Georgia Supreme Court Blog

February 1, 2010

Cocaine, Gay Sex & Murder: Court Upholds Buckhead Murder Conviction

Filed under: Uncategorized — bce30064 @ 4:18 pm

Joseph Hall, Jr. (Source: GA DOC)

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence given by a Fulton County court to Joseph Hall, Jr. for the 2002 murder of David Cook. Hall was 18 when he was accused of murdering Cook in his Buckhead condominium after Cook allegedly made unwanted homosexual advances.

According to legal briefs and evidence at trial, Hall and his co-defendant, Edward McCloud, 21, were college students when they took a Greyhound bus from Montgomery, AL to Atlanta in April 2002. In an area frequented by Atlanta’s gay community, they met Cook, a travel agent, who offered to take them to his high-rise condominium near Lenox Mall to “party” and have sex. A video surveillance tape at the Grandview condominiums showed the three entering the parking deck and elevator to Cook’s apartment around 1 a.m., and Hall and McCloud leaving about two hours later. At trial, Hall testified that while high on cocaine, he watched Cook and McCloud have sex. However, Hall later shunned Cook’s advances, and when Cook tried to force him to have sex, Hall said he stabbed him more than 20 times. He said he was in a trance triggered by childhood memories of seeing his father stab his mother to death. He said that McCloud wrapped Cook’s head in a pillow case and towel, then cut Cook’s throat. After tying up his hands and feet with a telephone cord and a yellow shirt, the two took Cook’s car and credit cards and headed back to Alabama. Cook’s nude body was discovered in his blood-spattered apartment several days later after co-workers became concerned when he did not show up for work.

In June 2003, Hall was sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years for malice murder, aggravated assault, theft by taking and credit card fraud. (McCloud was also convicted and given the same sentence, and the state Supreme Court affirmed his convictions in 2008.)

Edward McCloud

Edward McCloud (Source: GA DOC)

In today’s unanimous opinion, Justice Robert Benham (data) writes that the evidence at trial “was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of malice murder, aggravated assault, theft by taking, and financial transaction card theft.” In his appeal, Hall argues the trial court was wrong not to grant him a new trial on a number of grounds, including that his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to show the video surveillance tape to the jury. That tape would have corroborated his testimony that he killed Cook in self-defense, Hall argues.

But in its opinion, the high court rejected this and Hall’s other claims, including that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecutor to ask a potential juror how he felt about Atlanta being ranked among the “top five American cities with the most gay people in it.” Hall’s attorney didn’t object at the time, the opinion states, and Hall therefore cannot raise the issue on appeal.

More Information: Georgia Supreme Court Database: HALL V. THE STATE (S09A1468) : Full Text and Visual Summary

Summary by Georgia Supreme Court Public Information Office
Attorney for Appellant (Hall): Cynthia Price
Attorneys for Appellee (State): Paul Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Bettieanne Hart, Dep. Asst. D.A., Stephany Luttrell, Asst. D.A., Thurbert Baker, Attorney General, Mary Beth Westmoreland, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Mary Ware, Asst. A.G.


January 28, 2010

Double-Dipping Cop Set Free on Technicality of Grand Jury Notice

Filed under: Uncategorized — bce30064 @ 5:01 pm

Leonard Smith

Leonard Smith (Source: GA DOC)

The Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled in favor of a Dooly County police officer and upheld a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals that threw out his conviction and five-year prison sentence for alleged “double-dipping.”

The high court agreed to review the appeal to determine whether Georgia law required that as a police officer, he should have been notified of when his case was to be presented to the grand jury. “We conclude that notice of the specific time and place of the grand jury presentment is required to be provided to the accused by the State,” states the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Harris Hines (data).

The case involves Sergeant Leonard Smith who, according to legal briefs, was a full-time officer for the Fort Valley Police Department when he was hired in 1999 by the City of Unadilla police. He eventually became Chief of the Unadilla Police Department, while continuing to work for Fort Valley. In both jobs, he was required to fill out time cards. In 2006, a former Unadilla city councilman obtained Smith’s Unadilla time cards and handed them over to Fort Valley’s police chief, who initiated an investigation into whether Smith had been billing both departments for the same time periods. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also began investigating and documented seven instances of Smith’s alleged double-dipping.

Following the investigation, Smith was served with a copy of the proposed indictment charging him with seven counts of making false statements and writings. The indictment indicated his case would be presented during the grand jury’s January 2007 term, but it did not specify when.

Without Smith being present, the grand jury returned a true bill on Jan. 29, 2007. The case went to trial and Smith was found guilty of three counts of making false statements and acquitted of the other four. He was sentenced to five years in prison and 10 years on probation. Smith appealed, and in March 2009, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and sent the case back to the lower court.

The Appeals Court concluded that under two Georgia laws, the State was required to notify Smith of when the proposed indictment would be presented to the grand jury so he could exercise his right to appear during the proceedings.

“The legal conclusion of the Court of Appeals is sound,” today’s opinion says.

More Information: Georgia Supreme Court Database: THE STATE v. SMITH (S09G1287) : Full Text and Visual Summary

Summary by Georgia Supreme Court Public Information Office
Attorneys for Appellant (State): Denise Fachini, District Attorney, Cheri Nichols, Asst. D.A.
Attorney for Appellee (Smith): Stephen Hollomon

January 25, 2010

2010 Opinions Put Law Enforcement on Win Streak

Filed under: Uncategorized — bce30064 @ 4:49 pm

The Georgia Supreme Court published 26 written opinions today in area ranging from the death penalty to claims preclusion to election law. Law enforcement consistently prevailed in today’s opinions: the Court reinstated the death sentence on Donnie Lance, upheld murder convictions in 10 other cases and set a Dooly County police officer free from prison based on technical error in his grand jury notice.

The Court upheld the dismissal of challenges to Douglas County elections. The Court also decided 4 attorney discipline cases. We expect to publish summaries of some of these cases this week.

January 5, 2010

Is it Rocket Science? A Preview of January 2010 Arguments Calendar

Filed under: Uncategorized — bce30064 @ 3:21 am

As I mentioned in conclusion of my post on the impact of new justice David Nahmias of the Georgia Supreme Court, the January 2010 arguments calendar features a trio of cases that may signal the Court’s approach to economic justice issues. Southstar Energy Services v. Ellison et al. (S09G1664), Anthony et al. v. American General Financial et al. (S10Q0203), and Schorr et al. v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (S10Q0193) are scheduled for January 2010 oral arguments pitting consumers against large corporations with substantial amounts in controversy.

Another civil case to watch is Grammens v. Dollar et al. (S09G0510), the rocket science controversy that lends to the title of this article. At issue is the scope of official immunity for school personnel arising out of middle school science classroom “rocket” experiment that caused injury to who student was not instructed to wear safety goggles. The Forsyth state court granted summary judgment to all defendants; the court of appeals, however, reversed with respect to science teacher Grammens.

Georgia courts have continued to struggle to distinguish “discretionary” acts that are protected by official immunity from “ministerial” acts that may give rise to liability. Some courts, such as the Forsyth state court in this case, seem to believe that any voluntary act by an official is discretionary and therefore immune from liability. The fact that an official may ignore or violate a specific policy or duty, in this view, appears to prove the conduct discretionary and therefore immune. Hopefully, the Georgia Supreme Court will help us figure out when rocket science isn’t really rocket science.

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