Overton v. State

Citation671 S.E.2d 507,295 Ga. App. 223
Decision Date26 November 2008
Docket NumberNo. A08A1193.,No. A08A1192.,No. A08A1194.,No. A08A1717.,A08A1192.,A08A1193.,A08A1194.,A08A1717.
PartiesOVERTON v. The STATE. Dudley v. The State. Coleman v. The State (Two Cases).
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)

Peter D. Johnson, Augusta, for appellant (case no. A08A1192).

William M. Fleming, Augusta, for appellant (case no. A08A1193).

Barbara B. Claridge, Augusta, for appellant (case no. A08A1194).

Gonzalez & Waddington, Michael S. Waddington, for appellant (case no. A08A1717).

Daniel J. Craig, Dist. Atty., Charles R. Sheppard, William L. Bowcutt, Asst. Dist. Attys., for appellee.

BARNES, Chief Judge.

Initially eight defendants were charged with the offenses leading to these appeals. Two defendants were granted new trials, one is a fugitive, and one pled guilty and testified against the other defendants. The remaining four defendants are appealing their convictions. Because their convictions arise from the same general factual allegations, they were tried and convicted jointly, and they generally assert the same enumerations of error, we have consolidated their four appeals for disposition.

The indictments alleged that Ronald Coleman and Carlston Coleman abducted an assistant manager of a Sam's Club against his will and the kidnapping resulted in the victim's death. They were also charged with entering a Sam's Club with the intent to commit a theft, committing a theft by taking money from the victim through the use of force, a handgun, and hijacking the victim's car. No defendant was charged with murder.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO")1 indictment alleged that Ronnie Overton, Carlston Coleman, Jr., Ronald Coleman, Jr., Kendric Dudley and others conspired to develop and execute a pattern of criminal activity motivated by, and the effect of which was, pecuniary gain, physical injury, and murder. In furtherance of this plan the defendants engaged in theft by receiving motor vehicles, forging and uttering checks, conspiring to commit forgery and possessing stolen checks, deposit slips, identification data, and tools to create false identification, stealing from Sam's Club stores, violating the Georgia Controlled Substances Act and the laws of South Carolina by possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, soliciting murder, falsely imprisoning the persons they intended to murder, concealing the deaths of the victims by burning their bodies in the trunks of stolen cars, committing arson in the third degree, conspiring to file false federal income tax returns, and filing false claims with the Internal Revenue Service.

After a trial lasting approximately two months, all the defendants were found guilty as charged. Carlston Winslow Coleman, Jr., in Case No. A08A1194, and Ronald Coleman, in Case No. A08A1717, challenge their convictions for kidnapping with bodily injury resulting in death, burglary, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a felony and violating the RICO Act. Ronnie Overton in Case No. A08A1192 and Kendric Dudley, in Case No. A08A1193 appeal their convictions for violating the RICO Act, the only offense with which they were charged.

Although sometimes phrased differently, the appellants contend generally that the trial court erred by failing to sever offenses and failing to sever their cases from each others' cases, by denying a Batson challenge, by refusing to excuse for cause a juror with a fixed opinion about the case and a non-English speaking juror, and by allowing the State to introduce gruesome and prejudicially inflammatory photographs of the victims. They also contend the State failed to prove the predicate acts they allegedly committed and the RICO prosecution was flawed because disparate crimes were joined. They further contend that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdicts and that the trial court erred by admitting certain witness statements into evidence, and by denying their motion for a mistrial based on the State's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence and argument involving matters not in evidence.

Carlston Coleman, Jr., contends the trial court erred by admitting a statement he gave because it was not voluntary. Ronald Coleman, Jr., also contends the trial court erred by violating his right to confront the witnesses against him, and by denying a mistrial or refusing to give curative instructions.

During the trial, the trial court granted a defense motion to allow counsel for all the defendants to adopt all objections and motions made during the course of the trial, unless a defendant specifically opted out of a particular objection or motion. The trial court also had a policy of not requiring contemporaneous objections.

Finding no reversible error, we affirm the convictions of all the appellants.

1. All appellants contest the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain their convictions. "When evaluating the sufficiency of evidence, the proper standard for review is whether a rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979)." Dean v. State, 273 Ga. 806, 806-807(1), 546 S.E.2d 499 (2001). We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, giving deference to the jury's determination on the proper weight and credibility to be given the evidence. Id. at 807(1), 546 S.E.2d 499. It is the function of the jury, not this Court, to assess the credibility of the witnesses, to resolve any conflicting evidence, and to determine the facts. Butler v. State, 273 Ga. 380, 382(1), 541 S.E.2d 653 (2001). Issues related to the credibility of witnesses are "solely . . . matter[s] to be resolved by the jury. [Cit.]" Hawkins v. State, 254 Ga.App. 868, 869, 563 S.E.2d 926 (2002).

The State alleged that the all of defendants engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct for monetary gain that began in 1994, and included car thefts, forgery, income tax fraud, drug sales and possession, kidnapping, and other crimes. Ronald Coleman and Carlston Coleman were also charged with additional crimes, including soliciting murder, kidnapping, theft by force, and hijacking a car. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the evidence shows that Ronald Coleman and Carlston Coleman were convicted of filing false income tax returns and falsifying W-2 forms in 1994. Also, in 1994, a woman's Buick Rivera was stolen from her yard in Augusta. After she saw the car being driven by her house several times, she stopped the car on a pretext to see if it was hers and Ronald Coleman was driving. On another occasion the police stopped the car while it was being driven by Jarman Harold2 who said he borrowed the car from Ronald Coleman. The car was again stopped by the police who were investigating a stolen check incident involving a young woman with a child. After the woman was arrested, she turned the child over to Ronald Coleman. Ronald Coleman was ultimately prosecuted and pled guilty for theft by receiving of the car and possessing a car with an altered identification number.

In 1995, two automobiles that had been stolen from a dealer in South Carolina were recovered from Ronald Coleman and stolen checkbooks and deposit slips, laminating pouches, scissors and other items were recovered from his residence. Ronald Coleman pled guilty to stealing the cars.

In 1997, Ronald Coleman was found with marijuana in his pocket while he was a passenger in a car pulled over by the police in South Carolina, and 4.7 pounds of marijuana also were found in the car. Ronald Coleman pled guilty to possessing the marijuana.

Also in 1997, Ronald Coleman met with John Travis, also known as "Squeaky," in DeKalb County, Georgia, to buy more marijuana to sell and use the money to pay back "the Jamaicans," who had supplied him with the marijuana confiscated in South Carolina, but during the meeting Coleman was robbed. Because he believed that Bernard Arroyo had set up the robbery, Coleman planned to gain revenge on him. Arroyo and another man, Ryan Singh, were lured to an apartment where they were brutally beaten. The men were then wrapped in blankets, put in the trunk of a car, and taken to Thompson, Georgia, where they were put in the trunk of a recently stolen car and shot in the head with the same pistol. The car was then set on fire.

A deputy sheriff found a burned car in some woods in Warren County, Georgia. Two bodies in the trunk were identified through fingerprint and dental records as Arroyo and Singh. Autopsies disclosed skull fractures caused by bullets and multiple blunt force trauma showing that the men had been beaten before their deaths.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent investigating the deaths found that the burned car had been stolen from an apartment complex in Thompson, Georgia. After the victims' families reported them missing, the GBI agent learned that Arroyo had been living in an apartment in Augusta with Ronald Coleman. When he was interviewed, Coleman told the agent that Arroyo had introduced him to some Jamaicans who became his suppliers for marijuana, and who became angry with him over the marijuana confiscated in South Carolina. He suggested to the agent that the Jamaicans may have been involved in the deaths of Arroyo and Singh.

Also in 1997, the Secret Service contacted the Richmond County Sheriff's Department about counterfeit bills that had been passed in a local store. The person passing the bills identified Carlston Coleman as the one who provided her with them. When the authorities searched Carlston Coleman's apartment, Ronald Coleman was present, and the authorities found a counterfeit bill with the same serial number as the bill passed in Richmond County, as well as a professional paper trimmer, a paper cutter, checkbooks with different names, and some marijuana. Carlston Coleman was interviewed by the GBI and told the agent...

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