., Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, Samuel S. Olens, A.G., Paula Khristian Smith, Senior A.A.G., Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Senior A.A.G, Department of Law, for Appellee.

Lorenzo Dexter Lindsey appeals the denial of his motion for new trial, as amended, following his convictions for malice murder and criminal solicitation to commit murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Marcus Taylor. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, statements by the trial court, and the admission into evidence of prior consistent statements by a witness for the prosecution. For the reasons which follow, the challenges are unavailing, and we affirm.1

The evidence construed in favor of the verdicts showed the following. On August 11, 2002, Marcus Taylor was fatally shot in a Citgo store parking lot in Richmond County. Taylor had testified for the State against Lindsey at Lindsey's two trials for the drive-by shooting and resulting death of 83–year–old Rosa Barnes.2 While incarcerated and awaiting his second trial for Barnes's murder, Lindsey began plotting with fellow inmates Lawton and Hankerson to kill Taylor, who was then also incarcerated. After the men were released from prison, the plot to kill Taylor continued. Lindsey attempted to recruit another individual, Antonio Tyler, to murder Taylor. Ultimately, Lawton agreed to kill Taylor and Lindsey gave Hankerson the murder weapon and instructed him to give it to Lawton, which he did. Hankerson was present when Lawton approached Taylor at the Citgo store and shot him multiple times, fatally wounding Taylor in the torso and head. The murder weapon was returned to Lindsey. Lindsey gave Lawton money and drugs in payment for killing Taylor.

1. Lindsey contends that his conviction for criminal solicitation to commit murder must be reversed because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Richmond County was the venue of the crime. However, that is not the case.

Venue is a matter of jurisdiction, which the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. State, 292 Ga. 685, 688, 740 S.E.2d 609 (2013). To meet that burden and establish venue, the State may use both direct and circumstantial evidence. Brinson v. State, 289 Ga. 150, 153(2), 709 S.E.2d 789 (2011), citing Jones v. State, 272 Ga. 900, 902–903(2), 537 S.E.2d 80 (2000). And, the State did so to establish that Lindsey criminally solicited the murder of Taylor, in part, in and around the Old Savannah Road neighborhood in Richmond County.

By the time of the present trial, Hankerson had died, so his testimony from Lindsey's prior trial for the murder of Taylor was read into the record. That testimony established that Hankerson, Lawton, and Lindsey were all from the Augusta area, and that consequently, they were in the same clique in prison; that it was “a home boy thing,” in that “[t]he Augusta boys hang together”; the plan to kill Taylor began while the men were imprisoned and continued after their release and return home; Hankerson and Taylor, who was Hankerson's friend, were seen together at the Citgo station in Richmond County where Taylor was later fatally shot; after Lindsey learned of the encounter, he met with Hankerson on Old Savannah Road and expressed anger at Hankerson because Hankerson had not killed Taylor when he had the opportunity to do so; Lindsey told Hankerson that Hankerson “had gone soft ․ got weak,” that Lindsey was “through messing with [Hankerson],” and that he did not need Hankerson anymore because he “had a real killer on his team now”; Lindsey's “real killer” was Antonio Tyler, who was present and part of this meeting to foster the plan to murder Taylor, which meeting took place on Old Savannah Road. Hankerson also testified that two days before Taylor's murder, he, Lawton, and Lindsey had a conversation “at the basketball court located right behind Bussey Glass on Old Savannah Road” at which time Lawton stated that he would kill Taylor but did not have a gun to do so; that Hankerson and Lindsey then walked to a house in the Old Savannah Road neighborhood where another man gave Lindsey the pistol that ultimately was used to murder Taylor; and that Lindsey handed the pistol to Hankerson directing him to give it to Lawton because Lindsey did not want to then deal directly with Lawton as Lindsey worried that “Lawton might testify against him if any kind of slip-ups came up.”

A State's witness, who at the time of the Barnes murder was an investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, testified that the address where that fatal shooting occurred was in Richmond County in an area called “Old Savannah Road.” Later at trial, another investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, testified that during the course of his investigation, he met with Lawton at Lawton's home, which was two to three miles from the Old Savannah Road neighborhood and was “still in Richmond County,” plainly indicating that the Old Savannah Road neighborhood was also in Richmond County.

The evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal solicitation to commit murder occurred in Richmond County.

2. Lindsey contends that his convictions must be reversed because the trial court wrongfully commented on the evidence when it announced to a panel of the venire that the indicted offense of malice murder occurred in Richmond County, thereby violating OCGA § 17–8–57.3

Certainly it is error for the court in a criminal case to indicate any opinion as to the evidence or the guilt of the accused, but that is not what happened in this instance. The comments at issue4 were made during the trial court's preliminary instructions to the venire, in which the court made plain that it was explaining what was alleged in the indictment against Lindsey, not what had been proven in regard to Lindsey's culpability for the crimes on trial. There was no violation of OCGA § 17–8–57. See Foster v. State, 290 Ga. 599, 600–601(2), 723 S.E.2d 663 (2012); Linson v. State, 287 Ga. 881, 883–84(2), 700 S.E.2d 394 (2010).

3. Lindsey next contends that his convictions must be reversed because the evidence presented at trial to support the guilty verdicts was insufficient as it rested solely on the uncorroborated testimony of the accomplice, Hankerson. But, that is not so.

Former OCGA § 24–4–8,5 applicable at the time of Lindsey's trial, did require corroborating circumstances in a felony prosecution in which the only witness was an accomplice.6 Thus, the State had to present the testimony of at least one other witness or evidence of such corroborating circumstances; however, the required additional evidence could be circumstantial, slight, and in and of itself, insufficient to warrant a conviction of the charged crime. Crawford v. State, 294 Ga. 898, 757 S.E.2d 102 (2014). But, such independent evidence has to either directly connect the defendant with the crime or justify an inference that the defendant is guilty; it must corroborate the identity of the defendant and that the defendant participated in the crime. Id. After the State provides such evidence, it is for the jury to determine whether the evidence sufficiently corroborates the accomplice's testimony and warrants the sought conviction. Id.

As made plain in Crawford, corroboration of only the chronology and details of the crimes, in and of itself, is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement of additional evidence. Id. However, there may be circumstances in which the timing and the specifics of criminal acts can serve as corroborating circumstances if they are directly linked to the identity of the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime on trial. And, even though evidence of motive without more is insufficient to corroborate the testimony of an accomplice, Reaves v. State, 242 Ga. 542, 543(1), 250 S.E.2d 376 (1978), overruled on other grounds, Felker v. State, 252 Ga. 351, 366(2)(a), 314 S.E.2d 621 (1984), it can be considered in the determination of whether an accomplice's version of events inculpating a defendant is corroborated. See Terrell v. State, 271 Ga. 783, 786(3), 523 S.E.2d 294 (1999). And, this is certainly true in the present case.

The timing and circumstances of Taylor's murder support the identity of Lindsey as the mastermind behind the crimes. Lindsey had ample motive to kill Taylor, that is, initially to prevent Taylor from again testifying at Lindsey's retrial for the murder of Rosa Barnes, and then as retribution for Taylor having twice testified against him. Indeed, an investigator in the Barnes murder case testified about Lindsey's visible animus toward Taylor during the initial trial of that case. And, perhaps even more significantly, in the present trial the State presented evidence of a separate and independent attempt to cause fear and potential harm to an anticipated witness for the prosecution.

The State's witness, who was a close friend of the victim Taylor and who had previously offered evidence in the case against Lindsey, testified that she had received threatening phone calls in an attempt to dissuade her from testifying; she had notified law enforcement because she feared for her life and the welfare of her children. Although the witness was not permitted to give further details about the substance of the phone calls, inasmuch as Lindsey was the one on trial, a reasonable and plain inference to be drawn is that Lindsey made the calls or that they were made at his instigation. Evidence of a defendant's attempt to influence or intimidate a witness is circumstantial evidence of guilt, even in the situation in which the defendant does not personally make the attempt, that is, action by a third party to influence a witness not to testify or to testify falsely is relevant and admissible into evidence in a criminal prosecution on the issue of the defendant's guilt when the accused is shown to have authorized the attempt. Kell v. State, 280 Ga. 669, 671(2)(a), 631 S.E.2d 679 (2006). The plain inference that Lindsey was responsible for the menacing phone calls was uncontradicted at trial. What is more, there was no objection at trial to admission of evidence of the calls on the basis that they had not been sufficiently connected to Lindsey, nor is any error in that regard enumerated in this appeal. See Williams v. State, 290 Ga. 533, 539(2)(d), 722 S.E.2d 847 (2012) (issue of connecting defendant to threatening conduct is waived on appeal when there is failure to object in the trial court and to enumerate issue on appeal).

As noted, the independent corroborating evidence need only “justify an inference that [the defendant] is guilty.” Crawford, supra at ––––. And, the jury was authorized to make the inference that Lindsey was responsible for the menacing calls, which evidenced Lindsey's intent to exact retribution against one who would aid the State in obtaining his conviction. Thus, there was evidence, albeit slight, to corroborate Hankerson's version of events identifying Lindsey as the prime mover in the plot to murder Taylor.7

In sum, the evidence was sufficient to enable the jury to find Lindsey guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).

4. Finally, Lindsey contends that the trial court committed harmful error by permitting into evidence prior consistent statements made by Hankerson to law enforcement, thereby improperly bolstering Hankerson's credibility.8 However, this complaint too is unavailing.

The record discloses that early in the trial, Lindsey acknowledged that the State wanted to admit the evidence as prior consistent statements by Hankerson, yet acquiesced to the jury hearing the content of the taped statement, and merely requested that it do so by a reading of a transcript of the statement rather than by playing the tape.9 Later during trial, Lindsey voiced no objection whatsoever when the trial court stated that the tape would be played for the jury.10 And, at the time the State tendered the tape and asked that it be played for the jury, Lindsey's only objection was to reiterate a prior unsuccessful challenge made on confrontation grounds in a motion in limine.11 Lindsey did not object on the basis of improper bolstering now urged, which is necessary to preserve such claim for consideration on appeal.12 Jackson v. State, 292 Ga. 685, 691(6), 740 S.E.2d 609 (2013); Bradley v. State, 292 Ga. 607, 613(4), 740 S.E.2d 100 (2013).

Judgments affirmed.

HINES, Presiding Justice.

All the Justices concur.

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