Supreme Court of Georgia

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Summaries of Facts and Issues
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)("(( A+M+ Session
ROUSE ,+ T-E STATE .S)*A))/01
A man con+icte, of mur,er in Muscogee Count# is a))ealing his con+iction an, life
)rison sentence, arguing he ,eser+es a ne- trial because the 'u,ge ma,e an im)ro)er statement
,uring 'ur. selection about -here the crime -as committe,*
FACTS" On Se)t* , 2!!#, Scottie Gillen, a ".ear"ol, ,i+orce, father of four, -as
foun, gas)ing for breath along /aiser 0ri+e in 1olumbus, GA* He ,ie, before the ambulance
arri+e,* Accor,ing to state )rosecutors, about a -ee2 earlier, Gillen ha, been te3ting an, tal2ing
to t-o sisters, 4iss. an, 4elissa 1ona-a., -ho li+e, together along -ith their bo.frien,s,
5rian 0e-berr. an, 1harles 4ellinger* 6he night before Gillen -as 2ille,, the sisters sho-e,
their bo.frien,s te3t messages Gillen ha, sent 4iss. in -hich he offere, to ha+e se3 -ith either
of the sisters* 4ellinger an, 0e-berr. reacte, angril. an, -ante, to lure Gillen to the house to
beat him* 6he sisters instea, hatche, a )lan to rob Gillen because he usuall. carrie, a lot of
mone.* 6he ne3t ,a., 4elissa calle, Gillen an, )romise, se3ual fa+ors if he7, get her some
cigarettes* 0e-berr. calle, his ol,er brother, Ste+en A* 8ouse -ho -as in his earl. 2!s, an,
as2e, his hel) in beating an, robbing Gillen* 0e-berr. later sai, his brother agree,* After 4iss.
an, 4elissa ,eci,e, the. ,i, not -ant the robber. to ha))en in their front .ar,, the. as2e,
Gillen to meet them ,o-n the street at an a)artment com)le3* He arri+e,, an, 4elissa -ent -ith
him in his truc2 to a nearb. store for cigarettes* 8ouse mean-hile calle, 4elissa an, tol, her
that -hen the. returne,, she shoul, ha+e Gillen )ar2 ne3t to the -oo,s* As 4elissa -al2e, a-a.
from Gillen7s truc2, 8ouse, 4ellinger an, 0e-berr. -al2e, out of the -oo,s an, u) to the
truc2* Accor,ing to 4ellinger an, 0e-berr., 8ouse struc2 u) a con+ersation -ith Gillen about
go"carts an, truc2s that laste, about 2! minutes* 6he. testifie, 8ouse then struc2 Gillen an,
2noc2e, him off the truc27s tailgate onto the groun,* 8ouse got on Gillen7s bac2 an, )ut him in a
cho2ehol,, re)eate,l. telling Gillen to 9go to slee)*: 4ean-hile, 0e-berr. 2ic2e, Gillen in the
stomach -hile 4ellinger )unche, him in the face* ;+entuall. 8ouse release, Gillen an, rolle,
him face ,o-n in the grass, -hile 4ellinger too2 Gillen7s -allet* After fin,ing no mone., the
three -ent home* All three men -ere arreste, later that ,a.*
Accor,ing to the forensic )athologist -ho con,ucte, the auto)s., Gillen suffere,
numerous in'uries to his hea, an, nec2 area* 6he )athologist testifie, that the in'uries to Gillen7s
nec2 alone -oul, ha+e been fatal* 6he cornu, or cartilage at the ti) of his A,am7s a))le, ha, been
bro2en, an, the stra) muscles running u) the nec2 -ere bruise, an, blee,ing < a common
strangulation in'ur. an, consistent -ith a))lication of a cho2ehol,*
After their arrest, 8ouse ga+e a signe, statement in -hich he ,enie, 2no-ing -ho Gillen
-as, ,i, not a,mit to )lacing him in a cho2ehol,, but ,i, a,mit to stri2ing Gillen in the face an,
2noc2ing him to the groun,* He sai, he 2ic2e, him in the face t-o or three times, an, one of
those times ma. ha+e hit him in the throat* He sai, he onl. hit Gillen because Gillen 9sna))e,:
an, 'um)e, off the tailgate of his truc2 to attac2 him*
A 4uscogee 1ount. gran, 'ur. in,icte, 8ouse 'ointl. -ith the t-o Har,a-a. sisters,
4ellinger an, 0e-berr., charging them -ith malice mur,er, felon. mur,er an, robber.* 8ouse7s
brother an, other three co",efen,ants acce)te, )lea ,eals in e3change for against
8ouse* 4ellinger an, 0e-berr. acce)te, charges of +oluntar. manslaughter an, robber. -ith
4ellinger agreeing to a !".ear sentence to ser+e 25 .ears in )rison an, 0e-berr. agreeing to
ser+e 2! .ears in )rison* 4elissa 1ona-a., -ho -as about 2! at the time of the mur,er, )lea,e,
guilt. to robber. an, remains in )rison, an, her ol,er sister, 4iss., is out on )arole after ser+ing
time for cons)irac.* At 8ouse7s trial, his attorne. argue, that 8ouse, 4ellinger an, 0e-berr.
-ere e=uall. res)onsible for Gillen7s ,eath, an, li2e them, the 'ur. shoul, return a +er,ict of
guilt. on +oluntar. manslaughter an, robber. charges but not on the mur,er counts* >ollo-ing a
trial in August 2!!7, ho-e+er, the 'ur. con+icte, 8ouse of felon. mur,er an, robber. an, he
-as sentence, to life in )rison* He no- a))eals to the state Su)reme 1ourt*
ARGUMENTS" 8ouse7s attorne.s ma2e onl. one argument? 6he trial 'u,ge ma,e a
re+ersible error b. commenting to )ros)ecti+e 'urors ,uring the 'ur. selection )rocess 9that .ou
-ill be hearing about a case, -hich is a mur,er case that ha))ene, in 4uscogee 1ount.*: 96he
trial court7s statement that the case @ha))ene, in 4uscogee 1ount.7 -as a comment on +enue in
+iolation of Official 1o,e of Georgia A $7"&"5,: 8ouse7s attorne. argues in briefs* 9Benue is a
'uris,ictional fact, )lace, at issue b. the ,efen,ant7s )lea of not guilt., -hich the State must
)ro+e be.on, a reasonable ,oubt*: CBenue is -here the crime too2 )lace an, ,etermines -hich
count. court has 'uris,iction o+er the case*D 9Accor,ing to A $7"&"5, a court7s comment on a fact
to be )ro+e, b. the State @shall be hel, b. the Su)reme 1ourt or 1ourt of A))eals to be error an,
the ,ecision in the case re+erse,, an, a ne- trial grante,E*7 5ecause the 'ur. began this trial
ha+ing been tol, b. the court that +enue -as in 4uscogee 1ount., 8ouse must be grante, a ne-
trial*: In 2!!7 in Patel v. State, the state Su)reme 1ourt foun, a 'u,ge7s statement that 9+enue is
)ro)er in >a.ette 1ount. or -e -oul,n7t be here right no-: a +iolation of A $7"&"5 an, re+erse,
the lo-er court7s ruling* 6he high court rule, in Patel that the 'u,ge7s offen,ing comment -as
not 9the t.)e of )al)able @sli) of the tongue7 the a))ellate courts ha+e e3cuse, from the strict
man,ate of A $7"&"5*: 9>or a @sli) of the tongue7 to be palpable, it must be @easil. )erce)tible7 as
a sli),: the attorne.s argue* 9Fothing in the conte3t of the trial court7s statement that the case
@ha))ene, in 4uscogee 1ount.7 -oul, gi+e an. in,ication to the 'ur. that the trial court meant
an.thing other than the )lain language of its statement*: >urthermore, the State cannot argue that
the 'u,ge7s later instruction to the 'ur. to ignore his statement cures the error* 96his 1ourt hel, in
Patel that @instructions gi+en to the 'ur. b. the trial court cannot cure a +iolation of A $7"&"5,:
the attorne. argues*
6he 0istrict Attorne. argues on behalf of the State that the trial court7s statement ,uring
+oir ,ire 9-as a )al)able sli) of the tongue an, it coul, not ha+e misle, or confuse, the 'ur. an,
-as not a 'u,icial e3)ression of o)inion on +enue*: Official 1o,e of Georgia A $7"&"5 ma2es it a
re+ersible error for a 'u,ge to e3)ress his o)inion as to -hat has been )ro+e, or not, but a 9mere
+erbal inaccurac. in a charge, -hich results from a )al)able @sli) of the tongue,7 an, clearl.
coul, not ha+e misle, or confuse, the 'ur., is not re+ersible error,: the State argues* 9Where a
charge as a -hole substantiall. )resents issues in such a -a. as is not li2el. to confuse the 'ur.
e+en though a )ortion of the charge ma. not be as clear an, )recise as coul, be ,esire,, a
re+ie-ing court -ill not ,isturb a +er,ict am)l. authoriGe, b. the e+i,ence*: Hnli2e the case in
Patel, the 'u,ge7s comment in this case occurre, as )art of 'ur. selection, )rior to argument or
-itness testimon.* 96he court necessaril. nee,e, to orient the )anel to the time an, )lace the
crime -as allege, to ha+e occurre, to facilitate =uestions about )rior 2no-le,ge of the crime
an, )ossible relationshi)s to the )arties in the case,: the State argues* 95ecause the sli) of the
tongue occurre, ,uring the +oir ,ire charge an, -oul, not ha+e misle, or confuse, the 'ur., it
,oes not re=uire a ne- trial in A))ellant7s case un,er A $7"&"5*:
Attorne#s for Appe!!ant .Rouse1" 4ichael 6arleton, James 5onner, Jr*
Attorne#s for Appe!!ee .State1" Julia Slater, 0istrict Attorne., 8obert 5ic2erstaff, Sr* Asst*
0*A*, Samuel Olens, Attorne. General, 5eth 5urton, 0e)* A*G*, Paula Smith, Sr* Asst* A*G*,
1hristian >uller, Asst* A*G*

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