Two convicted Cobb County murderers will remain behind bars for life following separate rulings issued Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court.
The high court upheld the conviction of Dennis Lee Hampton, a Canton man who shot and killed a stranger during a 2013 fistfight in a Marietta bar; and denied a new trial for Derrick Williams, a Smyrna man convicted of beating and strangling his wife to death in 2012.
Hampton, 45, was sentenced to life without parole for the April 2013 shooting death of 34-year-old Takilam Terrell, of Sandy Springs, court records show. Police said the shooting occurred following an early morning altercation between the two men inside the now-shuttered Milo’s Bar off Garrison Road and Powder Springs Street.
Hampton appealed his sentence, arguing that Cobb Superior Court Judge Lark Ingram instructed the jury to reach a unanimous verdict on each charge.
Jurors may deadlock if they can’t decide unanimously whether or not to convict a defendant of a charge, but in its 13-page decision handed down Monday, the Supreme Court ruled the judge’s instructions did not affect the jury’s decision in the case.
“…When viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find (the) appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted,” the decision reads. “The evidence against (Hampton) is strong, and the record does not reliably suggest that the jury was deadlocked.”
In Williams’ case, the 35-year-old Smyrna man is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife, Finesse Dawson.
The two had a history of domestic violence — the same year she was found beaten and strangled to death in the couple’s bed, police were sent to their Smyrna home after Dawson reported Williams hit her, slashed her tires and smashed her cellphones, court records show.
Dawson’s body was discovered Dec. 5, 2012, when Smyrna police performed a welfare check after several 911 calls were placed by Williams’ uncle, court records show.
Williams denied killing his wife, telling police Dawson overdosed on drugs and that he tried to revive her.
During his 2014 trial, however, the prosecution brought to light Williams’ history of violence toward his romantic partners, court records show, including Dawson, who he beat repeatedly.
The woman’s co-workers testified that in the years leading up to her death, they saw bruises on her that she attributed to Williams, records show, and Dawson’s former manager told jurors that Dawson’s face was once so bruised that she was not allowed to work.
A detective and a medical examiner both testified that Dawson was bruised on virtually every part of her body when she was found, and the detective estimated that Dawson was struck more than 100 times, records show.
Williams filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the trial court erred by excluding evidence of drugs found in his wife’s bloodstream, admitting evidence of his abusive history, and “allowing an irrelevant and prejudicial demonstration” in which a prosecutor in the case beat a punching bag more than 100 times in front of the jury.
The high court disagreed with each of those arguments, ruling “the evidence of Williams’ guilt was overwhelming,” and denying his motion for a new trial.