The Georgia Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of Justin Redinburg, a Savannah teen who was charged with shooting a man outside a church in 2009.
Redinburg was indicted in Chatham County Superior Court for murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The Court held that the trial court committed reversible error in excluding evidence of a phone conversation between two witnesses who appeared to be colluding with each other in an effort to frame Redinburg for the murder.
The victim, Marcus Allen, was found dead outside a Savannah church on June 27, 2009. Months later, Robert Cureton and Cortez Alls told police that they saw Redinburg shoot the victim. During Redinburg’s trial, Alls testified that he was with both Cureton and Redinburg on the porch of his house next door to the church on the night of the shooting. According to Alls’ testimony, Redinburg said he was “going to rob somebody” and walked toward the church with a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver. Redinburg allegedly stood on the church steps and talked to the victim, then shot him as he ran away.
At trial, serious doubts were raised about the credibility of Alls’ and Cureton’s version of events. It was revealed that Cureton and Redinburg were dating the same woman, Raven Williams, who was pregnant at the time of the shooting. Both Cureton and Redinburg were told by her that they were the father of her child. The two were feuding and Cureton allegedly threatened to kill Redinburg earlier on the night of the shooting. Williams herself testified at trial and said that in subsequent conversations, Redinburg and Cureton each claimed that the other shot the victim.
What was not revealed to the jury at trial was that months after the shooting, police recorded a phone conversation between Cureton and Alls where both men could be heard discussing an alibi for themselves for the night of the shooting and both agreed to lie to the police about Redinburg’s involvement. Police recorded the conversation with the permission of Cureton, who had been arrested on an unrelated charge and agreed to cooperate with the police.
Cureton failed to appear when called to testify so the trial court held that the conversation was hearsay and thus inadmissible. The Court of Appeals held that since Cureton was acting as an informant at the time of the conversation, his statements were admissible under O.C.G.A. § 24-3-2 which provides that “[w]hen, in a legal investigation, information, conversations, letters and replies, and similar evidence are facts to explain conduct and ascertain motives, they shall be admitted in evidence not as hearsay but as original evidence.” The Court of Appeals noted that this statute has repeatedly been cited as authority for admitting recordings of phone calls between witnesses, co-conspirators and informers that were made after the crimes at issue and at the direction of law enforcement officers, even when one of the parties to the conversation did not testify at trial, as was the case here.
Therefore, since Cureton was essentially acting as an informant (or at least an agent of police investigators) at the time he had the phone conversation with Alls, the Court concluded that the recorded statements were admissible under O.C.G.A. § 24-3-2. The Court held that had the recording been properly played for the jury, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different.
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