Legal Blog

GA Supreme Court Reversal in Murder Case Due to Improper Exclusion of Evidence

November 18, 2014

In Lynn v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s conviction for the murder of his wife, holding that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of the wife’s alleged infidelity near the time of her death.

The defendant did not dispute the fact that he was responsible for the death of his wife. However, he argued that the killing amounted to voluntary manslaughter instead of murder because it was provoked by his wife’s assault on him with a baseball bat and her disclosure of extramarital affairs. Under circumstances that would ordinarily be considered murder, Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 16-5-2) provides that a defendant may be guilty of voluntary manslaughter when he acts as the “result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person.”

At trial, the defendant testified that his wife wanted a divorce, and they had been arguing about it for several days. On the night of the incident, the defendant came home to find that his wife had packed her bags. She told the defendant that she would leave and take their children and that the defendant was a horrible person and a horrible father. She then swung a baseball bat at the defendant, who took it from her and used it to beat her.

The defendant also testified that during the course of their argument, his wife disclosed that she had been unfaithful to him, and was leaving him to continue to see two other men. Previously, the defendant’s wife had left him for a time to live with her “boyfriend,” David. The couple had reconciled. On the night she was killed, she told the defendant that she had resumed her affair, and that she was also having an affair with a coworker, Todd. The prosecutor strongly implied that this portion of the defendant’s testimony was fabricated.

The defendant sought to introduce other evidence that his wife was having extramarital affairs at the time of her death, including evidence that forensic examiners found Todd’s semen on her body. The defendant also sought to introduce testimony from David and Todd about their relationships with his wife around the time of her death, as well as testimony from his wife’s supervisor at work who would say that his wife held herself out as “single” and received flowers from other men. The trial court excluded this evidence as irrelevant, and the defendant challenged that ruling on appeal.

The Georgia Supreme Court has previously held that discovery that a spouse has been unfaithful can be sufficient provocation to constitute manslaughter. Thus, the Court noted that if the jury had believed the defendant’s testimony that his wife confessed her affairs to the defendant before he killed her, that might have formed a basis for finding that the killing amounted to voluntary manslaughter. The credibility of this testimony was critical, particularly considering the prosecutor’s suggestion that it was fabricated. Whether the wife did, in fact, disclose extramarital affairs to the defendant before he killed her was thus “an important and disputed issue at trial.” The Court stated that evidence that proved any circumstance tending to make it more or less likely that the wife actually confessed recent affairs immediately before she was killed would be relevant to this issue.

Therefore, the Court concluded that the evidence that the wife was, in fact, having extramarital affairs around the time of her death was relevant and should not have been excluded by the trial court. As a result, the Court reversed the defendant’s murder conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

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