Edenfield v. State

Citation744 S.E.2d 738,293 Ga. 370
Decision Date11 July 2013
Docket NumberNo. S13P0210.,S13P0210.
PartiesEDENFIELD v. The STATE.
CourtSupreme Court of Georgia

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Carl P. Greenberg, Michael Wayne Tarleton, Brandon Alexander Bullard, Jimmonique R.S. Rodgers, Atlanta, Margaret Elizabath Flynt, Mark Andrew Begnaud, McDonough, James A. Yancey, Jr., Brunswick, for appellant.

Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Atty. Gen., Dana Elizabeth Weinberger, Asst. Atty. Gen., Sabrina Dawn Graham, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lyndsey Jean Hurst, Asst. Atty. Gen., Samuel S. Olens, Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Jacquelyn Lee Johnson, Dist. Atty., Woodbine, John B. Johnson III, Asst. Dist. Atty., Jesup, for appellee.

BLACKWELL, Justice.

David Edenfield was tried by jury, convicted of murder and several other serious crimes—all in connection with the brutal sexual assault and death of six-year-old Christopher Barrios—and sentenced to death for the murder. Following the denial of his motion for new trial, Edenfield appeals, raising several claims of error. We, however, see no reversible error, and for that reason, we affirm.1

Sufficiency of the Evidence

1. We turn first to the contention that the evidence cannot sustain the convictions. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence shows that Christopher lived with his father and stepmother in a Glynn County mobile home park, and his grandmother lived nearby, also in the mobile home park. Edenfield lived with his wife, Peggy, and his adult son, George, 2 in the same mobile home park, across the street from the grandmother.

On the afternoon of March 8, 2007, around 2:45 p.m., Christopher returned home from school, and he went to see his grandmother. He stayed with his grandmother for about 30 minutes, and then he went back to his own home to get some toys, including a “lightsaber.” Around 3:30 p.m., a neighbor saw Christopher on his front porch, playing with toys. Later, around 6:00 p.m., the same neighbor saw Christopher again, playing with toys in a yard down the road. About fifteen minutes after that, another neighbor saw Christopher skipping toward his home, smiling and carrying a toy sword. Around the same time, his stepmother discovered that Christopher was no longer with his grandmother, and she began to search for him, eventually calling for his father to leave work early and join the search. When the search failed to turn up any sign of Christopher, his father called upon law enforcement officers.

That evening, around 9:00 p.m., a police investigator saw a “lightsaber” in the yard of the Edenfield home, and he observed the occupants of that home furtively peeking out the windows.3 The investigator knocked on the door, and when Peggy answered, the investigator saw a man—later identified as Donald Dale, a friend of the Edenfield family—who seemed to be trying to hide in the home. The investigator asked the Edenfield family and Dale to step onto the porch and speak with him. They did, although the investigator noticed that, whenever he tried to ask George a question, Edenfield or Peggy would answer for him. Eventually, the investigator asked George to walk to the road with the investigator, and there, George told the investigator that the devil had told him to kill Christopher. George was taken to a law enforcement office for an interview, and he was later arrested. Edenfield himself was arrested five days later and charged with helping George dispose of the body.

On March 15, Department of Natural Resources officers found some plastic trash bags in a wooded area in Glynn County. Christopher's body was inside the bags. According to the medical examiner, Christopher had been anally raped and strangled. In addition, Christopher had been bitten on his back, and chemical analysis revealed saliva on his back, buttocks, and penis. Moreover, seminal fluid was discovered in the plastic bags in which Christopher was found.

Law enforcement officers interviewed Edenfield several times, but he gave his most significant and inculpatory statement on March 16, three days after he was arrested for helping to dispose of the body. In that statement, Edenfield admitted that he helped to hold Christopher down as George penetrated the child with his penis, both orally and anally. Edenfield also admitted that he rubbed his own penis against Christopher and that he ejaculated on the child, although he denied personally committing any other sexual assaults upon Christopher. During these sexual assaults, Edenfield said, Peggy watched and masturbated, and Christopher fought to escape, begged them to stop, and threatened to tell his family. Following the sexual assaults, George began to strangle Christopher. At some point, Edenfield admitted,he put his own hands over George's hands to see what it would feel like to participate in a killing.4 After Christopher was strangled, Edenfield said, he, Peggy, George, and Donald Dale put Christopher in plastic trash bags and dumped his body. At trial, Peggy testified, and she confirmed that Edenfield had participated in the sexual assaults, the murder, and the disposal of the body. She added that Edenfield had helped to undress Christopher, that Edenfield had put his mouth on Christopher's penis, and that Edenfield had attempted to put his penis into Christopher's anus.

Pointing to conflicts in the evidence, Edenfield argues that it is insufficient to sustain his convictions. Although the evidence may be inconsistent in some respects, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and leave questions of credibility and the resolution of conflicts in the evidence to the jury.” Bradley v. State, 292 Ga. 607, 609(1)(a), 740 S.E.2d 100 (2013). So viewed, we have no difficulty concluding that the evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Edenfield was guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319(III)(B), 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See also Unified Appeal Procedure (“UAP”) IV(B)(2) (providing that, in all death penalty cases, this Court will determine whether the verdicts are supported by the evidence). Accordingly, the evidence sustains the convictions.

Pretrial Issues

2. We turn next to the contention that the trial court erred when it denied a pretrial motion to suppress several statements that Edenfield gave to investigators, including not only his statement of March 16, 2007, but also statements that he gave before he was arrested. Edenfield claims that his statements were involuntary because they were induced by “hope of benefit,” and he cites former OCGA § 24–3–50, which provided that, [t]o make a confession admissible, it must have been made voluntarily, without being induced by another by the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury.” But see former OCGA § 24–3–51 (“The fact that a confession has been made under a spiritual exhortation, a promise of secrecy, or a promise of collateral benefit shall not exclude it.”).5 In support of his claim, Edenfield says that he was induced to give statements to investigators by their assurances that, if only he told the “truth,” he could go home and remain free to care for his elderly mother, that a true account of what George had done could help George to get mental health treatment, and that the investigators would help Edenfield by asking his landlord not to evict him.

A statement given by an accused to law enforcement is admissible against him only if the statement was voluntary, and in Georgia, that means that the statement must not have been induced by “hope of benefit,” among other things. See former OCGA § 24–3–50. As we have explained before, a “hope of benefit” arises from “promises related to reduced criminal punishment—a shorter sentence, lesser charges, or no charges at all.” Brown v. State, 290 Ga. 865, 868–869(2)(b), 725 S.E.2d 320 (2012). See also White v. State, 266 Ga. 134, 135(3), 465 S.E.2d 277 (1996) (“The promise of a benefit that will render a confession involuntary under [former] OCGA § 24–3–50 must relate to the charge or sentence facing the suspect.”). “A promise not relating to charges or sentences, including a promise regarding release after questioning, has been held to constitute only a collateral benefit ... and even if it induces a confession, it does not require the automatic exclusion of that evidence.” Brown, 290 Ga. at 869(2)(b), 725 S.E.2d 320 (citations and punctuation omitted). When a court considers whether a statement was voluntary, it must look to the totality of the circumstances, and at trial, the State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a statement was, in fact, voluntary. See Bunnell v. State, 292 Ga. 253, 255(2), 735 S.E.2d 281 (2013). See also Smiley v. State, 271 Ga. 734, 735–736(4), 524 S.E.2d 234 (1999). On appeal, when we review the denial of a motion to suppress a statement, we owe no deference to the way in which the trial court resolved questions of law, but we generally accept its findings about questions of fact and credibility unless clearly erroneous.6Pulley v. State, 291 Ga. 330, 729 S.E.2d 338, 341(2)(2012). Applying these familiar and settled principles in this case, we conclude that the trial court did not err when it denied the motion to suppress the statements that Edenfield gave to investigators.

The assurance that, if only Edenfield told the truth, he could go home and care for his elderly mother, was offered in a March 13 interview, before Edenfield was arrested. When its context is considered, it becomes clear that Edenfield could not reasonably have understood this assurance as a promise that he would not be charged with crimes against Christopher even if he admitted his own participation in such crimes. See, e.g., Brown, 290 Ga. at 870(2)(c), 725 S.E.2d 320 (Appellant could not have reasonably understood the investigators' statements to mean that he would never be charged or...

To continue reading

Request your trial
34 cases
  • Willis v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • 22 d1 Outubro d1 2018
    ...296 Ga. 598, 608 (7), 769 S.E.2d 337 (2015) ; Nwakanma v. State, 296 Ga. 493, 500 (5), 768 S.E.2d 503 (2015) ; Edenfield v. State, 293 Ga. 370, 379 (7), 744 S.E.2d 738 (2013) ; Ellington v. State, 292 Ga. 109, 140 (8) (b), 735 S.E.2d 736 (2012) ; Rice v. State, 292 Ga. 191, 194-195 (3), 733......
  • Goulding v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • 10 d2 Novembro d2 2015
    ...be impartial, and the burden of proving partiality lies with the party seeking to have the juror disqualified. Edenfield v. State, 293 Ga. 370, 384(7)(a), 744 S.E.2d 738 (2013). "Whether a prospective juror should be excused for cause is committed to the discretion of the trial court, and .......
  • Lane v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • 23 d3 Outubro d3 2013
    ...its findings about questions of fact and credibility unless clearly erroneous." (Citation and footnote omitted.) Edenfield v. State, 293 Ga. 370, 374, 744 S.E.2d 738 (2013). See also Preston, 282 Ga. at 212(2), 647 S.E.2d 260 ("A trial court's findings regarding the admissibility of an incr......
  • Spears v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • 16 d1 Fevereiro d1 2015
    ...reversal where a death sentence remains supported by at least one valid statutory aggravating circumstance. See Edenfield v. State, 293 Ga. 370, 392(13), 744 S.E.2d 738 (2013) (citing Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 77 L.Ed.2d 235 (1983) ). Upon our review of the record, we ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Death Penalty
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 66-1, September 2014
    • Invalid date
    ...Stanley, 240 Ga. at 350, 241 S.E.2d at 179.83. See generally Potts, 261 Ga. 716, 410 S.E.2d 89; Stanley, 240 Ga. 341, 241 S.E.2d 173.84. 293 Ga. 370, 744 S.E.2d 738 (2013).85. Id. at 393, 744 S.E.2d at 757.86. 292 Ga. 109, 735 S.E.2d 736 (2012).87. See Edenfield, 293 Ga. at 376-93, 744 S.E.......

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