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Dougherty Murder Conviction Upheld

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The Georgia Supreme Court Monday upheld the conviction of an Albany man serving a life sentence for a 2005 murder. 

25-year-old Nathaniel Taylor was convicted in 2007 for shooting 31-year old Lewis West on South Jackson Street.

His cell mate at the Dougherty County Jail testified he overheard Taylor telling another inmate he shot West because West robbed him of drugs.

Taylor's attorney argued the evidence was insufficient and circumstantial.

The state argued, prior to his death, the victim identified Taylor as his shooter.

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said  "he made a statement about the fact that there had been a drug deal that went bad and the was going to get Louis Anthony West, that he was going to burn him and he made statements and was pretty much telling everybody what he did and why he did it."

The decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the conviction was unanimous.

Read the Court Ruling Below

In the Supreme Court of Georgia

Decided: October 17, 2011

S11A0839. TAYLOR v. THE STATE.

HUNSTEIN, Chief Justice.

Appellant Nathaniel Taylor appeals his conviction of malice murder,

felony murder, and aggravated assault for the shooting death of Lewis Anthony

West on October 21, 2005. 

The trial court denied appellant's motion for a new trial and he appeals, challenging only the effectiveness of his trial counsel.

1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence

presented at trial showed that approximately one to two weeks before West's

death, West and appellant (also known as "Reddy B") got into an argument

because appellant believed West had stolen some marijuana from him.

 

(The crimes occurred on October 21, 2005.

Appellant Nathaniel Taylor was indicted in Dougherty County on charges of malice murder,

felony murder, and aggravated assault. He was found guilty on all three charges and

sentenced to life in prison for the malice murder charge. The remaining

charges were merged or vacated by operation of law. His motion for new

trial, filed February 2, 2009 and amended February 15, 2010, was denied

January 12, 2011. A notice of appeal was filed January 14, 2011. The appeal

was docketed for the April term in this Court and was orally argued on May

16, 2011.)

Several of appellant's friends advised appellant to let it go rather than retaliate.

Appellant ignored his friends' advice and told one friend he planned to "burn"

West.

On the afternoon of October 21, 2005, two men accosted West in an open

field between Jackson Street and Dervan Street in Albany. One of the men fired

two to three shots, hitting West in the lower abdomen. The assailants fled. Two

witnesses heard the shots and saw the fleeing men, though neither was able to

positively identify appellant. West collapsed in the yard of Alice Robinson,

who was sitting on her porch. At West's request, Robinson called 9-1-1 and

talked with West for several minutes before police arrived. Robinson asked

2Both of the witnesses that provided accounts of the alleged drug theft

and subsequent argument recanted their testimony at trial. First, Purchetta

Weston, a friend of appellant, originally told police that appellant said he was

going to "burn" West. Weston testified at trial that she did not remember

making that statement, so counsel for the State played an audio tape of her

prior inconsistent statement to the jury. Courtney Bailey, another friend of

appellant, disclaimed his pre-trial statement that West had robbed appellant

and appellant "couldn't let it go," claiming that he was intoxicated at the time

of the interview, that he had been pressured by police, and that he and

appellant were just joking about a drug theft. Despite their contradictory

statements during the trial, the jury was entitled to rely upon both witnesses'

prior inconsistent statements as substantive evidence. Holiday v. State, 272

Ga. 779 (534 SE2d 411) (2000); Griffin v. State, 262 Ga. App. 87 (585 SE2d

145) (2003).

2

West who shot him and he replied "Freddy B." When Officer Jason Burton

arrived on the scene, West repeated that "Freddy B" had shot him. West was

transported to the hospital by ambulance, but died of his wounds on the

operating table.

Later that same day, appellant called his friend, Purchetta Weston, to ask

for a ride. Purchetta and her sister, Yolanda Weston, picked up appellant and

took him to several locations, including his home, where he retrieved a travel

bag. At appellant's request, Yolanda agreed to give him a ride to Atlanta that

evening. During a phone call to Purchetta after he had arrived in Atlanta,

appellant told Purchetta he had shot someone and asked if the victim was dead.

Purchetta told him that West had died.

While appellant was incarcerated at the Dougherty County jail awaiting

trial, federal prisoner, Richard Bynes, overheard appellant confess that he killed

West because West had robbed him of some drugs.4 Bynes also heard appellant

3Although Purchetta Weston recanted the details of this telephone call

during trial, the jury was allowed to hear and rely upon her prior inconsistent

statement to police describing the nature of the telephone call. Holiday,

supra, 272 Ga. at 781 .

4In exchange for this testimony, Bynes testified that the District

Attorney agreed to make a recommendation to federal authorities on Bynes'

describing the details of the shooting and his subsequent trip to Atlanta.

The evidence in this case was sufficient for the jury to conclude beyond

a reasonable doubt that appellant was guilty of West's murder. Jackson v.

Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 SC 2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979).

 In his sole enumeration of error, appellant contends he received

ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel's failure to request a jury

instruction on the State's burden of proof in a case based on circumstantial

evidence. He argues that since the only direct evidence offered at trial was the

testimony of a prisoner, who believed his sentence could be reduced by half in

exchange for his testimony, appellant's trial counsel should have requested a

jury charge regarding the State's burden of proof in a purely circumstantial case.

Georgia courts recognize a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls

within the broad range of reasonable professional conduct. Robinson v. State,

277 Ga. 75, 76 (586 SE2d 313) (2003). In order to overcome this presumption,

appellant must establish not only that trial counsel's performance was deficient,

but he must also show that the deficiency so prejudiced the defense that there is

behalf, which Bynes believed could have the effect of reducing his federal

sentence by half.

4

a reasonable likelihood that, but for counsel's errors, the outcome of the trial

would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (104 SC

2052, 80 LEd2d 674) (1984).

Even assuming that trial counsel should have requested a jury charge on

circumstantial evidence, his failure to do so did not result in any prejudice.

Here, the trial court instructed the jury regarding the difference between direct

and circumstantial evidence. The trial court also provided the jury with proper

instructions regarding the witness credibility and witness impeachment.

Considering the jury instructions as a whole, and given the direct evidence

adduced at trial (even if impeached), we find that appellant failed to show a

reasonable likelihood that but for his trial counsel's alleged error, the result

would have been different. Since the second prong of the Strickland test has not

been satisfied, appellant's claim of ineffective assistance must fail.

Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.

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