Brookins v. State

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
PartiesBROOKINS v. THE STATE.
Docket NumberS22P0556
Decision Date04 October 2022

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BETHEL, JUSTICE

A jury found Brian Duane Brookins guilty of the murders of Sandra Suzanne Brookins and Samantha Rae Giles and of related crimes. The jury declined in its guilt/innocence phase verdict to find Brookins "mentally retarded" or "mentally ill."[1] At the conclusion of the sentencing phase, the jury found multiple statutory aggravating circumstances and sentenced Brookins to death for each of the two murders. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Brookins's convictions and sentences.[2]

Sufficiency of the Evidence in the Guilt/Innocence Phase

1. (a) The evidence of Brookins's guilt, which was essentially conceded by Brookins at trial, showed as follows.[3] Brookins was married to Sandra Suzanne Brookins, and Samantha Giles was his 15-year-old stepdaughter. The couple had been having marital difficulties, and they had started divorce proceedings that were later stopped. A county solicitor, acting in her official capacity, had met Ms. Brookins in 2000 and had counseled her about her concerns for her safety. Others had done likewise.

On September 14, 2005, Brookins had been arrested for stealing "four-wheelers." While in jail, Brookins told two fellow inmates, referring to Ms. Brookins, that he was going to "kill that snitchin' b***h," and he told a third inmate that the best thing the county solicitor could do would be to keep him in jail, because he was "going to kill the b***h" and her "whole family" and then "go after" the solicitor next if he got the chance. Brookins was released on bond on October 5, 2005 subject to the condition that he have no contact with Ms Brookins or Samantha. Ms. Brookins was afraid at that time because, as she had reported to a detective and to a close friend, Brookins had called her from the jail accusing her of reporting him to the detective concerning the stolen "four-wheelers."

In the days leading up to the murders, including finally on October 12, 2005, Brookins repeatedly asked the girlfriend of one of his former fellow inmates if he could buy her .38 caliber revolver. The woman resisted but eventually sold Brookins the gun, which the woman identified at trial as being the same as the weapon used by Brookins in the murders.

Also on October 12, Ms. Brookins, who had been staying at her mother's house with her children for safety, called the detective to report that her home had been broken into and a shotgun had been taken from her bedside and that she suspected Brookins because "he knew it would upset her" and because there were no signs of forced entry. She called the detective again later that day to report another burglary of her home involving a television, a DVD player, and a video game. Also on or about October 12, a neighbor who lived nextdoor saw Ms. Brookins arrive at her home, saw Brookins come out of the home, heard Ms. Brookins telling Brookins to leave because he was not supposed to be there, and saw Ms. Brookins back up in her car and leave.

On the morning of October 14, a neighbor who lived "five or six houses down" from Ms. Brookins observed Brookins driving past Ms. Brookins's home "[p]robably nine or ten times" without stopping. At around noon on October 14, the neighbor who had seen Brookins on October 12 was arriving home from a store and saw Brookins on the front porch of Ms. Brookins's home and called the sheriff's office, as Ms. Brookins had asked her to do. However, after Brookins saw her and walked to the back of Ms. Brookins's house and after she waited 15 minutes for a sheriff's officer to arrive, she left.

Sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. on October 14, Brookins visited a pawn shop. Brookins asked if they had "any AKs or SKSs" and explained that he wanted such an assault rifle for deer hunting. However, Brookins left when he was told that the store had no assault rifles in stock.

At roughly 2:00 p.m. on October 14, the next-door neighbor who had seen Brookins at noon returned home and again saw Brookins, this time standing toward the back of Ms. Brookins's house. Later, this neighbor was looking out her window and saw Ms. Brookins and Samantha arriving and then heard two groups of gunshots.

Also on October 14, a man was talking on his cellphone in the back yard of his mother's home, which was next door on the other side of Ms. Brookins's home. Sometime around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m., he observed Ms. Brookins, with Samantha in her car, pulling into her driveway and then honking and waving to him as she passed the side of her home. However, when Ms. Brookins got to the back of her home, he saw her immediately back up to the front of her home, turn her car around to face the road, and park near the front door, a place where he had never seen her park before. He walked down a path between the homes to Ms. Brookins's yard and saw Brookins coming from the far end of the home holding a pistol in one hand, heard Brookins repeatedly yelling "you mother f***ing b***h" at Ms. Brookins, heard one shot, saw Ms. Brookins on the ground with Brookins "kicking and stomping her," and saw Brookins shoot her again. As the neighbor ran toward his mother's home, he turned and saw Samantha running behind him. After he slammed his mother's door shut, he heard another shot. He had his mother and other family members get on the floor, tried unsuccessfully to call 911, scrambled around looking out windows, and heard yet another shot. From the window of a door in the back of his mother's house, he saw Samantha lying in the middle of the path between the two homes. He then went outside to the driveway and saw Brookins driving up the road in Ms. Brookins's car. All three members of a family that lived across the street from Ms. Brookins also saw parts of the crimes, and they identified Brookins as the perpetrator.

Tire impression evidence and witness testimony showed that Brookins drove Ms. Brookin's car from Ms. Brookins's home after the murders to a place near some train tracks, where he had parked his truck before walking about 17 minutes to Ms. Brookins's home on a "four-wheeler" path through some woods. From there, Brookins drove in his truck to his parents' home, where he threatened suicide. The sheriff and another officer talked to Brookins in his parents' driveway for about an hour before Brookins placed his pistol in the back of his truck and was arrested.

Officers who arrived at the scene of the murders found Ms. Brookins's body lying face down on the ground near the steps to her front porch and Samantha's body partially curled-up and lying face down on the path leading to the neighbor's home. An autopsy showed that Ms. Brookins had gunshot wounds to her right breast, to her left elbow, and to the back of her head. An autopsy also showed that Samantha had gunshot wounds to her lower back and to her right side that were not from close range, along with a third gunshot wound an inch and a half above her right ear with a gunpowder-stippling pattern consistent with the shooter having stood over her while firing. A firearms examiner determined that the bullets that killed the victims were fired from the .38 caliber revolver obtained from Brookins at his surrender to the sheriff. The firearms examiner also determined that the shot to Samantha's head was fired from no more than 15 inches and likely from 4 to 6 inches.

(b) Brookins and the State presented competing evidence and arguments regarding Brookins's claims that he was intellectually disabled and that he was mentally ill. See OCGA § 17-7-131 (a) (2)(3) (defining these mental conditions both before and after a reordering of the relevant sections by Ga. L. 2017, p. 471, § 3). On behalf of the State, a number of non-expert witnesses gave testimony that shed light on Brookins's day-to-day abilities and activities, such as the fact that he was very knowledgeable about cars and was adept at repairing them, that he readily carried on conversations about his own legal issues and other matters, and that there was nothing at all noticeable about him that suggested mental impairment. Brookins's childhood school psychologist testified that he had known Brookins and had evaluated him at the ages of 7, 10, and 13 and that Brookins's IQ scores at those times were 92, 84, and 90, respectively. He explained that Brookins was diagnosed as having a learning disability based on his difficulty processing information presented audibly, but he added that even in his weakest area, his language skills, Brookins was operating at least at a low-average level. He testified that there had been no reports of any problems with Brookins's adaptive functioning and that Brookins's shortcomings were conduct-related rather than based on intellectual or even emotional factors. Specifically, he cited reports that, in addition to being frustrated, Brookins had been manipulative, unwilling to exert effort, unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions, defiant, and oppositional.

A psychiatrist from Central State Hospital gave Brookins the following diagnoses, including some indicating that he was "malingering" or feigning symptoms: Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia; Malingering of Psychotic Symptoms Malingering of Dissociative Symptoms; Adjustment Disorder, Chronic, with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type; Alcohol Abuse by History and Benzodiazepine Abuse; Antisocial Personality Disorder; Borderline Personality Disorder; and Borderline Intellectual Functioning. She explained that neither of Brookins's personality disorders rendered him incapable of understanding and making choices in the realm of criminal behavior. As to intellectual disability, she...

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