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Supreme court releases opinions on gruesome cases

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BELL V. THE STATE (S13A1337)

 

            The Supreme Court of Georgia has unanimously upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence a young man received in DeKalb County for shooting and killing an innocent bystander who was sitting in his car at a traffic light.

 

            In today’s opinion, written by Justice Robert Benham, the high court has rejected Stanquise Ramon Bell’s claim that his trial attorney was ineffective and concludes that the evidence was “sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted.”

 

            According to prosecutors, on May 21, 2010, Bell, who was about 20 years old, went to a Redan High School graduation party with three friends. The party was in an open garage at the Shirewick subdivision off Panola Road, according to briefs filed in the case. According to witnesses, Bell was “wild,” “under the influence,” “slurring his words,” and had been “drinking and smoking.” At one point, he climbed up on a parked car and began waving a gun, yelling, “I will beat anybody up. I want to fight.” Bell “wasn’t in his right mind,” a witness said. When the party started getting out of hand, the owners of the house called police, and there was a mass exodus. Bell got into a Chrysler 300 car with three others, and sat in the back passenger seat. Three other friends got into another car with plans to follow them to another party. As the Chrysler left the subdivision and turned onto Panola Road, Bell held the gun out the back passenger window and fired two shots into the air.

 

            Also on May 21, 2010, Anthony Carter attended an Avondale High School reunion off Panola Road. At about 11:30 p.m., he called his fiancé and said he was leaving the reunion and would not be late. Carter was stopped at the red light on Panola Road and Covington Highway when the Chrysler pulled into the left lane beside him. While Carter waited for the light to change, Bell said to his friends, “I’m about to bust this n-----. Do you want me to do it?”  Two of his friends yelled, “No, no, no,” but Bell put his arm out the back window and fired at Carter. The bullet struck Carter below his left armpit and traveled through his aorta, killing him, as his car drifted across the intersection and into a parked car at a gas station. Bell yelled “Go, go, go,” to the driver, and they took off down Covington Highway. While their friends in the other car initially followed, they turned around and returned to the scene, where two of them gave statements to police. The friends identified Bell as the shooter. A month later, Bell was arrested in Athens on a fugitive warrant.

 

            In September 2011, a jury convicted Bell of murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and he was sentenced to life plus five years in prison. He appealed on the basis that his trial attorney’s ineffectiveness violated his constitutional rights, arguing that the attorney failed to object at several key points during the trial, including when she failed to object to the prosecutor’s question of the state’s star witness in which he conveyed to the jury his belief in the witness’s credibility.

 

            “It is well-settled that a prosecutor may not express to the jury his or her personal belief about the veracity of a witness,” today’s opinion says. In this case, however, “[g]iven the substantial evidence of Bell’s guilt, we agree with the trial court’s conclusion that failure to object to the complained-of question in this case did not undermine the fundamental fairness of the trial.” The high court has also rejected Bell’s other arguments. “With respect to the majority of Bell’s allegations, we have affirmed the trial court’s findings and conclusions that Bell failed to carry the burden of establishing that trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient,” the opinion says. “Judgment affirmed.”

 

Attorney for Appellant (Bell): Gerard Kleinrock

 

Attorneys for Appellee (State): Robert James, District Attorney, Deborah Wellborn, Asst. D.A., Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Rochelle Gordon, Asst. A.G.              

 

 

 

JIMENEZ V. THE STATE (S13A1868)

 

            The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence without the possibility of parole given to a Fayette County man who stabbed his wife to death in front of their three young sons.

 

             According to state prosecutors, in November 2009, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call from Jesus Ojeda Jimenez’s 7-year-old son, Christian, who reported that his father was beating his mother and she was bleeding. The family lived in the Landmark mobile home park in Fayetteville, and in addition to Christian, there were two other children, Bryan and Jesus. Based on Liliana Ruiz’s injuries, which included a black eye, bloody nose and swollen face, the deputy sheriff arrested Jimenez, who admitted he had struck his wife because he was tired of her talking to other men. Jimenez also told the deputy that when he got out of jail, he would do it again, according to briefs filed in the case. A little more than two years later, at 7:50 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2012, the Fayette County 911 Center received another call from a boy calling himself, “Christian.” The audio recording of that call would later be played for the jury.

 

            According to the evidence, 11-year-old Jesus was inside the trailer when Christian told him their father was beating their mother. She had just returned from grocery shopping and was opening the door when her husband attacked her. Jesus ran outside and tried to push his father off his mother as Jimenez stabbed her with a seven-and-a-half-inch kitchen knife. Bryan and Christian ran next door for help and the neighbor ran toward Jimenez and his wife. Jimenez ran away as they tried to stop Liliana’s bleeding with a t-shirt. Jesus was holding his mother when the responding deputy arrived on the scene. The officer found no pulse and at the hospital, she was declared dead. According to the medical examiner, she had been stabbed in the neck, cutting her jugular vein, in the chest, cutting her liver and lung, and in her back with such force, that it cut two of her ribs. Jimenez turned himself into the sheriff’s office the next day and an officer who spoke Spanish advised him of his Miranda rights. Jimenez told the officer he believed his wife was having a relationship with another man. He had come home after drinking and was angry to find an empty, unkempt home. He said he smoked a cigarette and wrote out a note to his boys asking for them to forgive him for what he was about to do. When Liliana arrived home, he said he attacked her. When his oldest son told him to stop and he heard sirens approaching, he ran into the woods. His taped statement was played for the jury.

 

            In September 2012, Jimenez was convicted of murder, cruelty to children and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime, and he was sentenced to life without parole plus 40 years in prison. His only argument on appeal was that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict.

 

            But in today’s unanimous opinion, written by Justice Harold Melton, the high court has rejected his argument. “The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Jimenez guilty of all of the crimes of which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt,” the opinion says. “Judgment affirmed.”

 

Attorney for Appellant (Jimenez): James Bischoff

 

Attorneys for Appellee (State): Robert Smith, Jr., Asst. District Attorney, Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Rochelle Gordon, Asst. A.G.

 

 

 

WOODALL V. THE STATE (S13A1564)

 

            The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the convictions and life prison sentence a Glynn County man received for the 2000 double murder of his wife’s uncle and another man after luring them to a deserted railroad crossing.

 

Lecester “Buddy” Woodall, Jr., appealed, arguing the trial court made 10 mistakes, arguing they violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial, due process and equal protection. But in today’s unanimous opinion, written by Justice Robert Benham, the high court has rejected all his arguments and found that the evidence at trial “was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted.”

 

According to the evidence at trial, the day before the murders, Woodall enlisted the assistance of his brother-in-law, David Wimberly, in his plan to pose as a stranded motorist and rob his wife’s uncle, Lavelle Lynn. Lynn owned a wrecker for towing cars in his used auto business and was known to carry a lot of cash. On Sept. 4, 2000, which was Labor Day, Lynn’s daughter said she was at her father’s house in the morning when he received a call from a man who said he needed a tow truck for his car, which had broken down near the railroad tracks on Bladen Road in Glynn County. Lynn agreed to meet him, and after putting about $490 in his wallet for some bills he planned to pay that day, he and his employee, Robert Van Allen, left to go meet the stranded motorist. Prosecutors claimed Woodall, about 26 years old at the time, had approached several men, soliciting their help in the crime. Only Wimberly agreed to participate. At 9:56 a.m., a call was placed from Paige’s Mini Mart to Lynn’s phone, and a video surveillance camera showed Woodall, wearing a ball cap, at the convenience store; his light blue Pontiac 6000 was parked outside. Later that morning, at around 10:30, a hunter heard three or four shots fired near the railroad tracks. He found both men lying in pools of blood near the flatbed truck. A man and his son who were out riding four wheelers in the vicinity saw the wrecker going down Bladen Road and later saw a blue or white car leave the area at a high rate of speed. A month after the murders, Lynn’s wallet was found empty except for his driver’s license along Georgia Highway 110. Woodall later admitted he was at the convenience store when the call was made. Six months after the killings, he was questioned by police again and eventually confessed to his role in the murders.

 

Both Woodall and Wimberly were arrested and charged with malice murder and armed robbery. The state announced it would seek the death penalty. Woodall was tried first in 2005 and found guilty of the felony murders of Lynn and Van Allen and the armed robbery. The jury declined to recommend the death penalty and he was sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms. He then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing among other things that one of the jurors, a black female named Cynthia L. Battle, had been illegally seated, because the woman who had been summoned for jury duty and had the same first and last names, was white. Woodall claims that as a result, he is entitled to a new trial.

 

“We disagree,” today’s opinion says. “Since appellant had access to the juror list which revealed that Cynthia R. Battle was a Caucasian woman born in 1963, he could have discovered, with the exercise of ordinary diligence, that there was a discrepancy and a basis to object when Mrs. [Cynthia] L. Battle, who is African-American and was born in 1954, appeared for service. Appellant’s failure to object before a verdict was rendered constitutes a waiver of this issue on appeal.”

 

In today’s 17-page opinion, the court goes through each of Woodall’s remaining arguments. But it finds they all lack merit.           

 

Attorneys for Appellant (Woodall): J.D. Blevins, Gabrielle Pittman, S. Boyd Young, Christopher Adams

 

Attorneys for Appellee (State): Jackie Johnson, District Attorney, Andrew Ekonomou, Asst. D.A., Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Clint Malcolm, Asst. A.G.

 

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