Watkins v. State, S03A0034.

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtHUNSTEIN, Justice.
Citation276 Ga. 578,581 S.E.2d 23
PartiesWATKINS v. The STATE.
Docket NumberNo. S03A0034.,S03A0034.
Decision Date19 May 2003

581 S.E.2d 23
276 Ga. 578


No. S03A0034.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

May 19, 2003.

581 S.E.2d 25
Cook & Connelly, Bobby Lee Cook, L. Branch S. Connelly, Summerville, for appellant

Bryant G. Speed, II, Dist, Atty., Fred R. Simpson, Leigh E. Patterson, Asst. Dist. Attys., Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Madonna M. Heinemeyer, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

581 S.E.2d 24

Joseph Samuel Watkins was convicted of felony murder in the shooting death of Isaac Dawkins. He appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial.1 Finding no error, we affirm.

1. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the jury was authorized to find that after Brianne Scarbrough ended her relationship with appellant, he began threatening and harassing anyone who subsequently dated her. After Dawkins began seeing Scarbrough in the summer of 1999, numerous incidents occurred during which appellant made threatening comments about Dawkins, attempted to get him to fight and followed Dawkins whenever he saw [276 Ga. 579] him, even when Dawkins was not with Scarbrough. A friend of appellant told police that it was appellant's "main goal every day" to find Dawkins. Evidence was presented from which the jury could find that as part of this threatening behavior appellant with his friends shot Dawkins' dog between the eyes while it was chained in its pen in the victim's yard. Witness Yvonne Agan testified that in late November or December 1999 Dawkins arrived at her home, terrified, and related that while driving to his own home, appellant had chased and fired a gun at him. Agan hid the victim's white Toyota truck and allowed him to sleep on her couch. Dawkins declined to let Agan report the matter because he believed the incidents would stop since he had stopped dating Scarbrough.

Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on January 11, 2000, Dawkins was driving his truck north on Highway 27 after leaving his class at Floyd College. An occupant in a blue or green passenger car fired a shot through the truck's back window and hit Dawkins in the head. One eyewitness identified appellant as the shooter. The truck veered off the highway, crossed the median, crashed into a side rail and after rolling over came to a stop with its rear end facing north. While modifications to the front of the truck made it identifiable as belonging to Dawkins, only the rear of the vehicle was visible to traffic. An eyewitness to the crash phoned 911 and an emergency vehicle was at the scene within three minutes of the call. Appellant's cell phone records established that he was in the area at the time of the attack and when he arrived at his destination, he was overheard telling his new girlfriend that "his friend had just got killed." It required medical scans at the hospital to reveal the presence of the bullet in Dawkins' head; the victim was pronounced dead the following day.

The jury heard testimony that appellant initially asked friends to give him an alibi for the time of the shooting. Thereafter in his comments to others, appellant gave conflicting stories regarding what direction he was heading at the time of the shooting, with appellant claiming that he saw the victim's truck on the side of the road and thought Dawkins had possibly had a flat tire. Later comments by appellant reflected the fact that emergency vehicles were promptly at the

581 S.E.2d 26
crash scene, although appellant had difficulty explaining how he recognized that the crashed truck was the victim's. Appellant was later overheard in the local Home Depot parking lot bragging about shooting the victim and witnesses testified to comments made by appellant's friends, who claimed to be in the car with appellant, indicating that appellant shot the victim. After the shooting, appellant told a witness who was dating Scarbrough that if the witness did not stop seeing her, "he [the witness] would end up just like Isaac [Dawkins]."

We find this evidence sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact [276 Ga. 580] to find appellant guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).

2. Appellant contends the trial court erred by admitting the hearsay testimony of Yvonne Agan pursuant to the necessity exception. Under that exception, hearsay statements are admissible when the evidence is necessary and there are particular guarantees of trustworthiness. Chapel v. State, 270 Ga. 151(4), 510 S.E.2d 802 (1998). Furthermore, the statement must be relevant to a material fact and more probative of that material fact than other evidence that may be procured and offered. Id. The trial court's admission of hearsay evidence under the necessity exception is evaluated under an abuse of discretion standard. Gissendaner v. State, 272 Ga. 704(6), 532 S.E.2d 677 (2000).

The victim's death established the first prong. Chapel, supra. As to trustworthiness, the test to determine whether there are sufficient indicia of reliability is whether the declarant's truthfulness is so clear from the surrounding circumstances that cross-examination of the declarant would be of marginal utility. Id. Here, the trial court heard evidence that the victim had a close, trusting and loving relationship with Agan, who loved him like he was her own son and considered him to be a part of her family and that he would come to talk to her and confided in her when he had problems. See McCoy v. State, 273 Ga. 568(4), 544 S.E.2d 709 (2001) (uncontradicted statements made to one in whom the deceased declarant placed great confidence and turned to for help with problems are admissible under necessity exception). The victim never disavowed his statement, see Perkins v. State, 269 Ga. 791(4), 505 S.E.2d 16 (1998), and there was nothing to show that the victim had any motive to lie to Agan about appellant's violent behavior. See Slakman v. State, 272 Ga. 662(3)(b)(3), 533 S.E.2d 383 (2000). Looking to the totality of...

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    ...pending criminal charges against a witness who might have "reason to try to wound the State by shading his testimony"); Watkins v. State, 276 Ga. 578, 580-581 (3) (581 S.E.2d 23) (2003) (holding that "a witness cannot be impeached by instances of specific misconduct unless that misconduct h......
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