Pritchett v. State

Decision Date04 October 2022
Docket NumberS22A0809
Citation314 Ga. 767,879 S.E.2d 436
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

Weldon Terry Haygood Jr., The Office of the Appellate Defender, 401 Broad Street, Suite 102, Rome Georgia 30161-1393, Frances C. Kuo, Georgia Public Defender Council, 270 Washington Street, Suite 5198, Atlanta Georgia 30334, for Appellant.

Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula Khristian Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Christopher M. Carr, Attorney General, Eric Christopher Peters, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law, 40 Capitol Square, S.W., Atlanta Georgia 30334, Barbara Alison Sosebee, District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, 400 West Main Street, Suite 200, Blue Ridge Georgia 30513, Marianne Maxwell Gelakoska, Office of the District Attorney, 1 Broad Street, Suite 101, Ellijay Georgia 30540, for Appellee.

McMillian, Justice.

Douglas Edwin Pritchett appeals his conviction for malice murder in connection with the death of Richard Danley.1 On appeal, Pritchett asserts that the trial court erred in denying his amended motion for new trial because (1) his conviction was based upon insufficient evidence; (2) the trial court improperly admitted the State's evidence proffered under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) ("Rule 404 (b)"); and (3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel. He also asserts that he is entitled to a new trial based on the cumulative and collective prejudice resulting from trial court error and the deficient performance of his trial counsel. We disagree and affirm.

The parties stipulated at trial to the following facts. On July 8, 2017, Danley had been living with Pritchett in Pritchett's home in Gilmer County for approximately four to five months. And it was at Pritchett's home on July 8 that Pritchett shot Danley multiple times with a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, killing him. The parties also stipulated that a plastic "Mountain Lake Ice" bag (the "ice bag") was recovered from underneath Danley's body.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial showed that Pritchett called 911 on the evening of July 8, 2017, around 5:35 p.m. to report "a home invasion shooting." An extended pause occurred after the operator asked Pritchett his name, and then the line disconnected. The 911 operator attempted to call Pritchett back three times before finally reaching him, about four to five minutes later, on the fourth try. Pritchett told the operator that Danley, whom he described as "an acquaintance," came at him with a knife and that Pritchett thought that he had fired a few shots at Danley in the chest; then the line disconnected again.

First responders and law enforcement officers were dispatched to Pritchett's home. When they arrived, they saw a car sitting in the driveway and Pritchett on the porch of the home, talking on the phone. Pritchett, who had an injury to his nose and blood on his clothing, told the police that the victim was inside his home.

When the first officer entered Pritchett's home, he saw a silver pistol and a knife near the threshold of the front door. Danley was lying on the floor near the kitchen and dining area of the home about ten or twelve feet from the front door. The officer said that it was "very evident" that Danley was dead and his body was lying in a pool of blood.

During a later search, investigators recovered a loaded gun on the front porch near the front door and a knife on the floor just inside the threshold. No blood was located in the vicinity of the knife, and there was no blood trail leading from the knife to the body. The majority of the cartridge casings were found inside the house in the kitchen, but police also found a number of spent shell casings and blood droplets on the front porch. Police discovered the empty ice bag under Danley's body clutched in his left hand,2 with a spent shell casing between his legs. The projectiles recovered from the scene and from the victim's body, along with the spent casings collected at the scene, were determined to have been fired from the gun found on the front porch. Later testing also showed Danley's DNA on the knife and the gun, along with DNA profiles from other unidentified individuals. Pritchett's DNA was not found on the weapons.

Pritchett told the police at the scene that he and Danley had gotten into a physical altercation over $300 that Danley claimed Pritchett owed him. Pritchett said that following the fight, Danley left the home and returned with a knife and attacked Pritchett, who then shot Danley in self-defense. Gunshot residue was found on Pritchett's hands, but his hands showed no signs that he had been involved in a physical fight. Danley's hands also showed no signs that he had been fighting. A later examination of Pritchett's phone records showed that he called a friend before calling 911 to report the shooting. The friend testified at trial that Pritchett told him that a man had come into his home while Pritchett was asleep and attacked him with "a shovel or something." Pritchett told the friend that "he woke up on the floor and that boy was beating on him and he got his hands on a gun and shot him." No shovel was found at the scene.

Elaina Coffee, a GBI special agent and crime scene specialist, testifying as an expert for the State, opined that the evidence found at the crime scene was not consistent with Danley being shot as he entered the home with a knife, as no knife was found near the body. Rather, Coffee stated the evidence was consistent with Danley already being in the home when he was shot. Agent Coffee also testified that the evidence was not consistent with Danley's being on top of Pritchett beating him when the shots were fired.

Danley was pronounced dead at the scene, and a later autopsy revealed that there were six gunshot wounds to his body, three of which were fired into his back. The medical examiner determined from her examination of Danley's body that the cause of his death was multiple gunshot wounds.

The State also presented Rule 404 (b) evidence from four witnesses, and that evidence will be discussed further in Division 2 below.

1. Pritchett asserts that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conviction because the State did not disprove that Pritchett was acting in self-defense when he shot Danley.

When considering whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support a conviction as a matter of constitutional due process, the proper standard of review is whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, would have allowed a rational trier of fact to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime for 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). And "[w]e leave to the jury the resolution of conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence, credibility of witnesses, and reasonable inferences to be derived from the facts, and we do not reweigh the evidence." Harris v. State , 313 Ga. 225, 229 (2), 869 S.E.2d 461 (2022) (citations and punctuation omitted). In this case, not only did the State bear the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Pritchett was guilty of the crimes charged against him, it also had the burden of disproving Pritchett's claim of justification based on self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See McCray v. State , 301 Ga. 241, 243 (1), 799 S.E.2d 206 (2017) (where a defendant effectively raises an affirmative defense of justification or self-defense, the State has the burden of disproving that defense beyond a reasonable doubt); Mosby v. State , 300 Ga. 450, 451 (1), 796 S.E.2d 277 (2017) (same). Whether the State met its burden in this case was a question for the jury. See Blair v. State , 273 Ga. 668, 668 (1), 543 S.E.2d 685 (2001) ("It was a question for the jury whether the circumstances justified [defendant's] use of a deadly weapon against the victim."); Akins v. State , 269 Ga. 838, 839 (1), 504 S.E.2d 196 (1998) (jury is to determine "the question whether the circumstances of the confrontation between appellant and the victim were such as to excite the fears of a reasonable person that he had to use deadly force in order to prevent the use of deadly force against him" (citation and punctuation omitted)).

Pritchett asserts that the State failed to disprove his claim of self-defense as no independent witness observed what happened that day and "no objective, non-speculative, relevant ballistics evidence, DNA evidence, fingerprint evidence, or other scientific evidence" was presented that directly countermanded Pritchett's claimed defense. However, it is well settled that, "[a]lthough the State is required to prove its case with competent evidence, there is no requirement that it prove its case with any particular sort of evidence." Jackson v. State , 307 Ga. 770, 772, 838 S.E.2d 246 (2020) (citation and punctuation omitted). And contrary to Pritchett's argument, the State presented evidence at trial that authorized the jury to reject Pritchett's claim of self-defense.

For example, Pritchett told conflicting stories about what occurred, and these stories were also inconsistent with the physical evidence.

Pritchett told police that Danley first left Pritchett's home after the two men had fought over money, resulting in the injuries to Pritchett's nose, and that after Danley later returned with a knife, Pritchett then shot Danley in self-defense. However, the evidence showed that neither Danley nor Pritchett had injuries to their hands consistent with having been in a fight. Moreover, the knife was found ten to twelve feet from Danley's body, and there was no blood trail leading from the knife to the body to suggest that Danley somehow moved away from knife after he was shot. Additionally, three of the multiple gunshots inflicted on Danley by Pritchett entered through Danley's back.

In another version of the...

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