White v. State, 40657

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Citation317 S.E.2d 196,253 Ga. 106
Docket NumberNo. 40657,40657
PartiesWHITE v. STATE.
Decision Date19 June 1984

Page 196

317 S.E.2d 196
253 Ga. 106

No. 40657.
Supreme Court of Georgia.
June 19, 1984.
Rehearing Denied July 5, 1984.

Page 197

[253 Ga. 110] George C. Floyd, Lambert & Floyd, Bainbridge, for Freddie Lee White, jr.

J. Brown Moseley, Dist. Atty., Bainbridge, Michael J. Bowers, [253 Ga. 111] Atty. Gen., for the State.

[253 Ga. 106] BELL, Justice.

On September 29, 1982, police found Ruby Maude White, an elderly female, stabbed to death in the bedroom closet of her home in Bainbridge, Decatur County, Georgia. Her bedroom was in disarray;

Page 198

the dresser and nightstand drawers were pulled out onto the floor and her purse and wallet were open. An autopsy showed that Mrs. White died between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. that day as a result of a cut throat and multiple stab wounds to her chest.

Neighbors discovered Mrs. White's body after becoming alarmed when she did not appear to be home from 8:30 a.m. until noon, despite their plans to attend church together that morning. When Detective Larry Funderburke arrived at the scene he noticed that the victim's grass had been recently cut. He sent Detective Jerry Carter to locate the appellant, Freddie Lee White, whose brother, Billy, who was incarcerated on this particular date, normally cut Mrs. White's grass. Upon questioning, the appellant admitted to Funderburke that he knew the victim and cut her grass on the day prior to the murder.

A fingerprint expert, Dr. Jim Howard, successfully lifted fingerprints from the victim's bedroom and doorways. A second expert, Officer Butch Windham, compared the lifted fingerprints with the prints of the victim and the appellant. The appellant's fingerprint matched a print found on a blue cosmetic case lying on the bedroom dresser.

[253 Ga. 107] The victim's sister, who had lived with Mrs. White previously, and her brother testified that the victim never admitted strangers into her house. They said that only family members and the regular housekeeper entered on a regular basis, and that Mrs. White's two brothers performed all necessary chores inside the home. Since the defendant did not testify at trial, the defense counsel offered no explanation for the presence of the appellant's fingerprint in the victim's bedroom.

The jury convicted Freddie Lee White for the murder of Ruby Maude White, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The appellant appeals this decision and states five grounds of error.

1). In his first enumeration of error, the appellant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict of acquittal. According to the appellant, the sole basis of his conviction was the circumstantial fingerprint evidence, and he contends that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant's fingerprint could only have been made at the time of the crime, and failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis save the guilt of the appellant. We disagree with the appellant and hold that the trial court properly denied the motion for directed verdict.

The evidence presented by the state was entirely circumstantial, and "[t]o warrant a conviction on circumstantial evidence, the proved facts 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 § 24-4-6. Moreover, assuming that the appellant's contention that his fingerprint is the sole evidence linking him to the crime is correct, the state was required "to prove to the exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis that the fingerprint could only have been impressed at the time the crime was committed. Barnett v. State, 153 Ga.App. 430(1) (265 S.E.2d 348) (1980)." Jones v. State, 156 Ga.App. 823, 824, 275 S.E.2d 712 (1980). " 'However, ... circumstantial evidence must exclude only reasonable inferences and hypotheses and it is not necessary that such evidence be devoid of every inference or hypothesis except that of the defendant's guilt'." Jones v. State, supra, 156 Ga.App. at 824, 275 S.E.2d 712.

The question of whether there was a reasonable hypothesis favorable to the accused is a question for the jury. Murdix v. State, 250 Ga. 272(1), 297 S.E.2d 265 (1982); Harris v. State, 236 Ga. 242, 243-244, 223 S.E.2d 643 (1976). "If a jury is authorized to find that the evidence, circumstantial though it may be, is sufficient to exclude every reasonable hypothesis save that of guilt, the verdict of the jury will not be disturbed by the appellate court unless the verdict is unsupportable as a matter of law. [Cits.]" Jones v. State, supra, 156 Ga.App. at 824, 275 S.E.2d 712; Accord, Pugh v. State, 250 Ga. 668(1), 300

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S.E.2d 504 (1983), Harris v. State, supra, 236 Ga. at 245, 223 S.E.2d 643.

[253 Ga. 108] In the instant case, the evidence suggests no occasion for appellant to have entered Mrs. White's bedroom, the scene of the murder, and have left his print other than at the time of the crime. Compare Barnett v. State, supra, 153 Ga.App. 430, 265 S.E.2d 348; Vaughn v. State, 136 Ga.App. 54, 55, 220 S.E.2d 66 (1975). Since, in general, a home is a private place, and, since, more specifically, the victim never admitted strangers into her home, not even for household repairs, a makeup case lying on a bedroom dresser would not be accessible...

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