From Supreme Court of Georgia
Jane Hansen, Public Information Officer
The Supreme Court of Georgia has unanimously upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence given to a man in Lowndes County for killing his girlfriend with an axe in 2010 on Christmas Eve.
In this high-profile Valdosta murder, Kenneth Brown, 58 at the time of the murder of 47-year-old Charlotte Grant, argued on appeal that the judge erred in refusing to instruct jurors that they could consider whether he was instead guilty of the less serious crime of voluntary manslaughter.
In today’s opinion, however, Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines writes that the evidence presented did not support a voluntary manslaughter jury charge, and that the “evidence authorized the jury to find Brown guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted.”
According to evidence at trial, Brown and Grant lived together, along with her adult son, Keith Medley, and her disabled bed-ridden daughter. The couple recently had been arguing and sleeping in separate bedrooms, according to briefs filed in the case. In the early morning hours of Dec. 24, 2010, Brown found Grant in the living room talking on the phone to her estranged husband, from who she had been separated for five years.
Brown demanded she hang up the phone and when she refused, he grabbed the phone and broke it. Brown called out to her son, who was in the back bedroom, and asked him to run next door and get Brown’s sister, Annie Pride, hoping she could convince Brown to leave. After Pride arrived, the arguing continued and at one point Medley pushed Brown’s shoulder and told him to get away from his mother. Brown then left the house and returned with an axe. After pushing his sister out of the way, Brown began swinging the axe at Grant and Medley. Both attempted to back out of the house, with Grant standing in front of her son to shield him from the blows. As they retreated through the kitchen toward the back yard, Grant and Medley tried to block the assault by putting items in Brown’s path, including a chest freezer, wooden shelf and dishes. Medley picked up a metal kitchen chair and held it above his mother’s head to protect her. But Brown managed to strike Grant with the axe several times, and she fell limp into her son’s arms. Medley then laid his mother on the back steps and ran next door to call 911.
Annie Pride’s husband arrived on the scene and pushed Brown away from Grant. Brown then walked away, dropping the axe in the yard. He was stopped moments later a few blocks from his home by a Valdosta police officer. Brown’s shirt had been turned inside-out and blood was visible on his shirt and hand. Brown gave a false name and birth date, and he was arrested and taken to the police station. Grant meanwhile was taken to South Georgia Medical Center where she died a short time later from four axe wounds to her skull and another to her body. According to a criminalist with the Valdosta Police Department who testified at trial, the blood pattern found on the exterior wall of the home indicated that Grant had been struck with the axe at least twice as she lay on the concrete steps while her son ran next door.
At the police station, Brown at first said in a videotaped interview that Medley had wielded the axe and struck Grant. When confronted with evidence and witness statements, however, he said he had retrieved the axe outside because he feared Medley would get a knife or other weapon from the back of the house. He admitted that he never saw Medley with a weapon and that he argued with Grant because he provided the money for the household and did not want her speaking with her husband. He further stated he had not intended to harm Grant but that when he was swinging the axe, he “possibly” struck her.
Following a two-day trial, the jury found Brown guilty of malice murder, aggravated assault and giving false information to a law enforcement officer. He was sentenced to life plus 21 years in prison. Brown then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing among other things that the incriminating statements he made during his interview at the police station should have been suppressed. He claimed the court’s order denying his motion to suppress failed to explicitly state that Brown’s statements had been made voluntarily.
In today’s opinion, the high court points out that “this Court has previously noted our preference for trial courts to make findings of fact, if the evidence warrants them, substantially as follows: I find from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was advised of each of his Miranda rights, that he understood them, that he voluntarily waived them, and that he thereafter gave his statement freely and voluntarily without any hope of benefit or fear of injury.”
“But the order denying Brown’s motion did not follow this recommended procedure,” the opinion says. “Generally, such a failure would require a remand for clarification. However, Brown does not assert to this Court that there is evidence that would render the statements inadmissible for any reason…and the record does not reveal such evidence. Therefore, we will not remand this case.” However, the high court reminds trial courts “of this state of our preference for findings of fact.”
Attorney for Appellant (Brown): Jon McClure
Attorneys for Appellee (State): Tracy Chapman, Sr. Asst. District Attorney, Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Ryan Kolb, Asst. A.G.