Dukes v. State

Decision Date02 September 2022
Docket NumberA22A0633
Parties DUKES v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Tracy Jane Mullis, for Appellant.

Jennifer Dawn Hart, Assistant District Attorney, Bradford Lee Rigby, District Attorney, Albany, for Appellee.

Land, Judge.

After a jury trial, Bo Dukes was convicted of two counts of making a false statement, one count of hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, and one count of concealing the death of another. He appeals from the denial of his amended motion for new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting his confessions and in failing to merge several of his convictions during sentencing. We find no error and affirm.

"On appeal from a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, with the defendant no longer enjoying a presumption of innocence." Reese v. State , 270 Ga. App. 522, 523, 607 S.E.2d 165 (2004). We neither weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses, but determine only whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." (Emphasis omitted.) Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U. S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 1979.

So viewed, the record shows that in 2006, Dukes and John McCullough attended basic training together at Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma. During the Christmas holiday, McCullough traveled to Dukes’ hometown of Ocilla, Georgia, and the two men drove past a missing person's billboard for Tara Grinstead, a local high school teacher who disappeared in 2005. Later that day, Dukes, who had been drinking, made several comments to McCullough about Grinstead's disappearance. He told McCullough that his friend, later identified as Ryan Alexander Duke, had previously shown up at Dukes’ house and said that he had "messed up" and needed Dukes’ truck.1 Ryan proceeded to tell Dukes that he had beaten, strangled, and killed Grinstead. Dukes also told McCullough that he and Ryan used Dukes’ truck to take Grinstead's body to a pecan orchard on land owned by Dukes’ family where they burned Grinstead's body and buried her remains. McCullough was disturbed by these comments and eventually contacted law enforcement. In 2016, McCullough spoke with GBI Agent Jason Shoudel and told him what Dukes had said.2

The 2016 Statement.

On June 16, 2016, GBI Agent Shoudel met with Dukes at the Rochelle Police Department in Wilcox County. Dukes was not under arrest at the time of this interview and was not given any Miranda3 warnings at that time. The interview was recorded. Shoudel asked Dukes if he had made "any comments" about Grinstead to McCullough. Dukes denied doing so. After Shoudel stated that McCullough had been adamant that Dukes had made comments to him about "burning a body," Dukes again denied making any comments to McCullough. Shoudel then asked Dukes whether he had "help[ed] anybody" or "burn[ed] her body" Dukes denied doing so.

The February 19, 2017 Statements.

In February 2017, Dukes’ attorney contacted GBI Agent Shoudel and arranged a meeting to take place on February 19, 2017. The initial meeting that day included Dukes, Dukes’ attorney, Paul Bowden (District Attorney for the Tifton Judicial Circuit), Kim Schwalls (Bowden's Assistant District Attorney), and Brad Rigby (District Attorney for the Cordele Judicial Circuit). The meeting was not recorded and lasted approximately thirty minutes. Shoudel was not present. With the understanding that Dukes was willing to cooperate with the GBI, Bowden told Dukes that "if he was truthful with us, cooperated, and was not involved with [Grinstead's] homicide, only the cover-up, that we were in a position that we could help him." Dukes’ attorney requested, and Bowden agreed, that if Dukes was needed to testify for the State at any proceeding, he would be given "use immunity" for his testimony. In other words, the State would not use any such testimony Dukes may provide against him. Dukes was not promised any other immunity; no other agreements or deals were made or offered; and the record reflects that Dukes never testified for the State. Neither Bowden nor anyone else ever promised Dukes a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges. No specific charges were discussed at this meeting.

Immediately following the meeting, Dukes and his attorney met with GBI Agent Shoudel. Shoudel did not make any promises or threats to Dukes, and Dukes was not under arrest or given any Miranda warnings at this meeting. During this meeting, Dukes gave a brief description of Ryan's involvement in Grinstead's murder and confirmed the location of Grinstead's remains in the pecan orchard.

The February 21, 2017 Statement.

On February 21, 2017, GBI Agent Shoudel met with Dukes and his attorney again. At this meeting, Dukes was advised of his Miranda rights, and he signed documents admitting that he had not been promised anything in exchange for his statement. In this interview, Shoudel again asked Dukes whether he had made any statements to McCullough about Grinstead's disappearance. This time, Dukes stated that he did not remember the conversation but that it had likely taken place. Dukes then told Shoudel that Ryan had confessed to him that he had killed Grinstead and provided Shoudel with information about the burning of Grinstead's body in the pecan orchard. He also gave Shoudel a list of individuals he had talked to about his involvement in Grinstead's disappearance.

The February 22, 2017 Statement.

The next day, February 22, 2017, another GBI agent transported Dukes to the pecan orchard so that he could assist law enforcement in locating Grinstead's remains. Dukes was reminded of his Miranda rights, but he was not under arrest during this time and was not promised anything in exchange for his cooperation. During the drive to the orchard, Dukes made additional statements about his involvement in Grinstead's disappearance. These statements were recorded.

The Charges Against Dukes, Pre-Trial Proceedings, and Trial.

Based on the above, Dukes was charged with two counts of making a false statement, one count of hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, and one count of concealing the death of another. All of these charges arose from Dukes’ June 16, 2016 interview with GBI Agent Shoudel. Before trial, the court conducted a Jackson-Denno4 hearing to determine whether Dukes’ 2016 and 2017 statements were voluntarily given and admissible. The court determined that they were and admitted the statements.

After a jury trial, Dukes was convicted of all charges and sentenced to a total of 25 years. After a hearing, Dukes’ amended motion for new trial was denied. This appeal follows.

1. Dukes argues that the trial court erred in admitting his three February 2017 statements because they were allegedly not given voluntarily. Specifically, he contends that Bowden's statement that the prosecutors were "in a position that [they] could help" Dukes was an impermissible hope of benefit that induced Dukes’ February 19, 21, and 22 statements. We disagree.

We review a trial court's findings relating to the admissibility of an incriminating statement under a clearly erroneous standard. Daniel v. State , 268 Ga. 9, 10 (2), 485 S.E.2d 734 (1997). "To make a confession admissible, it shall have been made voluntarily, without being induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury." OCGA § 24-8-824. The " ‘slightest hope of benefit’ refers to promises related to reduced criminal punishment – a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges at all." (Citation, punctuation and emphasis omitted.) Henderson v. State , 310 Ga. 708, 712 (2), 854 S.E.2d 523 (2021). In contrast, "exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth ... or offer[s] to inform the district attorney about the accused's cooperation while making clear that only the district attorney can determine charges and plea deals—do not amount to a hope of benefit." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.

Based on the controlling case law, it is clear that Bowden's statement to Dukes that he and his fellow prosecutors were in a position to "help" if Dukes cooperated and told the truth was merely an "exhortation[ ] or encouragement to tell the truth" and not a promise for "a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges at all." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Henderson , 310 Ga. at 712 (2), 854 S.E.2d 523. In Henderson , our Supreme Court held that the following statements did not amount to a hope of benefit within the meaning of OCGA § 24-8-824 but were instead permissible "exhortations or encouragement to tell the truth": "[I]t's going to only help you" to tell the truth; "But if you keep lying to me, there's not much I can do for you"; and "Sitting up here, keep lying to us is not going to get us anywhere.... So, ain't no point in sitting up here, keep trying to lie to us. It's not going to work man.... Like [the second detective] said, you can help yourself right now." Id. at 711-712 (2), 854 S.E.2d 523. Similarly, in State v. Roberts , 273 Ga. 514, 516 (3), 543 S.E.2d 725 (2001), overruled on other grounds by Vergara v. State , 283 Ga. 175, 178 (1), 657 S.E.2d 863 (2008), our Supreme Court held that the following statements did not constitute an impermissible hope of benefit but were properly characterized as "admonitions to tell the truth [that] will not invalidate a confession": "You need to deal with us, you've got to explain that"; "Let us help you"; "We can't help you like this" referring to the defendant lying to them; talking to officers is "the only way you can set that right"; "The truth will set you free"; "I can't show you, you need to trust me more than that"; and "You have to talk to one of us."

In Dawson v. State , 308 Ga. 613, 621 (3), 842 S.E.2d 875 (2020), our Supreme Court held that it was not improper for the detective to have...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT