Barbara Dalton Found Guilty
July 16, 2004
A Newton County jury deliberated less than four
hours Wednesday before finding Barbara Elaine Dalton "guilty" of
felony murder and other charges. On Thursday morning the same jury
sentenced her to life in prison without parole.
Ms. Dalton of Newton County is accused of
murdering Donna Sanders of Monticello at 1334 Dixie Road in
Mansfield on May 23, 2002.
The trial got underway Monday afternoon in the
newly built Newton County Judicial Center in downtown Covington.
Ms. Dalton is charged with first degree murder,
aggravated assault, cruelty to children, and possession of a
firearm in the commission of a crime. It is a case that could
possibly spell the death penalty for Ms. Dalton.
Newton County prosecutor Ken Wynne had the
floor most of the afternoon, calling seven witnesses in the four
and a half hour session. Victim Donna Sanders' son, Wesley
Sanders, gave his testimony.
He started off by answering Mr. Wynne's
question about the relationship between Ms. Dalton and Ms.
Sanders. Wesley said that Ms. Sanders was dating Mark Sullivan,
Ms. Dalton's ex-boyfriend.
According to Wesley, on May 23, 2002, Wesley
was getting off the school bus at his house on Highway 11 North
when he saw Ms. Dalton standing by a group of trees to the left of
the driveway. He said that he didn't know her but figured that she
was a friend of his mother's.
Ms. Dalton asked him "Can you run?" and they
ran up the driveway and hid behind the house until Ms. Sanders
arrived from work.
The two women went into the kitchen and Wesley
went into his room to let them talk. The three of them left the
house in Ms. Sanders' F-150, driving down Tabernacle Cemetery Road
in south Newton County. They all got out of the truck and Wesley
realized Ms. Dalton was carrying a gun.
Wesley said his mother looked scared and he
heard her say "Don't shoot me in front of Wesley."
They then got back in the truck, Ms. Dalton
driving, and rode to Ms. Dalton's son's house on Dixie Road in
Mansfield. Brian Dean (Ms. Dalton's son) had some friends over
when they arrived. Ms. Dalton asked the friends to leave and told
Mr. Dean they needed to talk.
Mr. Dean testified he was confused by the
Wesley said they talked for a while and
eventually Mr. Dean asked Ms. Sanders if she was scared. Ms.
Sanders said she was scared. Her keys were lying on the coffee
table, and when Mr. Dean reached for them Ms. Dalton pulled the
gun and shot Ms. Sanders in the forehead.
Mr. Dean grabbed Wesley and ran to his
neighbors, the Volkarts' house to call the police while Ms. Dalton
ran to Ms. Sanders' truck and left.
Fresh off the plane from Iraq, Ms. Dalton's
26-year-old son took the stand Monday afternoon in his dress
greens to testify against his mother. It was an emotional
testimony as Mr. Dean said, "she just shot her right in front of
His story did not vary much from Wesley's, but
he added that after he got off the phone with the 911 operator he
called Mr. Sullivan to warn him of the situation.
Dennis Volkart was next on the stand, starting
off by saying that he did know Mr. Dean but not Ms. Dalton. At the
time of the murder, he said he heard screams come from next door.
He let Wesley and Mr. Dean in as they ran to his house, got his
gun, locked the door, and told Wesley that no one was going to
He described Mr. Dean as confused and anxious,
but said that Wesley seemed so calm it was like he was in shock.
His wife Ermie Jean Volkart took the stand next. She described the
screams as "animal howls." Mrs. Volkart was the first to talk to
911 before handing the phone to Mr. Dean.
Mr. Sullivan gave his first of two testimonies
next. He said that he and Ms. Dalton had been in a relationship
for about 14 years and he got out of it because he was no longer
satisfied with the relationship.
On the day of the murder, Mr. Sullivan had made
an appointment at a tanning bed in Covington for him and Ms.
Sanders. He was immediately worried when Ms. Sanders didn't show
up, saying that she was very punctual and rarely late to work or
for any type of appointment.
He left the tanning bed in Covington headed for
Ms. Sanders' home, but when he got to Pony Express he saw Ms.
Sanders' truck being driven by Ms. Dalton. Mr. Sullivan
immediately knew something was wrong. He found a spot to turn the
truck around, but they were already gone and out of sight.
Mr. Sullivan called the police and drove to the
property he and Ms. Dalton had purchased on Hodges Circle when
they were together. It was at that time he received the call from
Ms. Dalton's older brother, Wayne Dalton, took
the stand. After the murder, he went to Ms. Dalton's house with
his mother, but it was locked and she would not let them in. His
mother had a key to the house and they went in.
Ms. Dalton walked them to the back porch, and
when Wayne asked her what was going on she said, while swinging a
gun, "I've done something very bad, and it's too late to talk
Several other witnesses were interviewed the
rest of the day by Mr. Wynne.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Wynne recalled Mr.
Sullivan. Towards the end of their relationship, Mr. Sullivan and
Ms. Dalton purchased a piece of property on Hodges Circle, he
One afternoon when arriving in Covington from a
trip to Myrtle Beach with Ms. Sanders and Wesley, they drove by
his parents' house to drop off his things. His parents were on
vacation in Florida. Ms. Sanders and Wesley left, and after Mr.
Sullivan had been inside for a while he heard the door open and
saw Ms. Dalton walk in.
Mr. Sullivan said that Ms. Dalton pulled a gun,
and told him to drop the lawsuit he had filed to gain possession
of the property they owned. They went to the office of Michael
Waters' (the attorney Mr. Sullivan had filed the suit with), and
Mr. Sullivan told him to drop the law suit.
Mr. Waters said that it was not that simple,
and Ms. Dalton became agitated with the situation.
They rode back to Mr. Sullivan's parents'
house, and he ran inside, called the police, got his gun, and
locked the door. Ms. Dalton was arrested and was fired from her
job at Stanley Product.
After a recess in the trial, Public Defender
John Strauss began calling his witnesses. Lt. Gwen Hightower of
the Newton County Sheriff's office was his first witness.
Lt. Hightower specializes in sexually abused
children, children witnesses, and children interrogation. She
interviewed Wesley after the homicide. She described Wesley as
being cooperative but emotionally numb. She said that Wesley
avoided the incident at Dixie Road and was more open about what
happened before the shooting.
Trial observers who had heard the prosecution's
case were anxiously anticipating Ms. Dalton's testimony. Ms.
Dalton said that occasionally she would pass by Ms. Sanders' house
on her way to Jackson to eat at a particular restaurant with her
She noted that on one occasion she slowed down
while passing the residence but it was only to show her mother
where Mark was now staying.
She said that her romantic relationship ended
with Mark in May, 2001, and she had no more feelings for him.
Regarding the incident at Mark's parents'
house, she said that she did not pull a gun on Mr. Sullivan. She
admitted there was a gun in her purse, but said that she always
carried it for her personal protection.
The .38 caliber pistol she carried was taken
from her boyfriend Joe Waters, the person she was in a
relationship with after Mr. Sullivan. She said that she did not
inform Mr. Waters of her possession of the gun, but she said that
they were so close that he wouldn't mind that she had the gun.
She was also carrying her gun on May 23, but it
was concealed in the waistband of her jeans instead of a purse.
She went to Ms. Sanders' house to discuss the property dispute,
she said, and parked her car a ways from the house because she was
confused as to which house belonged to Ms. Sanders.
When Wesley arrived, they went up to the house
and waited for Ms. Sanders. She arrived, and they all went inside.
The two ladies had a glass of water in the kitchen while Wesley
went to the back of the house, she testified.
They got in the truck and rode down Tabernacle
Cemetery Road so Ms. Dalton could drive, because Ms. Sanders did
not know where Mr. Dean lived.
Ms. Dalton said she noticed the unknown cars in
the driveway and saw that he had friends over.
She got him to ask them to leave, and
introduced him to Donna and Wesley Sanders. She said she has no
recollection of what happened after that.
An emotionally distraught Ms. Dalton then went
through a period of vicious cross-examination by Mr. Wynne.
Mr. Wynne called one final witness Tuesday
afternoon, Joe Waters.
He said he had been involved in a romantic
relationship with Ms. Dalton that ended maybe three months before
He said he had a silver .38 caliber pistol and
a black ankle holster that were misplaced and he had no clue where
they went. The gun and holster were in Ms. Dalton's possession at
the time of the arrest.
Mr. Waters said that it would "absolutely have
not been all right for her to have the gun without my permission."
The trial came to closing statements Wednesday
morning and went to the jury about lunchtime.
Supreme Court of Georgia
DALTON v. The STATE.
July 13, 2007
Teresa Lynn Smith, Anthony Scott
Carter, Covington, for appellant.W. Kendall Wynne, Jr., Dist.
Atty., Covington, Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., David Allan
Zisook, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.
Barbara Elaine Dalton was charged in a
multi-count indictment with malice murder, aggravated assault, and
other offenses arising from the kidnapping and shooting death of
Donna Sanders (hereafter “Sanders”), and the kidnapping of
Sanders' ten-year-old son, Wesley Sanders (hereafter “Wesley”).1
The State provided notice of its intention to seek the death
penalty. The case was tried to a jury which found the existence
of two statutory aggravating circumstances and fixed a sentence of
life without parole. Dalton was sentenced accordingly.
On appeal, Dalton concedes that she “shot and
killed Donna Sanders, the girlfriend of appellant's former
boyfriend ․ without provocation, in the presence of the sons of
both appellant and Sanders.” She asserts, however, that the
State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt either statutory
aggravating circumstance which would support her sentence of life
without parole, and that the trial court erred in denying a motion
to suppress evidence seized from her vehicle. For the reasons
that follow, we affirm.
Viewed in a light most favorable to the
verdict, the evidence showed that Barbara Dalton had been in a
14-year romantic relationship with Mark Sullivan, which Sullivan
had terminated. Thereupon, Sullivan began dating Sanders and he
eventually moved into Sanders' home. On the day in question,
10-year-old Wesley arrived home from school to find Dalton waiting
beside his driveway. Dalton told Wesley to wait with her at the
back of the house for his mother to return home. Sanders arrived
at the house several minutes later, and shortly thereafter,
Dalton, Sanders, and Wesley left in Sanders' truck. Sanders
drove to a rural cemetery road and stopped the vehicle. Dalton
ordered Sanders to continue to drive further down the road, but
Sanders refused. Thereupon, all three exited the truck and stood
at the back bumper. As Wesley was hugging his mother he observed
a gun in Dalton's hand with her finger on or near the trigger;
both he and Sanders were terrified. Sanders implored Dalton not
to shoot her in the presence of her son. She also told Dalton
that she had an appointment and asked to leave, but Dalton refused
to allow her to go. The three reentered the truck with Dalton at
the wheel, and she drove to the home of her son, Brian Dean.
Dean observed his mother arrive in an
unfamiliar truck which she uncharacteristically parked at the rear
of the house. Dalton, Sanders and Wesley entered Dean's home and
went to the living room. Dean had friends visiting and Dalton
directed that he ask his friends to leave. She then introduced
Sanders to Dean as the woman “Mark has been living with for the
last couple of months.” Dean became alarmed, grabbed Dalton and
asked her, “What's going on? You haven't done anything crazy
[or] stupid?” Dalton responded, “No, we're just here to talk.”
When Sanders told Dean that she was frightened, he attempted to
reach for the keys to the truck which Dalton had placed on a
coffee table. At that point, Dalton produced a gun, shot Sanders
in the head, and then fled from the house. Dean grabbed Wesley,
who appeared to be in shock, and ran to a neighbor's house where
the shooting was reported to the police.
After determining Dalton's guilt, the jury
found beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of two statutory
aggravating circumstances as set forth in OCGA § 17-10-30, as
follows: (1) the offense of murder was committed while the
offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony,
to wit: kidnapping with bodily injury, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(2);
and (2) the offense of murder was outrageously or wantonly vile,
horrible, or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind, OCGA
§ 17-10-30(b)(7). The jury fixed the sentence at life
imprisonment without parole.2
1. The evidence was sufficient for a rational
trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Dalton
was guilty of the crimes for which she was convicted. Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).
2. Dalton contends that the evidence is
insufficient to prove the OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(2) aggravating
circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, to wit: that the offense
of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the
commission of another capital felony, the kidnapping and bodily
injury of Donna Sanders.
“A person commits the offense of kidnapping
when he [or she] abducts or steals away any person without lawful
authority or warrant and holds such person against his [or her]
will.” OCGA § 16-5-40(a). The offense of kidnapping with bodily
injury is a capital felony that may be considered as an
aggravating circumstance supporting a death sentence for murder.
Tharpe v. State, 262 Ga. 110, 115(22)(b), 416 S.E.2d 78 (1992);
OCGA § 16-5-40(b). See also Sears v. State, 270 Ga. 834(4), 514
S.E.2d 426 (1999). Bodily injury occurs when any physical
injury, however slight, is inflicted upon the victim's body.
Smith v. State, 236 Ga. 5, 10(5), 222 S.E.2d 357 (1976); Green
v. State, 193 Ga.App. 894(1), 389 S.E.2d 358 (1989).
Viewed in a light most favorable to the
verdict, the evidence established that Sanders was taken from her
home and held at gunpoint by Dalton, that Sanders urged Dalton to
allow her to leave for an appointment, but Dalton refused.
Instead, Dalton drove Sanders and Wesley to Dean's home where
Dalton shot and killed Sanders.
We reject Dalton's contention that Wesley's
testimony was “unquestionably impeached” because he initially
stated in an interview hours after his mother's death that Dalton
produced the gun at Dean's home rather than at the cemetery road.
A clinical psychologist explained that a child who is
traumatized may need time to sort out the events he witnessed and
would not be expected to disclose all the details immediately
after the trauma. “It is within the province of the jury to
resolve conflicts in trial testimony and assess the credibility of
the witnesses.” Berry v. State, 268 Ga. 437, 438(1), 490 S.E.2d
389 (1997). The jury, upon proper instructions from the court,
assessed the credibility of Wesley's testimony and concluded that
a kidnapping had occurred. Id.
We find ample evidence from which any rational
trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that
appellant was guilty of kidnapping with bodily harm. Jackson v.
Virginia, supra; Tharpe, supra; Sears, supra. See also George
v. State, 192 Ga.App. 840(1), 386 S.E.2d 669 (1989) (a demand by
the victim to be let out of the vehicle may assist the jury in
determining that the victim is being held against his will).
3. Dalton contends that her actions lack the
aggression necessary to support the OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(7)
aggravating circumstance that the offense of murder was
outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it
involved depravity of mind.
This issue is controlled by our ruling in
McMichen v. State, 265 Ga. 598(2), 458 S.E.2d 833 (1995).
McMichen shot and killed his estranged wife and her boyfriend
outside her trailer. As the two bodies lay on the ground
bleeding profusely, the defendant took his five-year-old daughter
(the child of the female victim) from her mother's trailer, walked
her past both bodies through the victims' blood, and left the
child in his truck in view of the murder scene while he sat at a
neighbor's home drinking beer. When the child was found a short
time later, she was still in the truck with blood on her shoes,
screaming for help for her mother. In that case we considered
whether the defendant's conduct toward his child in the course of
killing the victims, knowing but not intending that his actions
would cause the child severe mental distress, is alone sufficient
to prove the (b)(7) aggravating circumstance of depravity of mind
to support a sentence of death. We concluded that the
defendant's “gross disregard for the virtually certain and
profound impact of his actions on his five-year-old child amply
supports the jury's finding that the murder of [the child's
mother] was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman
in that it involved depravity of mind.” Id. at 603(2), 458 S.E.2d
In the present case, Wesley was himself a
victim of kidnapping along with his mother, he witnessed his
mother plead with Dalton to spare her life while her son watched,
and he was sitting next to his mother on a sofa when Dalton fired
the fatal shot to her head. We find the evidence sufficient to
enable the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of
the (b)(7) statutory aggravating circumstance of depravity of
mind. Jackson v. Virginia, supra; McMichen, supra.
4. On the day following the shooting,
investigators obtained a warrant to search Dalton's car, which was
still parked a short distance from the driveway where Dalton first
confronted Sanders and Wesley. Among the items seized from the
vehicle were a machete, two rifles, ammunition, hunting equipment,
and an ankle holster. Dalton filed a motion to suppress the
fruits of the search asserting, inter alia, that the warrant was
issued without probable cause. The trial court denied the motion
based, in part, on its determination that there was sufficient
probable cause to issue the warrant.
A search warrant will only issue upon facts
“sufficient to show probable cause that a crime is being committed
or has been committed.” OCGA § 17-5-21(a). The magistrate's task
in determining if probable cause exists to issue a search warrant
is “simply to make a practical, common-sense decision whether,
given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him,
including the ‘veracity’ and ‘basis of knowledge’ of persons
supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that
contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular
place.” [Cit.] Our duty in reviewing the magistrate's decision in
this case is to determine if the magistrate had a “substantial
basis” for concluding that probable cause existed to issue the
search warrants. [Cit.] A magistrate's decision to issue a search
warrant based on a finding of probable cause is entitled to
substantial deference by a reviewing court.
DeYoung v. State, 268 Ga. 780, 786-787, 493
S.E.2d 157 (1997).
The investigating officer testified at the
hearing on the motion to suppress that he prepared an affidavit
for the issuance of a warrant to search a Lincoln Town Car
registered to Dalton, which was parked 780 feet from the Sanders'
driveway. The affidavit included information that Sanders and
Wesley had been abducted from their home in Jasper County and were
taken to a residence in Newton County where Dalton shot and killed
Sanders. Based on that information, a warrant was issued which
authorized a search of Dalton's vehicle for latent print evidence,
and evidence of the crime of kidnapping.
Looking to the four corners of the affidavit,
there was a fair probability that evidence of the kidnapping and
murder would be found in the vehicle parked near the Sanders'
driveway. Thus, we conclude that the magistrate had a
substantial basis for determining that probable cause existed for
issuance of the warrant.3
crimes were committed on May 23, 2002. A grand jury indicted
Dalton on July 11, 2003, charging her with malice murder, felony
murder (seven counts), aggravated assault (five counts), cruelty
to children in the first degree, and possession of a firearm in
the commission of a felony (three counts). The State served
notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. At a trial
commencing on July 12, 2004, Dalton was tried on the foregoing
charges, except for four of the felony murder counts. She was
found guilty as charged on July 15, 2004. The jury also found
beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of two statutory
aggravating circumstances, and it affixed a sentence of life
without parole. Dalton was sentenced on August 26, 2004 to life
without parole for malice murder, 20 years for one count of
aggravated assault, 20 years for cruelty to children, plus 5 years
for each of two weapon offenses (all sentences to run
consecutively to each other). A motion for new trial was filed
on September 22, 2004, amended on January 18, 2005, and denied on
December 29, 2006. A notice of appeal was filed on February 2,
2007, pursuant to the grant of an out-of-time appeal. The case
was docketed in this Court on March 15, 2007, and was submitted
for a decision on briefs on May 7, 2007.
OCGA § 17-10-30.1(a), imprisonment for life without parole may not
be imposed unless there is found by the court or jury at least one
statutory aggravating circumstance as defined by OCGA § 17-10-30.
concluded that probable cause existed for the issuance of the
warrant, we need not address the trial court's alternative
theories of inevitable discovery and abandonment for admitting
evidence of the search.
All the Justices concur.
Barbara Elaine Dalton