Hyden v. State

Decision Date28 February 2020
Docket NumberS19A1496
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court
Parties HYDEN v. The STATE.

Howard W. Anderson III, for appellant.

D. Parks White, District Attorney, Meredith M. Head, Assistant District Attorney; Christopher M. Carr, Attorney General, Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula K. Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Elizabeth H. Brock, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

Melton, Chief Justice.

Following a March 29 to 31, 2004 jury trial, Clark Milton Hyden was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, and various other offenses in connection with the beating death of Tommy Crabb, Sr.1 On appeal, Hyden contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his kidnapping conviction under the standard set forth in Garza v. State , 284 Ga. 696, 670 S.E.2d 73 (2008) ; that the trial court erred by allowing the State to waive its initial closing argument; that Hyden was denied his right to a speedy appeal; and that Hyden's trial counsel was ineffective. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

1. Although Hyden challenges the sufficiency of the evidence only with regard to his kidnapping with bodily injury conviction, we review the sufficiency of the evidence to support all of his convictions, consistent with our customary practice in murder cases. See, e.g., Walker v. State , 306 Ga. 579 (1), 832 S.E.2d 420 (2019).

When evaluating the sufficiency of evidence, "the relevant question is 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[s] beyond a reasonable doubt." (Citation and emphasis omitted.) Jackson v. Virginia , 443 U. S. 307, 319 (III) (B) 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). On appeal, "this Court does not re-weigh the evidence or resolve conflicts in testimony, but instead defers to the jury's assessment of the weight and credibility of the evidence." (Citation omitted.) Curinton v. State , 283 Ga. 226, 228, 657 S.E.2d 824 (2008).

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented at trial reveals that, on November 6, 2002, Crabb, an electrician, went to Hyden's home to teach Hyden how to fix a kitchen light. Crabb knew Hyden because Hyden had helped Crabb with odd jobs in the past. Crabb's wife became worried when Crabb did not come home for lunch that day as he normally would, and she and her children began to drive around looking for him.

A family friend named Danny Fulcher and Fulcher's stepdaughter began looking for Crabb as well, and they went to Hyden's mobile home to see if Crabb might be there. Although Fulcher and his stepdaughter had driven by the mobile home several times on November 6 and seen lights on in the mobile home, Hyden's truck parked outside, and movement inside the mobile home, no one answered when Fulcher and his stepdaughter stopped and knocked on the door during the day. They returned to Hyden's mobile home around 1:00 a.m. and saw Hyden sitting on his front porch. They spoke with Hyden, and he informed them that somebody had hit him over the head when he and Crabb had been working on an electrical outlet, and that he did not know where Crabb was because Hyden had been unconscious since lunch time the previous day. Fulcher's stepdaughter called 911, but paramedics who responded did not find evidence of any wound that they believed could have rendered Hyden unconscious for 12 hours.

Later that morning, Crabb's daughter and Fulcher's stepdaughter continued to search for Crabb, and they knocked on the door of a mobile home behind Hyden's. As they were leaving, they saw Crabb's truck, which was parked between Hyden's mobile home and the mobile home of one of his neighbors. Crabb's daughter went to the truck, where she discovered her father's dead body, covered by a spare tire, lying in the bed of the truck. Crabb's daughter called 911, and police arrived at the scene soon thereafter. Hyden came out of his mobile home after police arrived at the scene and said, "Oh damn there is [Crabb]."

Police went into Hyden's mobile home and noticed the unusually clean nature of Hyden's kitchen in relation to the remainder of his residence. Luminol spray revealed the presence of blood on the kitchen floor. A forensic biologist later matched swabbings taken from the floor with Crabb's DNA. Police also found a wadded-up paper towel with suspected blood on it and more suspected blood between Hyden's clothes dryer and the pantry wall, as well as in an adjacent closet. In addition, police discovered a bloody rubber mallet that had been discarded in a county dumpster, and the blood from the mallet was later identified as matching Crabb's. In the area between Hyden's house and Crabb's truck where Crabb's body was found, police also found a cinder block with Crabb's blood on it. Crabb's wallet and keychain were located behind his pick-up truck, and luminol spray revealed a "drag trail" of blood between Hyden's home and the truck. Crabb had numerous blunt force injuries to the top of his head, and the State's medical examiner testified that Crabb died from blunt force trauma consistent with having been hit with a rubber mallet.

Hyden was arrested at the scene, and, after signing a waiver of rights form, he was interviewed by police that same day. In his interview, Hyden claimed that Crabb had come to his house to help him with a broken light on the morning of November 6, and that a man with a long black stick and a gun came in through Hyden's back door and knocked Hyden unconscious. Hyden claimed that, when he woke up, Crabb and Crabb's truck were gone. When questioned about the presence of blood in his home, Hyden changed his story, claiming that he saw the man with the stick beat Crabb, that blood was everywhere, and that the man asked Hyden to help him clean up. So Hyden retrieved a blanket and rags and cleaned up the scene, and he placed Crabb on the blanket and dragged him across the house. Hyden asserted that the man made him drag Crabb out of the mobile home while Crabb was still alive and gasping for air. Also, contrary to his original story in which he said he had been knocked unconscious, Hyden said the man then handcuffed him to the front door while he moved Crabb's truck to the neighbor's house. Hyden claimed that he let the man leave the scene after the man removed Hyden's handcuffs, and that Hyden then drove around, threw some trash in a dumpster, and returned home and drank beer until he passed out.

Later that month, while in custody in the Franklin County Jail, Hyden admitted to another inmate that he had killed Crabb by beating him to death with a rubber mallet during a dispute over money. He also admitted to dragging Crabb out of his mobile home, putting Crabb in a truck, and parking the truck next door to his mobile home. Hyden also admitted to another inmate that he beat Crabb to death with a hammer and that he put Crabb in a truck and threw a spare tire on top of him, but Hyden also said that he intended to push the truck into a lake but "never got around to it."

The evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find Hyden guilty of malice murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Hyden admitted to beating Crabb to death with a rubber mallet and placing his body in the truck where it was found, and there was an abundance of physical evidence at Hyden's home that connected him to the crime. See, e.g., Velasco v. State , 306 Ga. 888, 891 (1) (b), 834 S.E.2d 21 (2019) (evidence was "easily sufficient" to sustain murder conviction where defendant admitted to beating the victim with hammer and where crime scene blood evidence and victim's injuries were consistent with brutal beating and dragging). The jury was free to reject Hyden's shifting stories about someone else killing Crabb while Hyden either watched or was incapacitated. See Bailey v. State , 291 Ga. 144, 147 (1), 728 S.E.2d 214 (2012) (jury is "free to reject a version of events favorable to" the defendant, as articulated by the defendant, and find him guilty of murder based on the other evidence presented at trial).

Hyden contends with regard to his conviction for kidnapping with bodily injury that the evidence was insufficient because the State failed to prove the asportation element of kidnapping required under Garza . Specifically, he argues that, because Crabb was either already dead at the time that he was moved, or because the movement that occurred was merely incidental to the other crimes that he committed, Hyden could not be found guilty of kidnapping with bodily injury under the legal standard that was applicable at the time of his trial.

The asportation standard applicable to Hyden's 2004 kidnapping with bodily injury conviction was articulated in Garza , supra, 284 Ga. at 702 (1), 670 S.E.2d 73. Although the standard set forth in Garza has since been superseded by statute (see Gonzalez v. Hart , 297 Ga. 670, 777 S.E.2d 456 (2015) ), it was the standard applicable at the time of Hyden's 2004 conviction.

With respect to the asportation element of kidnapping,

Garza ultimately held that ... the movement necessary to establish asportation must be more than "merely incidental" to other criminal activity, and four judicially created factors must be considered before a court can conclude that more than "merely incidental" movement had occurred.

(Citation omitted.) Sellars v. Evans , 293 Ga. 346, n. 1, 745 S.E.2d 643 (2013). The four factors are:

(1) the duration of the movement; (2) whether the movement occurred during the commission of a separate offense; (3) whether such movement was an inherent part of that separate offense; and (4) whether the movement itself presented a significant danger to the victim independent of the danger posed by the separate offense.

(Citation omitted.) Garza , supra, 284 Ga. at 702 (1), 670 S.E.2d 73. Generally, the satisfaction of all four factors...

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