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GA Court of Appeals: Molestation Allegation Not Prejudicial to Murder Defendant

December 4, 2013

In Crowder v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for murder and related crimes despite the defendant’s claims of error by the trial court and his defense attorney.

The evidence showed that Crowder’s estranged wife was found shot to death in her home on January 16th, 2008. The victim’s daughter, who had been at the house that night, testified that she heard three gunshots, but did not see or hear the person who shot her mother and so could not identify the shooter. The police discovered shell casings and bullets from a .45 caliber gun at the scene. A firearms identification expert testified that shell casings found at the defendant’s residence had been fired from the same gun as those found at the scene. A medical examiner recovered a .45 caliber bullet from the victim’s head, and testified that the victim died from two gunshot wounds to her head.

At the time of the shooting, Crowder worked an overnight shift at a post office. On the night that his wife was shot, Crowder clocked in for his shift on time at 11:00p.m. and took his regular lunch break around 3:00 a.m., but he did not return to work within 30 minutes as usual. Crowder was next seen at work at 6:00 a.m.

The State introduced a series of insulting text messages sent between Crowder and the victim on the night that the victim was shot, including one in which the victim called Crowder a “child molester.” The victim had previously found out about an allegation that Crowder had molested a cousin while the cousin lived with them. The daughter testified that the allegation increased the tension which already existed between her parents. There was also testimony that the defendant had threatened the victim’s life on two previous occasions.

The defense argued that the trial court’s admission of the child molestation allegation was prejudicial as it unfairly placed the defendant’s character at issue. The Court of Appeals held that the child molestation allegation was evidence of motive because it explained the tension between the victim and the defendant and provided context for the text message exchange which took place right before the victim’s death. Therefore, the Court concluded that the trial court did not err in admitting this evidence.

Crowder also argued that his defense attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel when he failed to call a GBI chemist who could testify that DNA of a male who was not the defendant was found inside the victim’s mouth. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant failed to establish a reasonable probability that with this evidence the outcome of his trial would have been different. First, the Court of Appeals noted that his appellate counsel failed to introduce any evidence as to what the substance of the chemist’s testimony would have been. Therefore, there was nothing in the record to support the defendant’s claim that his testimony would have established this. The Court held that, in any event, this testimony would not have been sufficient to change the outcome of the trial “in light of the substantial evidence of appellant’s guilt.”

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