Freeman v. State

Decision Date15 September 2022
Docket NumberA22A0996
Citation365 Ga.App. 332,878 S.E.2d 578
Parties FREEMAN v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Jennifer Faith Arndt, for Appellant.

Randal Matthew McGinley, District Attorney, Briana L. Carter, Assistant District Attorney, for Appellee.

Hodges, Judge.

Following a domestic violence incident involving his wife, a jury found Morrio Freeman guilty of aggravated battery-family violence, four counts of aggravated assault-family violence,1 possession of a knife during the commission of a felony, terroristic threats, making a false statement, influencing a witness, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of cocaine, violation of a protective order, hindering an emergency telephone call, and obstruction of an officer. Freeman appeals from the trial court's denial of his out-of-time motion and amended motion for new trial.2 He argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions, and that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his prior acts pursuant to OCGA § 24-4-404 (b). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts,3 the evidence adduced at trial shows that the victim and Freeman were married, and that they "sometimes" lived together in Porterdale, Georgia, at "his residence." Although the victim had taken out a temporary protective order against Freeman after an incidence of domestic violence occurring shortly after their marriage, which remained in effect at the time of the crimes, Freeman continued to contact her, and the victim began staying with Freeman again "on and off."

In July 2018, Freeman contacted the victim at work and told her he had gotten into an argument with someone, that "there was shooting in the air or shooting at each other," and that he wanted her to come home to calm him down. The victim had seen him with a gun previously. She left work early, went to the house in Porterdale and knocked on the door, but he was not there, as he was apparently still next door where the altercation was taking place. When he returned home, the pair got into an argument about whether she could spend money on shoes for her daughter. Freeman eventually went out to a bar with some neighbors, and the victim decided to take a shower at the house. Freeman returned to the house, but realized he could not find his phone and wallet. He began saying "mean things, bad language" to the victim, calling her "a b*tch" and telling her to "find [his] stuff, get the f*ck up ...," and he hit the victim "a couple of times." Eventually, his phone and wallet were found in the neighbors’ car. As the pair walked back from the neighbors’ house, Freeman told the victim how much he hated her and her family, and that he planned to cut the brake line on her mother's car. When they arrived back at the house, the victim testified that Freeman began "nutting up" and continuing the abuse.

The victim testified, generally, that she recalled Freeman hitting, spitting on, and biting her, as well as strangling her twice to the point of unconsciousness, and that he also attempted to strangle her at other points during the incident, although not to the point that she blacked out. As will be outlined in more detail below, the jury was shown photographs of and heard testimony that the victim was strangled, had bruising and contusions on her neck and face, swelling and bruising around her eyes, ruptured blood vessels in her eyes from the strangulation, a concussion and nasal bone fracture, cuts and scratch marks, and bruising to her right wrist and forearm.

The victim testified extensively about the abuse, explaining that what happened was so traumatic that she could not recall the exact timing of the events. As she testified, "so much is happen[ing] I don't remember, you know, what exact order ... I just know it was hell." On appellate review, of course, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U. S. 307, 319 (III) (B), 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).

The victim testified that, early in the incident, Freeman tore her clothes off, leaving her naked. He also "snatched" her phone, preventing her from calling 9-1-1. She recalled being "down on the bed and he was strangling me and I passed out and when I came back to, he was punching me on my face and spitting on me." When she got up, he threw a drink on her and threw the remote control at the television. In another strangling incident, she testified, "I remember [him] having a knife over me when I was down on the bed and he was choking me and coming down like he was going to stab me in my eye and he was all over my face.... He was over me and he come down with a knife like really fast and before he would get to my eye he would hit me with his elbow." She testified that he pulled her up off the bed and began choking her from behind. "I knew if I didn't fight back I was going to die[,]" she testified. She was so frightened that she urinated on herself. She testified that "when I started pulling his hand away from my throat, he told me I was going to die because I was going to try[ ] to fight him back...." When Freeman dropped the knife to reach for a bow and arrow, the victim grabbed the knife. She remembered "coming up off and hitting him the first time in his neck and then I blacked out ... [a]nd then I came back to and he was still on top of me" and was biting her shoulder. The victim testified that she had stabbed him in self-defense, and evidence adduced at trial showed that Freeman had stab wounds on the side of his right arm, his neck and shoulder, as well as a "slight cut" on his hand.

After the victim stabbed him, Freeman pulled her up off the floor, asking, "[H]ow did it get this far?" She tried to run away from him, fleeing out the back door as he chased her. As she tried to open the back gate, he came up behind her and pulled her back. He then forced her into the shower to try to wash the blood off of both of them, and forced her to put their clothes in the washer. Freeman's arm was bleeding badly, and he told the victim to tie it up with a towel or blanket. He then returned the phone he had taken from her so that she could call his relatives to "get him some help." (Emphasis supplied.)

His sister came, and the victim testified that "[h]e was able to walk to the vehicle ... [w]e didn't tote him. He walked." He later, however, was life-flighted to a hospital. Although Freeman had wanted the victim to go to the hospital with him, she got into her own car and drove to her grandparents’ home where she "sat there for hours and just rocked, for hours just rocked."

1. Freeman contends, generally, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. We disagree.

On appeal from a criminal conviction, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to support the verdict, and the defendant no longer enjoys a presumption of innocence. We determine only whether the evidence authorized the jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and in so doing we neither weigh that evidence nor judge the credibility of the witnesses. To support a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, the evidence "shall not only be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt, but shall exclude every other reasonable hypothesis save that of the guilt of the accused." OCGA § 24-14-6.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Nix v. State , 354 Ga. App. 47, 49 (1), 839 S.E.2d 687 (2020). It is well settled that "[n]ot every hypothesis is reasonable, and the evidence does not have to exclude every conceivable inference or hypothesis[.]" (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id. (a) Freeman first argues that he raised the justification defense of self-defense to the portion of the indictment charging him with "disfiguring [the victim's] face[,]" and that the State failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense. Only Count 1 of the indictment appears to align with Freeman's contention of error, as it charges him with aggravated battery by "disfiguring [the victim's] head" pursuant to OCGA § 16-5-24.4

"When a defendant effectively raises an affirmative defense such as self-defense the State bears the burden of disproving the asserted defense beyond a reasonable doubt." Mosby v. State , 300 Ga. 450, 451 (1), 796 S.E.2d 277 (2017). Freeman argues that the evidence was insufficient to disprove that he acted in self-defense.

As to the elements of the crime of aggravated battery, the victim testified that after she passed out from Freeman's attempt to strangle her, she woke to find him "punching [her] on [her] face and spitting on" her. Dr. Jennifer Utley, the physician who cared for the victim at the hospital and who also was qualified as an expert witness in emergency medicine, testified that the victim had contusions and "significant bruising on her face," a "great deal of swelling" around her right eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage from a ruptured blood vessel causing bleeding in the white of the left eye, bruising around both eyes, bruising on her neck consistent with being choked, a concussion, and a nasal bone fracture. The jury saw photographs of the victim's facial and head injuries.

Freeman does not argue that the evidence was insufficient to prove the elements of the crime of aggravated battery itself.5 Rather, Freeman argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his aggravated battery conviction because the State failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense. He contends that the victim stabbed him multiple times and that his injuries "appear to have been more severe" than hers as he was life-flighted to a hospital while the victim did not seek medical attention until the day after the incident, where she was diagnosed with facial fractures and "popped" blood vessels in her eyes because Freeman tried to strangle her. On the day of the incident, he argues, the victim drove past a...

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