Williams v. State, No. 39641

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtBELL; All the Justices concur, except SMITH; SMITH
Citation251 Ga. 749,312 S.E.2d 40
PartiesWayne Bertram WILLIAMS v. The STATE.
Decision Date05 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. 39641

Page 40

312 S.E.2d 40
251 Ga. 749
Wayne Bertram WILLIAMS
v.
The STATE.
No. 39641.
Supreme Court of Georgia.
Dec. 5, 1983.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 18, 1984.

Page 48

[251 Ga. 809] Lynn H. Whatley, John Thomas Chason, Atlanta, for Wayne Bertram williams.

Lewis R. Slaton, Dist. Atty., Joseph J. Drolet, Asst. Dist. Atty., Michael J. Bowers, Atty. Gen., Mary Beth Westmoreland, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, for the State.

Don C. Keenan, William J. Berg, amicus curiae.

[251 Ga. 749] BELL, Justice.

On February 27, 1982, the appellant, Wayne Bertram Williams, was found guilty of the murders of Jimmy Ray Payne and Nathaniel Cater and received two consecutive life sentences. Appellant's motion for new trial was denied on December 16, 1982, and he appeals. We affirm.

1). Initially, we note that the state introduced evidence of ten other alleged murders to aid in establishing appellant's identity as the perpetrator of the murders of Payne and Cater. See Division 4, infra. Appellant's first enumeration of error concerns the state's use of circumstantial evidence based on expert comparisons of textile fibers found in the appellant's environment with fibers discovered on the twelve victims' bodies. The state's experts testified that they believed certain of the fibers which were associated with the victims matched others which had been recovered from appellant's home and cars he had used, and they opined that these matches established an inference that Williams had been in contact with the victims before [251 Ga. 750] their deaths. This opinion was relied upon by the prosecution to support the further inference that Williams had killed the victims. Appellant now claims that the state failed to adequately demonstrate the scientific reliability of the fiber methodology which was employed by its experts, and that admission of the evidence based on these principles and techniques was therefore error.

It is for the trial court to determine whether a given scientific principle or technique is competent evidence. Harper v. State, 249 Ga. 519(1), 292 S.E.2d 389 (1982). "The trial court may make this determination from evidence presented to it at trial by the parties; in this regard expert testimony may be of value. Or the trial court may base its determination on exhibits, treatises, or the rationale of cases in other jurisdictions." Id. at 524-25, 292 S.E.2d 389. We find no error here.

2). In his second enumeration of error Wayne Williams complains that he was denied his due process right to have experts of his choosing examine fiber evidence in the possession of the state crime laboratory. Sabel v. State, 248 Ga. 10(6), 282 S.E.2d 61 (1981). In Sabel we held that a "criminal defendant on trial for his liberty is entitled on motion timely made to have an expert of his choosing, bound by appropriate safeguards imposed by the court, examine critical evidence whose nature is subject to varying expert opinion." Id. at 17-18, 282 S.E.2d 61. Appellant claims that his due process rights as recognized in Sabel were violated by a November 12, 1981 order of the court which gave his fiber expert, a California criminalist named Charles Morton, entry to the state crime laboratory and which permitted him to examine the fibers pertaining to Cater and Payne. Williams now contends that the scope of the order was too narrow, since Morton should have been allowed to examine fibers associated with the ten uncharged offenses used during the trial to establish plan, scheme, modus operandi, and identity. See Division 4, infra. Moreover, Williams contends that other restrictions imposed by the court's order operated to deny his due process rights by preventing him from knowing the scientific instruments used by the state and the results it achieved using those instruments, thereby precluding him from developing an effective defense based on challenges to the methodology and conclusions of the state's fiber experts.

In his fifth enumeration of error, appellant further asserts that Morton was denied meaningful access to critical evidence in the Payne and Cater cases because, from time to time, the evidence was not available to him, and because he was forced to use equipment of the state crime lab which was not in good working order.

Although there is no dispute that the evidence in question was critical and that its nature was subject to varying expert

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opinion, we find that, under all the circumstances of this case, there is no merit in [251 Ga. 751] these enumerations. We first deal with the question of which portions of the record appellant may rely upon to support his arguments. In addition to the pretrial and trial record and transcripts, both Williams and the state direct our attention to an affidavit by Morton which was filed in support of appellant's motion for new trial. Despite the fact that Morton performed the greater part of the defense analysis of fiber evidence, he was never called as a witness, and the proffer of his affidavit constituted appellant's sole attempt to introduce Morton's firsthand account of his contacts with the crime lab and the obstacles its personnel allegedly placed in his path. However, the record shows that the court specifically refused to admit the affidavit as evidence; this refusal is separately enumerated as error by appellant, but, as we find in Division 19, infra, that exclusion was not erroneous. Hence, we will not consider Morton's affidavit for the purpose of determining the instant enumerations.

We begin our analysis by emphasizing that "the defendant does not have an absolute, unqualified right to examine such evidence. The motion for an independent examination must be timely made. The trial court in the exercise of its inherent power to conduct the proceedings before it, should impose appropriate safeguards to insure that the evidence is unchanged and preserved for evidentiary use at the trial. This would generally require that the defendant's expert be allowed to examine the substance in the state laboratory under the control and supervision of the state rather than relinquishing custody and possession of the substance to him. The request must be reasonable. If any valid reason exists for not permitting the defendant to use the substance for an independent analysis, the trial court may, as a matter of discretion, refuse to permit such an examination." Patterson v. State, 238 Ga. 204(2), 232 S.E.2d 233 (1977).

a). We do not think that the court erred by failing to expressly permit inspection of fibers relating to the ten extrinsic offenses. The trial court's duty to mandate independent inspection of critical evidence in the possession of the state does not arise unless defense counsel moves in a timely fashion and notifies the court of which critical evidence it seeks to inspect. If the defendant knows or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should know of the existence of potentially critical evidence in the possession of the state, yet fails to move in a timely fashion for its examination, then he or she cannot claim unfair surprise by its introduction at trial.

In the instant case it is clear that Williams cannot claim he was unfairly surprised by the introduction of the evidence in question, since the pre-trial record and transcripts are replete with information which shows that he clearly anticipated that evidence of this type was [251 Ga. 752] in the state's possession and might be used by it at trial. Yet, despite the fact of his awareness that the prosecution might use evidence of extrinsic offenses, and despite the fact that the trial began December 28, it was not until February 1 that he apprised the court that he was dissatisfied with the court's omission to authorize his expert to inspect that evidence. Moreover, even if we assume that the court erred by failing to direct the state crime lab personnel to allow appellant's experts to examine the evidence relating to extrinsic offenses, the error was harmless. On at least two occasions--January 18 and February 17--defense experts were in fact offered the opportunity to look at the fibers in question, but declined to do so.

b). Neither do we find that the trial court erred in its November 12 order by preventing Williams from examining the notes of the state's experts, their reports, and the physical products and results of their tests and experiments. Williams argues that, because the evidence in this case was so complex and voluminous, his constitutional right to an adequate opportunity to prepare his defense was not sufficiently served by affording him the bare opportunity to perform his own tests of critical evidence. Instead, he contends, fundamental

Page 50

fairness dictates that he also should have been given a meaningful opportunity to verify both the validity of the procedures used and the results reached by the state in order to be able to effectively rebut them at trial. However, the record shows that Williams never challenged the validity of any of the rules set out in the November 12 order, and, in particular, never raised the instant issue. Thus, for the reasons stated in subdivision (a), supra, we will not consider this issue on appeal.

c). We now consider appellant's argument, found in his fifth enumeration of error, that the prosecution and the state crime lab personnel violated his Sabel rights by failing to provide his expert with meaningful access to critical evidence. He contends that Morton was frustrated at each stage of the trial by being forced to use crime lab equipment which was not in good working order and by being told that evidence he wanted to work on was not available. These contentions have no merit.

First, the allegation concerning the condition of the equipment Morton had to use was never brought to the trial court's attention, and, since, as already noted, the trial court properly excluded the Morton affidavit from the record, there is nothing to support the allegation on...

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211 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Riley, No. 575
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • June 22, 1990
    ...minute particles of foreign objects such as fibers or paint chips found on drugs to objects in the house. See, e.g., Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749, 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983) Page 854 (allowing expert evidence linking fibers in defendant's home to fibers found on homicide victims); People v. Mac......
  • Com. v. Hughes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 21, 2004
    ...coincided with the disappearance of a number of African-American children in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. See generally Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749, 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983). As a result, some spectators and certain members of Appellant's jury were wearing green ribbons as a sign of support f......
  • Ward v. State, No. S92P0087
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • June 11, 1992
    ...of other crimes is not mere similarity but relevance to the issues in the trial of the case." Williams v. State, supra, 251 Ga. at 784 [312 S.E.2d 40]. Depending upon the purpose for which the extrinsic offense is offered, "the state may be required to prove a high degree of similarity betw......
  • Pace v. State, No. S99P0647.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • December 3, 1999
    ...without permitting evidence of the other. Bright v. State, 265 Ga. 265(7), 455 S.E.2d 37 (1995). See also [271 Ga. 833] Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749(16), 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983); Dingler v. State, 233 Ga. 462, 211 S.E.2d 752 (1975). Even if severed, evidence of all four murders would have be......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
211 cases
  • U.S. v. Riley, No. 575
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • June 22, 1990
    ...minute particles of foreign objects such as fibers or paint chips found on drugs to objects in the house. See, e.g., Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749, 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983) Page 854 (allowing expert evidence linking fibers in defendant's home to fibers found on homicide victims); People v. Mac......
  • Com. v. Hughes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 21, 2004
    ...coincided with the disappearance of a number of African-American children in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. See generally Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749, 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983). As a result, some spectators and certain members of Appellant's jury were wearing green ribbons as a sign of support f......
  • Ward v. State, No. S92P0087
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • June 11, 1992
    ...of other crimes is not mere similarity but relevance to the issues in the trial of the case." Williams v. State, supra, 251 Ga. at 784 [312 S.E.2d 40]. Depending upon the purpose for which the extrinsic offense is offered, "the state may be required to prove a high degree of similarity betw......
  • Pace v. State, No. S99P0647.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • December 3, 1999
    ...without permitting evidence of the other. Bright v. State, 265 Ga. 265(7), 455 S.E.2d 37 (1995). See also [271 Ga. 833] Williams v. State, 251 Ga. 749(16), 312 S.E.2d 40 (1983); Dingler v. State, 233 Ga. 462, 211 S.E.2d 752 (1975). Even if severed, evidence of all four murders would have be......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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