The state's highest court has upheld the murder convictions of two men in a 2010 Douglasville beating death despite their assertions a judge wrongly rejected potential black jurors and allowed a jailhouse informant's testimony.
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Douglas County Superior Court malice murder convictions of Horace Coleman and Quantez Mallory after they appealed their convictions in the November 2010 beating death of Bobby Tillman outside a Douglasville house party.
Justice Keith Blackwell stated in a Supreme Court Aug. 14 opinion that Coleman said Superior Court Judge Beau McLain wrongly denied his motion for a mistrial after the prosecution presented "purportedly inadmissible hearsay testimony" from a jailhouse informant
The unidentified informant said he was told Coleman wanted other inmates to beat him in retaliation for agreeing to testify in the case. However, the judge instructed the jury the informant’s testimony was inadmissible, did not prove Coleman had done anything, and they should disregard it in its entirety and "not weigh it or consider it in any manner in your deliberations in this case,” Blackwell wrote.
"We ordinarily presume that a jury follows such instructions," Blackwell stated. "Not only did the trial court give curative instructions, but it also rebuked the prosecution in front of the jury."
Mallory argued the judge improperly allowed the prosecutor to eliminate potential jurors from the jury pool because they were black.
He also maintained his due process rights were violated because he lacked access to prospective jurors’ criminal histories maintained in a state government database, the justice wrote.
The high court decided the prosecution gave a race-neutral explanation for the strikes of potential jurors while the record of the case does not show the prosecutors intended to discriminate becuase at least three black jurors, Blackwell wrote.
The high court's opinion also noted Mallory never requested jurors' criminal histories and never challenged the constitutionality of the state law that would have required consent by the jurors and their fingerprints before their histories were provided.
Both Coleman and Mallory also argued that the trial court improperly commented on the evidence by extensively questioning the state’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, about Tillman’s death. Eisenstat testified about the size of Tillman's body and its position during the beating being a factor in his death.
"The main question before the jury was who perpetrated the murder, not how the crime was committed. Accordingly, the trial court acted within its discretion in questioning Dr. Eisenstat," Blackwell wrote.
The case stemmed from an November 2010 incident outside a Douglasville house party which led to a girl hitting one man, Emmanuel Boykins, and him stating he would beat the next man he saw.
"Boykins ran up to Tillman and began punching him. Almost immediately, Coleman, Mallory, and (Tracen) Franklin joined in the attack.
"When Tillman fell to the ground, the attackers kicked him in the chest and stomped on him multiple times."
Eyewitnesses later told police Coleman and Mallory were among the attackers. A jury later found each guilty of malice murder and a judge sentenced Coleman and Mallory to life without the possibility of parole.
Both appealed their convictions to the lower court and the court denied both in 2016. The Supreme Court then heard their appeals in April. Boykins and Franklin were convicted separately from Coleman and Mallory.
The Supreme Court stated on its web site that the opinion was subject to motions for reconsideration from either party.