Collins v. State, s. A91A0957

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Citation202 Ga.App. 291,414 S.E.2d 297
Docket NumberNos. A91A0957,A91A0990,s. A91A0957
Decision Date04 December 1991

Page 297

414 S.E.2d 297
202 Ga.App. 291

Nos. A91A0957, A91A0990.
Court of Appeals of Georgia.
Dec. 4, 1991.
Reconsideration Dismissed Dec. 19, 1991.

Page 298

[202 Ga.App. 299] Ronald C. Goulart, Fort Oglethorpe, for appellant (case no. A91A0957).

Bruce & Hentz, W. Davis Hentz, Lafayette, for appellant (case no. A91A0990).

Ralph L. Van Pelt, Jr., Dist. Atty., for appellee.

[202 Ga.App. 291] ARNOLD SHULMAN, Judge, Sitting by Designation.

The appellants, Janice Faye Collins and Gary Dewayne Shaw, were jointly tried and convicted of arson in the first degree. They appeal from the denial of their respective motions for new trial, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdict.

The appellants were charged with setting fire to a mobile home owned by appellant Collins, which she had occupied with her young son and appellant Shaw. A neighbor who occupied the mobile home next door testified that at approximately 11:00 p.m. on the night of the fire, he heard a vehicle approach, looked outside his door, and saw the appellants' car parked with the motor running. He stated that the vehicle remained there for approximately five minutes and then left. Some five or ten minutes later, the neighbor heard "popping and cracking" noises, and his son heard "a loud bang," like glass breaking. The two of them looked outside at this time and saw flames coming from the bedroom window of the appellants' home, and the son then went to the home of the maintenance man for the mobile home park [202 Ga.App. 292] to telephone the fire department. The son testified that as he was walking back to the site of the fire, he saw the two appellants drive by in their car, while the maintenance man testified that he saw a car which "resembled" the appellants' vehicle stop, turn off its lights, and depart a few minutes later. The maintenance man further testified that appellants were seven or eight days late in paying the $90 rent on their lot and that he had told Shaw earlier that evening that if the rent were not paid within five days, he and Collins would be evicted from the mobile home park.

The fire was reported at 11:05 p.m., and at 11:20 p.m. firemen arrived on the scene to find the mobile home "pretty much fully consumed" in flames. At least one other fire occurred in the vicinity at the same time, and the firemen went back and forth between them. The appellants arrived on the scene at approximately 1:15 a.m. Shaw appeared to the fire fighters to be "fairly upset," while Collins appeared "extremely upset" and was crying.

Mr. Allen Key, an investigator employed by the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department who had previously investigated about 45 fires, arrived at the scene at about the same time as the appellants. Upon examining the interior of the home, he observed that the springs on the bed in the master bedroom had collapsed towards the center of the bed, and based solely on that observation he formed the opinion that "the fire was [of] an incendiary [nature] set on the bed using a flammable liquid." He stated that he did not detect any flammable liquid pour patterns but could find no other possible cause for the fire and suspected arson because he saw no personal photographs in the home, and very few articles of clothing. He acknowledged, however, that he had not looked inside any of the cabinets or closets in the home. Key testified that there was only one electrical appliance, a radio, plugged into the wall sockets in the appellants' bedroom and that this was not the cause of the fire. He further testified that although some of the breakers in the electrical breaker box were tripped, indicating that electrical shortages had occurred, the box was not sufficiently damaged to suggest to him that the fire had started there.

Key took a single sample of material from underneath the bed and sent it to the State Crime Laboratory for analysis. The forensic chemist who analyzed this sample testified that his tests revealed the presence of "a heavy petroleum distillate product," such as kerosene, diesel fuel, lamp oil

Page 299

or charcoal starter. However, he acknowledged that such petroleum distillates could be found in common household products such as furniture preparations, insecticides, and cosmetics. In addition, he conceded that it was "very important" in such cases to test the container which had housed the sample in order to eliminate the possibility of contamination by the container, but that no such testing had been performed in this case.

[202 Ga.App. 293] Lieutenant Larry Black of the Catoosa County Sheriff's Department was summoned to the scene by Key at approximately 1:15 a.m. to assist in the investigation. Upon his arrival, he interviewed the appellants and, with their permission, searched their car. Inside the trunk, he found a photograph album, several loose photographs, and a laundry basket containing various articles of clothing belonging primarily to Collins' son. Collins also consented to a search of her handbag, which contained military discharge papers belonging to her recently deceased husband, a letter from the Veterans Administration concerning the procedure for making benefit claims, an insurance policy on the mobile home, title and registration papers for the car, a bill from the lienholder on the mobile home, and one or more birth certificates.

When questioned by Black about her whereabouts earlier that night, Collins asserted that her clothes dryer had not been working and that she had left with her son and Shaw at approximately 9:00 p.m. to go to her sister's home in East Ridge, Tennessee, to dry some clothing for her son to wear to school the next day. She stated that they had run out of gas on the interstate on the way back and that after about 45 minutes, an East Ridge police officer had stopped and agreed to take Shaw to a gas station to get some gas. However, no gas can was available at the station, and the officer had accordingly driven Shaw to a friend's home to borrow one. He had then driven Shaw back to the gas station to purchase some gas, and thence back to the car, where Collins and her son were still waiting. Collins told Black that after getting their car started, she and Shaw returned to the mobile home to get some money for cigarettes and then drove to a convenience store. Black called the East Ridge Police Department to verify this information and was informed that their police log showed that an officer had stopped to assist the appellants at 10:35 p.m. that evening. Asked about the status of her payments on the mobile home, Collins told Black that she was current except for the last month's payment, which was late, and this information was also verified.

Collins repeatedly denied any involvement in the fire, insisting that she had nothing to gain from it. Although she had a fire insurance policy on the mobile home, it was shown that all of the policy proceeds had been paid to the lienholder to cover the outstanding balance on the note, which slightly exceeded the cash value of the mobile home. Conceding that this was "not an arson for profit," Black testified that he made the decision to charge the appellants based on Key's opinion that the fire had been deliberately set and his own suspicions arising from the items found in their vehicle and in Collins' handbag, combined with his feeling that Collins "was being untruthful ... on the time period and the sequence of events and how they occurred."

[202 Ga.App. 294] The defense called as a witness Mr. Charles Robert Love, an expert in the field of arson investigation who had investigated more than 4,000 fires over the past 18 years and who had been hired by the county to investigate the cause of the fire in the present case. Based on observations made during the course of three separate visits to the scene, he characterized the fire as a slow ignition or "cool fire," and he expressed surprise that it had not been more destructive, stating that fires in mobile homes and automobiles tended to burn some 2,000 degrees hotter than house fires. He testified that the particle board floor inside the mobile home was still...

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3 cases
  • Crawford v. State
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 13 Octubre 2012
    ...the cause of the burning; and, third, that the defendant was the criminal agency.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Collins v. State, 202 Ga.App. 291, 295–296(1), 414 S.E.2d 297 (1991). The indictment alleged that Crawford committed arson in the first degree in that on or about April 15,......
  • Crawford v. State
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 1 Octubre 2012
    ...the cause of the burning; and, third, that the defendant was the criminal agency." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Collins v. State, 202 Ga. App. 291, 295-296 (1) (414 SE2d 297) (1991). The indictment alleged that Crawford committed arson in the first degree in that on or about April 15......
  • Burchette v. State, A02A2236.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 20 Marzo 2003
    ...Id. We cannot conclude that the jury's verdict in this case was "insupportable." Unlike the circumstantial evidence in Collins v. State, 202 Ga.App. 291, [260 Ga. App. 743] 414 S.E.2d 297 (1991),1 cited by Burchette, evidence of Burchette's presence at the scene immediately before and after......

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