The Georgia Supreme Court will hear an appeal of a murder conviction in the 2012 Cobb County shooting death of mechanic Milton Carl Kelley on Thursday.
Jalin Collins is appealing his murder conviction and life-plus-25-year prison sentence. Collins did not personally shoot Kelley but was part of a group of three men that were convicted in the killing.
Lawyer Brian Steel is arguing the appeal for Collins, seeking for the convictions and sentences to be reversed. The offices of Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady, Jr. and state Attorney General Chris Carr are arguing for the state.
Steel is arguing that two women who testified were accomplices, and therefore more corroboration was needed to convict Collins. He also argues Collins’ trial lawyer used an ineffective strategy, according to the court.
According to the state, on April 21, 2012, Collins, Percy Burdine and Brandon Love planned to go to Kelley’s home to rob him. A woman who overheard the conversation testified that Kelley, who worked as a landscaper and worked on cars, also sold marijuana.
Later that night, Collins and Love asked two women for a ride to Kelley’s, according to the state. Burdine followed them in his truck. Love later admitted to police the women did not know the men planned to rob Kelley. The two men had the women drive to a street with no houses before exiting. The women waited — Kelley’s house was one street over.
Meantime, Kelley went outside to work on a car. At around 10:30 p.m., Kelley’s girlfriend heard a loud noise and went outside to find him unresponsive on the garage floor with a gunshot wound to his face, according to the state.
Approximately 20 minutes after parking, the two women saw the men running back to the car telling them “go, go, go.” The group returned to the apartment complex and smoked marijuana they took from Kelley. Love told the women they had shot a man and that “they would kill them if they told anyone,” according to the state.
Love eventually admitted to investigators that he, Collins and Burdine had gone there to rob Kelley. While speaking with Kelley outside his house, Kelley pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun, and Love grabbed the gun and shot Kelley in self-defense, Love told police.
Collins was tried in a joint jury trial with the other two men. He was found guilty as a party to felony murder, aggravated assault and drug possession charges.
According to the court, in the appeal Collins’ lawyer argues errors were made in his trial, including that the judge gave a misleading jury instruction concerning the definition of an accomplice. Under Georgia law, the two women were accomplices, and therefore their testimony should have been corroborated by others, the appeal argues. Secondly, the appeal argues the evidence of guilt presented was not overwhelming against Collins, and that Love’s testimony, if believed, clears Collins of involvement. Finally, the appeal argues Collins’ trial lawyer was ineffective because they failed to seek redaction of the fact that Collins was on probation for violating the Georgia Gang Act, a fact that was “prejudicial” and “unnecessary.”
The state argues the court properly informed the jury about the law regarding accomplice testimony and the two women’s testimony corroborated each other’s, per the state Supreme Court. Prosecutors also argue the trial attorney was not ineffective and that a reasonable attorney could have let the jury know about Collins’ probation rather than “risk the jury’s speculation on what other potentially more serious crime Collins may have committed.” Even if the strategy appears to be a mistake in hindsight, the decision is not “deficient performance,” they argue.
The case will be heard at the 10 a.m. session Thursday.