Willis v. State, S18P0915

Citation820 S.E.2d 640,304 Ga. 686
Decision Date22 October 2018
Docket NumberS18P0915
Parties WILLIS v. The STATE.
CourtSupreme Court of Georgia

Charles Henry Frier, P.O. Box 8783, Atlanta, Georgia 31106-8783, Akil K. Secret THE SECRET FIRM, P.C., 44 Broad Street NW, Suite 507, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, for Appellant.

Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, 40 Capitol Square, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30334, Sabrina Dawn Graham, Assistant Attorney General, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, 40 Capitol Square, S.W. Atlanta, Georgia 30334-1300, Paul L. Howard, Jr., District Attorney, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, 136 Pryor Street, S.W., 4th Floor, Atlanta, Georgia 30303, Paula Khristian Smith, Senior Assistant, Attorney General, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, 40 Capitol Square, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30334, Kevin Christopher Armstrong, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, 136 Pryor Street, 4th Floor Atlanta, Georgia 30306, for Appellee.

BENHAM, Justice.

A jury convicted Demetrius G. Willis of three counts of malice murder and numerous related offenses. After finding beyond a reasonable doubt multiple statutory aggravating circumstances, the jury recommended death sentences for the murder convictions, and the trial court entered judgment accordingly. See OCGA §§ 17-10-30, 17-10-31 (a). Willis's motion for a new trial was denied, and he appeals his convictions and sentences.1 For the reasons set forth below, we vacate Willis's convictions and sentences for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but we affirm all of Willis's remaining convictions and sentences, including his death sentences for the murders.

Evidence of Guilt

1. The evidence, construed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, showed the following. Willis, who goes by the nickname of "Sweet Pea," is from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and was living in that area at the time of the murders. He and Talisa Hankins, who was also from Clarksdale, had a daughter together, Q. H. Hankins had three more children with Jerry Williams, Jr.: J. H., C. H., and Jerry Williams, III. In the spring of 2004, Williams took a job with his father, and he, Hankins, five-year-old C. H., and three-year-old Jerry III moved together into a new home in Atlanta, Georgia. Ten-year-old Q. H. and six-year-old J. H. remained in Clarksdale with their maternal grandmother in order to complete the school year there.

On Friday, June 25, 2004, Willis and a friend, Nakia Dukes, rode from Clarksdale to Atlanta with Willis's cousin, Reginald Greenwood, in Greenwood's 1996 black Chevrolet Impala. Dukes brought a nine millimeter Astra handgun "for [his] protection," which he showed to Willis and Greenwood and then placed in a compartment behind the Impala's glove box. While in Atlanta, the three men slept at the home of Mary Raindrop, Willis's girlfriend, who lived in Canton. However, they spent much of their time in Atlanta socializing with various friends.

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 27, 2004, the three men attended a cookout at Hankins and Williams's new home in Atlanta. No one noticed anything unusual about Willis's interactions with Hankins or Williams or observed any arguments or animosity between Willis and the couple. After leaving the cookout, Willis, Greenwood, and Dukes visited the home of Ray Hollins and his girlfriend, Timirial Jordan. Hollins was a close friend of both Willis and Williams. Willis, Greenwood, Dukes, Hollins, and Jordan all went out together in Greenwood's Impala. After spending the night drinking, smoking marijuana, and attending clubs, they returned to Hollins's home at approximately 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning, June 28. Shortly after their return, Willis asked Hollins to ride with him to Hankins and Williams's home so that Willis could see his daughter Q. H. before he returned to Mississippi, as Williams's parents had traveled to Clarksdale on Sunday afternoon with plans to return to Atlanta that night with Q. H. and J. H. so that the girls could join the rest of the family in their new home. Hollins agreed to accompany Willis, and, after borrowing the keys to the Impala from Greenwood, the two men left.

Hankins and Williams's home was only two or three blocks away, and Willis drove the short distance while Hollins sat beside him in the front passenger seat. Hollins testified that Willis did not appear upset and that he did not see a gun. Once they arrived, Hollins remained in the Impala while Willis got out, walked around the vehicle and up the steps to the house, and entered through the front door that opened into the living room. Then Hollins heard Hankins exclaim, "Sweet Pea, what's wrong with you?" followed by a gunshot. At that time, he saw that "the whole frame" of one of the home's windows "was just knocked off." Frightened, Hollins got out of the vehicle and "t[ook] off running" away from the house. Before he had gone very far, however, he turned around and started walking back toward the house, and he saw Willis at the top step of the porch. As Hollins approached, he saw that Willis had a black pistol in his hand and blood on his face and shirt, and Hollins asked Willis, "Sweet Pea, what you done did?" Willis answered, "I done killed everybody in the house." Hollins asked Willis why, but Willis never responded. Instead, he got back into the driver's seat of the Impala. Hollins got into the rear passenger seat directly behind him, and they rode back to Hollins's house in silence.

Once the two men pulled up at Hollins's residence, Hollins stopped Willis from coming inside, and he went into the house and told Greenwood and Dukes that they had to leave. When the two men got into the Impala with Willis, who was now sitting in the rear seat, Greenwood saw that Willis had specks of blood on his shirt and asked Willis whether he was alright. Willis indicated that he was. As they headed to Raindrop's house in Canton, Greenwood continued to question Willis, who finally said that "he had shot some folks." Later, Willis said that "he had shot Jerry and Lisa and the kids." According to Dukes, Willis explained:

[H]e had knocked on the door and ... was let in and he sat down on the couch and like nudged Jerry, told him to wake up, and he didn't wake up so he shot him. Then he caught the baby's momma trying to go out the window and he shot her.

When Greenwood asked Willis whether the shootings were something "that's going to come back on [them] like real quick," Willis assured him, "[N]ah, it wasn't no—it wasn't no dirty type of thing."

After Willis and his companions had left Hollins's residence, Hollins told Jordan what had happened. She did not believe Hollins and convinced him to return to Hankins and Williams's home with her. When they pulled up to the house and Jordan saw that one of the windows was "burst out," she called Williams's cell phone, and Q. H. answered. Jordan asked her where her mother was, and Q. H. said that she was asleep. Then Jordan asked her where Williams was, and Q. H. said that she thought that he was dead. Q. H. also told Jordan that her little brother "had some stuff hanging out of his head." Jordan told Q. H. to call 911. When she learned that Q. H. did not know the home's address to provide to police, Jordan backed up her vehicle so that she could shine her headlights on the mailbox and read the address to Q. H. After hanging up, Jordan moved her vehicle to the opposite side of the street, and she and Hollins waited outside for help to arrive as a crowd of neighbors gathered. However, because they were scared, they did not speak to the police at the scene or contact the police later. Instead, they drove home, retrieved some clothes, and went to a friend's house, where they stayed until Willis was in police custody.

Q. H. made two calls to 911. The first call came from a cell phone at 5:42 a.m. and was disconnected after Q. H. told the operator that she did not know the address of the home where she was. In the second call at 5:54 a.m., Q. H. gave the operator her correct address, and she said that everyone in her house had been shot and identified her father as the shooter. When police arrived, they discovered Williams's body lying face down on the couch in the living room with what were later determined to be three gunshot wounds

to the back of the head. Hankins's body was lying facedown on the floor in a bedroom adjacent to the living room. She had sustained a contact or near-contact gunshot wound to the back left shoulder that had exited through the chest and two gunshot wounds to the back of the head. The window above Hankins's body was broken from the inside with the upper portion of the screen pushed out. The blood pattern evidence and a cut to Hankins's right-hand finger suggested that she was shot in the shoulder at close range while trying to escape through the window and then suffered the two gunshot wounds to the back of the head as she lay on the floor. In the back bedroom of the home, police found the body of Jerry III, who was lying face up across the edge of a bed with a gunshot wound to the left side of his forehead.

The three remaining children, who were in the bedroom with Jerry III when he was shot, did not suffer fatal injuries. Q. H. and C. H. testified regarding the shootings. While in the bedroom with J. H. and Jerry III, Q. H. heard her mother say, "Go on, Sweet Pea, I ain't never did nothing to you." C. H. was in the living room when she heard her mother make a similar statement to "Sweet Pea" and ask him, "[W]hy are you doing this?" Then C. H. saw Willis shoot her mother, and she ran into the bedroom where her siblings were and got into bed. Shortly after seeing C. H. dash into the bedroom and into bed, Q. H. saw Willis enter the bedroom with a black gun and start shooting. She dove under the bed and got as close to the wall as possible, but Willis still shot her in the left thigh. J. H. also hid from Willis, and she was not injured. C. H. was shot in her back left shoulder while lying in her bed. Jerry III was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
111 cases
  • Virger v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 18 Febrero 2019
    ...show (and Virger does not contend) that he objected on this basis at trial, this claim is not preserved for appeal. See Willis v. State, 304 Ga. 686, 718, 820 S.E.2d 640 (2018). In any event, Virger cannot show that the bailiffs’ or the trial court's minimal separation of the co-defendants ......
  • State v. Lane
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 10 Febrero 2020
    ...754 S.E.2d 335 (2014) ; Rice v. State , 292 Ga. 191, 212 (11), 733 S.E.2d 755 (2012), disapproved on other grounds by Willis v. State , 304 Ga. 686, 694 (3) (f), 820 S.E.2d 640 (2018) ; Humphrey v. Lewis , 291 Ga. 202, 219 (VI), 728 S.E.2d 603 (2012) ; Reese v. State , 289 Ga. 446, 450-451 ......
  • Lewis v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 1 Junio 2021
    ...constitutional proportions." Martin v. State , 298 Ga. 259, 278, 779 S.E.2d 342 (2015), disapproved on other grounds by Willis v. State , 304 Ga. 686, 706 n.3, 820 S.E.2d 640 (2018). As a result, because Lewis has failed to show prejudice, his ineffective assistance claim also...
  • White v. State, S18G0365
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 4 Febrero 2019
    ...(10), 793 S.E.2d 466 ; Futch v. State, 326 Ga. App. 394 (3), 756 S.E.2d 629 (2014), overruled in part on other grounds by Willis v. State, 304 Ga. 686 (11) (a) n.3, 820 S.E.2d 640 (2018) ; Tidwell v. State, 306 Ga. App. 307 (5), 701 S.E.2d 920 (2010) ; Warner, supra, 277 Ga. App. at 424 (2)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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