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Michelle Garner HALL

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - She told dispatchers that her husband had shot himself
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 30, 2008
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1969
Victim profile: John Britt Hall, 37 (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Sharpsburg, Coweta County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on September 25, 2009. Hall will become eligible for parole after 30 years
 
 

 
 
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Georgia Supreme Court reinstates Hall murder conviction

Times-Herald.com

January 22, 2013

The Supreme Court of Georgia has reversed a lower court’s ruling that threw out the convictions and life prison sentence given to a Coweta County woman for the murder of her husband, according to summaries of court opinions released Tuesday.

As a result of a unanimous ruling, written by Justice Harold Melton, the convictions and sentence will be reinstated. The case is listed as Seabolt, Warden V. Hall (S12A1632).

According to the evidence as presented in the summary, on July 30, 2008, Michelle Garner Hall called 911 and said her husband, John Britt Hall, had shot at her and then shot himself. The couple at the time was under major financial stress. At trial, experts testified that John had been shot in the chest from at least six to eight inches away. He also had been shot in his thigh and the back of his left arm, and had a bruise behind his right ear, according to testimony.

In September 2009, a jury convicted Michelle of malice murder, felony murder based on aggravated assault, and aggravated assault. She was sentenced to life in prison. A year later, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld her convictions and sentence.

In September 2011, Michelle filed a “petition for habeas corpus,” a civil proceeding that allows already convicted prisoners to challenge their conviction on constitutional grounds in the county where they’re incarcerated. The proceeding is brought against the warden of the prison, who in Michelle’s case was Kathy Seabolt.

Michelle’s sole contention before the habeas court was that she had received “ineffective assistance of counsel” during her trial because her attorney had failed to object to the procedure used in taking her daughter’s testimony and failed to raise the same issue when the case came up for appeal.

In March 2002, the habeas court granted her relief, setting aside her convictions and sentence. Specifically, the habeas judge ruled that Michelle was denied her constitutional right to effective counsel when her daughter testified in another room via closed circuit TV, rendering Michelle absent from the proceeding and unable to confer with her attorney during the child’s testimony. The judge found that her attorney, who was the same for both her trial and appeal, erred in failing to raise the issue on appeal because had he done so, she would have been granted a new trial.

The habeas judge also found she was denied her constitutional right to confront the witnesses against her because of the method of her daughter’s testimony.

The state attorney general’s office, representing the prison warden, appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the habeas court erred in presuming that Michelle’s case was “prejudiced” — or damaged by the alleged violation in her right to confront witnesses that occurred as a result of her daughter’s closed circuit testimony.

In its opinion, the high court concludes the habeas court conducted the wrong legal analysis in determining that the ineffectiveness of the woman’s trial attorney so damaged her case, she was entitled to a new trial.

According to the court summary, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Strickland v. Washington, a defendant must show that his trial attorney provided deficient performance and that, except for that unprofessional performance, there is a reasonable probability the outcome of the trial would have been more favorable to the defendant.

“Hall has failed to make this showing,” the court says in the opinion. “Her argument is that, had she been in the same room for her daughter’s questioning, she could have assisted her attorney by prompting him with specific information.” During the habeas hearing, Hall was asked to specify what she could have relayed to her attorney. But according to the transcript of the hearing, Hall’s attorney was already aware of the information she would have conveyed to him during the questioning of the daughter. “As such, Hall has failed to show actual prejudice, and her claim of ineffective assistance of counsel should have been rejected,” according to the high court's opinion.


New trial granted for wife in slaying of husband

By Alex McRae - The Newnan Times-Herald

March 30, 2012

Senior Judge Robert B. Struble ruled on March 19 that Michelle Garner Hall, convicted of the July 2008 murder of her husband, John Britt Hall, is entitled to a new trial based on a recent habeas corpus hearing presided over by Struble.

The habeas corpus petition was filed by Hall’s current attorney and claimed that Hall received ineffective legal counsel from her Newnan attorney, Michael Kam, during the original trial at which she was found guilty.

Any new trial will not take place for months and only after an appeal of Struble’s ruling has been heard. Hall will remain in custody pending the outcome of the appeal.

Peter John Skandalakis, District Attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit, said in a press release:

“Michelle Hall was tried and convicted by a Coweta County jury for the July 31, 2008, murder of her husband John Brit Hall. Senior Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry tried the case and presented the State’s evidence against Michelle Hall.

“After Hall was convicted and sentenced, she appealed her conviction to the Georgia Supreme Court. McMurry then argued before the Georgia Supreme Court on behalf of the State. The Georgia Supreme Court then issued a unanimous decision affirming Hall’s conviction.

“Subsequently, Hall filed a habeas corpus petition in Habersham County Superior Court. A petition for habeas corpus asks the trial court of the location where the prisoner is being incarcerated, here Habersham County, Georgia, to find that the prisoner is being wrongfully held because during the prisoner’s trial there was some violation of the prisoner’s Constitutional rights.

“In Hall’s habeas petition, she alleged that her trial attorney, Michael Kam, was ineffective and fell below the minimum guarantee of representation under the Constitution. The Georgia Attorney General’s office represented the State at the habeas hearing. At the habeas hearing, Michelle Hall and her trial attorney Mike Kam testified.

“On March 19, 2012, Senior Judge Robert Struble of Habersham County issued an order granting Michelle Hall’s habeas corpus petition. The habeas court found Kam to have rendered ineffective assistance of counsel to Hall at trial. Thus, the habeas court concluded that there was a violation of Hall’s constitutional rights.

“The Attorney General’s office has announced that it will appeal the habeas court’s ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.

“Should the Georgia Supreme Court agree with the habeas court’s ruling, then Michelle Hall will be granted a new trial. However, the Attorney General is arguing that the habeas court applied the wrong legal standard and that Michael Kam was not legally ineffective. Should the Georgia Supreme Court agree with the State, the habeas court’s ruling could be reversed and Hall’s conviction will stand.”

Skandalakis expressed that “we respectfully disagree with the habeas court’s ruling and believe the court erroneously applied the wrong standard under the law. The victim’s family has to continue to relive the trauma of their loss with this second appeal. We are optimistic that the Georgia Supreme Court will conclude that Hall was provided a legally sufficient defense by Michael Kam in this case.”

“The District Attorney’s office has notified the victim’s family and continues to inform them of developments in the case,” Skandalakis said.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Hall and her husband “got into an argument the evening of July 30, 2008. Hall’s eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage testified that when she heard a vacuum cleaner slam to the ground, she ran upstairs to her bedroom. From there, she heard her stepfather say “put the gun down” and “Michelle, don’t do this.”

The child testified she then heard about six gunshots. The first officer on the scene testified that Michelle initially told him her husband had shot himself. She later told another investigator she had shot Britt but “didn’t mean to do it.”

The case was featured on an episode of “Snapped,” a weekly TV program airing on the Oxygen Network.


Wife's murder conviction upheld

By Alex McRae - The Newnan Times-Herald

September 22, 2010

The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the conviction of Michelle Garner Hall, who was found guilty by a Coweta County Superior Court jury on Sept. 25, 2009, of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of her husband, Britt Hall.

The state Supreme Court ruling was made Monday, according to Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis.

Coweta Superior Court Judge Jack Kirby sentenced Hall to life in prison for the murder convictions and 20 years for aggravated assault. The case was prosecuted by Coweta Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry.

"I am thankful that we are able to bring some closure to the victim's family," said Skandalakis. "Our office thanks the jury who found Michelle Hall guilty on these charges. We also thank the Coweta County Sheriff's Office for their investigation of these crimes."

In its written opinion, the Supreme Court stated, "Michelle Garner Hall was convicted of malice murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of her husband, Britt Hall. She appeals for the denial of her motion of a new trial, contending the trial court erred by admitting similar transaction evidence and prior consistent statements and by failing to charge on involuntary manslaughter. Finding no error, we affirm."

Shortly after the September 2009 conviction, Hall's attorneys filed a motion for a new trial. When that motion was denied by Kirby, Hall's attorneys announced they would appeal Hall's conviction before the Supreme Court of Georgia.

After arguments were heard last spring, a summary released by the Supreme Court said that, according to the evidence at trial, Hall and her husband "got into an argument the evening of July 30, 2008. Michelle's 8-year-old daughter from a previous marriage testified that when she heard a vacuum cleaner slam to the ground, she ran upstairs to her bedroom. From there, she heard her stepfather say "put the gun down" and "Michelle, don't do this."

The child testified she then heard about six gunshots. The first officer on the scene testified that Michelle initially told him her husband had shot himself. She later told another investigator she had shot Britt but "didn't mean to do it."

The case was recently featured on an episode of "Snapped," a weekly TV program airing on the Oxygen Network.


Michelle Garner Hall found guilty

By Sarah Fay Campbell - The Newnan Times-Herald

September 26, 2009

A Coweta County Superior Court jury took less than three hours Friday to find Michelle Garner Hall guilty on all counts in the death of her husband.

Hall was convicted of malice murder in the July 30, 2008, shooting death of her husband, John “Britt” Hall. Hall was also convicted of felony murder and aggravated assault.

She was sentenced to life for the murder charges and 20 years for aggravated assault. The two murder charges were merged, said Coweta Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry, who prosecuted the case.

Hall will become eligible for parole after 30 years.

McMurry and defense attorney Michael Kam finished closing arguments Friday morning. The jury began deliberations around 11:30.

“It was a tough case. We thank the jury for their service,” said McMurry after sentencing.

“I’m pleased with the verdict. I think it is a verdict that reflects what actually happened that night, and it has affected a lot of people’s lives,” McMurry said.

“My heart goes out to all the kids and family members who will be affected. From my perspective, it is the right result, but it is going to be difficult for a lot of people.”

Kam did not respond to requests for comment.

In closing arguments, McMurry focused on inconsistencies in Hall’s story, and the improbability that things happened as she said they did.

Kam focused on the fallibility of memory, and how confusing things can get in a stressful situation.

“She can’t keep her story straight. It doesn’t make any sense,” McMurry told the jury.

McMurry particularly focused on Britt Hall’s third wound. That shot shattered the bones in his elbow. The prosecution believes that Britt Hall, wounded in both the leg and the chest, crawled toward a nearby bathroom — a place he knew had a lock on the door.

The prosecution stated that Hall shot her husband the third time in the bathroom. “She never even explained the third shot,” McMurry said.

McMurry said Kam had worked “to get that shot out of the bathroom — because he knows that shows the malice of that woman.”

The trial was Michelle Hall’s time in court, but “this is Britt’s day in court as well,” McMurry said Friday. “Britt doesn’t get to come in here and speak to you. Britt doesn’t get to hold his children.”

“This case is all about the brain,” said Kam during closing arguments. “It is about memory, our reactions … about how we perceive things,” Kam said. “This is about Michelle and Britt Hall; it’s also about the rest of us. I want you to be cognizant of some of the things that happened in this courtroom and why they happened.”

“From the moment the investigators arrived on the scene, they decided this was murder,” Kam said, “based on nothing other than the fact he was found in the bathroom. From that moment on, they decided that Michelle Hall was lying and everything she said was a lie.”

Kam offered an example of how stories can change, not because anyone is lying, but because of stress and the situation.

“Let’s say you have a 2-year-old,” Kam said. “They are rambunctious. They are hard to keep up with, and for some reason, when you run after them they think it is a game and they run.”

Say you go to a store in Atlanta with the child, he said. The child acts up and gets spanked. Then you take the child outside. You briefly look in a store window, turn around, and the child is running toward the road. You run after him; he keeps running, into the road, and is struck by a car.

You make a 911 call. The operator asks what happened, “and you’re saying, I was just standing here, I didn’t let him out of my sight for a minute.”

Then when the investigator questions you and you give more details “the investigator says she changed the story,” Kam said. Then the police ask for more information, and you tell them you had been in the store earlier and the child was acting up.

“Wait a minute. You didn’t tell us before you were in the store, you didn’t tell us before that the child had been acting up,” Kam said. “Your story doesn’t add up. You are lying!”

“Memory is fallible,” Kam concluded.

Even though many of the jurors are taking notes, when they go to deliberate, “somebody is going to say, ‘No, that’s not what happened. I’ve got it in my notes,’” Kam said.

“If you go back to that jury room and try to remember what witness testified in what order or on a particular day, you’re not going to be able to do that,” Kam said.

“Yet they are saying that Michelle Hall, in the throes of this life-and-death situation, was supposed to remember everything in its order, the way it occurred,” Kam said.

“And they keep telling her she’s a liar because she didn’t say everything at one time,” but as she remembered it.


Surprise testimony in murder trial

By Elizabeth Melville - The Newnan Times-Herald

September 25, 2009

Closing arguments will begin today at 8:30 a.m. at the Coweta County Justice Center in the murder trial of Michelle Garner Hall.

Both the prosecution and defense rested late Thursday after presenting their evidence. Hall -- who is accused of killing her husband, 37-year-old John Britt Hall, on July 30, 2008 -- opted not to testify in her own defense.

Perhaps the most surprising testimony for the prosecution came from a witness originally called to testify for the defense.

Sue Mathis was a close friend of Michelle and Britt Hall in late 2004. Mathis told Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry that, after Hall was released from jail on bond, she went to Hall's Sharpsburg home -- 143 Joe Cox Road -- because she was "anxious to see her after she'd gotten out of jail."

Mathis told the court that Hall proceeded to walk her through what happened at the home the night of Britt Hall's shooting death.

Hall's attorney, Mike Kam, objected to Mathis' testimony because he had no prior knowledge of what she was going to say. McMurry argued successfully that it be admitted as evidence since she was supposed to be a defense witness.

Mathis told the jury that her friend described in detail how she and her husband struggled for the gun that night. Hall reportedly told Mathis that once she got the gun, he forced it under her chin, at which time she kneed him in the groin to get away. At that time, the gun allegedly fired, shooting the victim through the leg and into the floor.

When Hall returned from outside, her husband was reportedly sitting against a wall. Mathis testified that Britt Hall said, "Michelle, you shot me" and she replied, "I know." Hall allegedly told Mathis that her husband asked her to take his life and then her own. As he pulled her near, the gun reportedly fired into his chest, according to Mathis' testimony.

Mathis also testified that Hall told her that she didn't know how her husband got the third gunshot to the arm.

Mathis told the court that throughout the conversation, Michelle Hall was "very removed" and "not emotional." When Mathis told her that she "hoped it happened quickly" -- referring to Britt's death -- Michelle allegedly responded, "That's not how it happened."

After the first time Michelle Hall visited her husband's grave, she reportedly told Mathis that she'd become "very angry" and "dug her heels" into the dirt because she was "very, very mad at him for leaving her here to deal with everything."

Both of Michelle Hall's ex-husbands -- Steve Davis and Rusty Hart -- testified about instances of physical violence at the hands of the defendant.

Davis described an instance in February 2001 in which Michelle physically attacked him for forgetting to bring home ice for his daughter's first birthday party. He described a similar incident in spring 2001. That attack was corroborated by another witness, Andy Binion.

Hart testified that Michelle found out he was acting romantic toward another woman -- Britt's first wife -- and she punched him in the nose. After their divorce, according to Hart, Michelle hit him in the back of his head with a cordless phone while he was at their home retrieving his belongings.

Thursday began with testimony from Lt. John Lewis of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office. He testified that the night of the shooting, Michelle Hall told him that her husband shot at her and then killed himself. Lewis examined the victim's body and concluded that the gunshot to his chest was "inconsistent with a suicide wound." In fact, he later concluded from the soot ring on the victim's shirt that it was a close contact gunshot, probably fired from 18-24 inches away.

Lewis theorized that the victim was shot in the arm either "crawling away while Michelle Hall was shooting at him," or in the bathroom while his arm was in a defensive position.

During cross-examination, Kam presented pharmaceutical records from Target indicating that Britt Hall was taking at least four different prescription medications, and that he never filled another prescription after June 15, 2008.

A scientist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified that microscopic particles of gunshot primer residue were found on Britt Hall's hand in testing, and that it could have gotten there from firing or handling a gun, or being in close proximity when it discharged. Tests on Michelle's hand and under her chin turned up nothing and the expert said it could have been because the evidence was not packaged correctly and may have been compromised.

A GBI firearms analyst told the court that it takes 6.5 pounds of pressure to fire the Halls' pistol in a single-action shot and 14 pounds of pressure to shoot in double action.

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on July 31, 2008, told the jury that Hall's fatal wound to the chest perforated his heart and lung and was ultimately recovered in his back. She demonstrated the trajectory of the bullet based on the path it took through the victim's body. The gunshot to Britt Hall's right thigh entered and exited his leg. The gunshot that entered the victim's left elbow "shattered" a bone in his arm and continued to the area of his left collarbone, where the medical examiner was able to recover the bullet.

In a supplemental report, the medical examiner concluded that the gunshot to his chest was "close range" fire, but not a press-contact wound. She said the fatal wound would have "immediately incapacitated" him, but not immediately fatal necessarily.

In cross-examination, the medical examiner admitted to at least two typos in her autopsy report. She also testified that if Britt Hall had indeed discontinued his medications, he might have experienced altered moods.

The only witness for the defense was a former firearms supervisor with the GBI. The expert concluded that the victim's chest shot probably came from 6-8 inches away. He also didn't believe the chest wound could have produced the 90 degree blood spatters.

When speaking of the gunshot to the victim's arm, he testified that the muzzle of the gun would have needed to line up with the trajectory of the bullet. Kam implied that, if the victim had been in a defensive pose with his arm in the bathroom floor, the trajectory would indicate that the shooter was standing in the wall.

Kam played a computer-generated animation of the defense's theory about how the victim was shot in the chest and arm. The animation depicted the defendant accidentally shooting the victim in the chest from a kneeling position before stumbling back and accidentally shooting again, this time striking her husband's arm.

The former GBI expert testified that it was possible for the events to have unfolded the way the defense presented, based on the trajectories.

During cross-examination, the expert admitted to McMurry that if all the bullets found at the scene had indeed been fired that evening, the gun would have had to be reloaded at some point. He also testified that the pistol had a "tough trigger pull," and that barely touching the weapon would not have made it discharge.


Daughter testifies in mother's murder trial

By Elizabeth Melville - The Newnan Times-Herald

September 23, 2009

Jurors listened to two key testimonies for the prosecution Tuesday in the Michelle Garner Hall murder trial.

Hall is charged with malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the July 30, 2008, shooting death of her husband, 37-year-old John Brittson "Britt" Hall.

Michelle Hall's 9-year-old daughter, Alyssa, testified for the court through closed circuit television about the night of her stepfather's death. She said that as her mother and step-father began arguing, she ran upstairs to her room and closed the door.

At some point, Alyssa was instructed by her mother to stay in her room. She testified that she heard around six "gun sounds." She also heard her stepfather say, "Michelle, don't do this." She said that he kept repeating, "Put the gun down."

The gunshots were interrupted by their home's door chime, which alerts occupants that someone is either coming or going. She said after hearing that, the gunshots resumed.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Mike Kam, Alyssa talked about hearing her mother breathing hard before the shots began, "like when people wrestle." She was more detailed with her explanation in an audio-recorded interview conducted with Coweta Sheriff's Office Investigator Elaine Jordan the night of the killing. During that interview she stated that she heard her mother say, "I can't breathe."

Kam alluded to a conversation Alyssa had had with a teacher in which she reportedly said her mother and stepfather were "punching each other." Upon redirect examination with Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry, Alyssa testified that she never saw them hit each other on July 30, 2008.

Alyssa testified that she remembers her mother having a broken arm and black eye on two separate occasions and didn't know the origin of those injuries. She also told Kam that she remembers seeing Britt Hall looking sad at times prior to his death.

Capt. Tony Grant of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office took the stand late Tuesday to testify about his role in the investigation.

Grant stated that he arrived on the scene -- 143 Joe Cox Road in Sharpsburg -- expecting to investigate a suicide. He said he spoke with the defendant and she explained that her husband had shot himself by putting the barrel of the gun -- a .38 caliber special revolver -- to his chest. Grant said that she demonstrated what he calls a "press-contact wound." He also noted in his report that she had redness under her chin and what appeared to be gunshot residue on her hand.

Grant said he then went downstairs to examine the body. He observed no "burning or charring" around the gunshot wound to Britt Hall's chest, which would have been consistent with a self-inflicted press-contact wound.

"It raised a red flag," said Grant. "I thought to myself, this story's not adding up."

Grant testified that he's investigated more than 100 suicides during his career in law enforcement, and an estimated 98 percent involve press-contact wounds. He conferred with sheriff's office Lt. John Lewis and the two decided to begin investigating the scene as a possible homicide and obtain a search warrant.

He conducted a blood pattern analysis on a trail of blood that led from the foyer of the Hall home to the bathroom where the victim was found. Grant explained to the jury that the blood spatters were nearly 90 degrees, which would indicate that Hall crawled into the bathroom. The captain also noticed an extensive arm wound on the victim that Grant says must have been inflicted in the bathroom if he were to have crawled there.

Earlier in the day, sheriff's Sgt. Freddy Cox testified that he was one of the first on the scene following Michelle Hall's call to 911 because he lived nearby. Cox sat with the defendant and her daughter upstairs while emergency crews worked downstairs. He testified that she spoke "in bits and pieces" saying things like, "He just got so mad."

Cox said she stated that her husband had shot himself. At some point she said that they fought over the gun and it went off and that she fired the remainder of the bullets into the baseboard to empty the gun. She said that he'd put the gun under her chin and told her to leave, and that he threw bullets at her from the carport door.

Cox noted physical injuries on Michelle Hall that evening. He described her as "upset and unkempt" with bruises on her neck and forehead, blood on her hands and a knot on her elbow.

Cox told Kam that her appearance was "consistent with someone who'd been in a physical altercation."

The prosecution played a portion of the interview Inv. Jordan conducted with the defendant the night of her husband's death. The remainder of the video, with an accompanying transcript, will be played today in court because jurors were having difficulty understanding Hall's statements.

In the portion of the video that was played, Hall said her husband was on three medications for depression and that he'd had anger management issues, as well as a drinking problem. She said the two argued regularly, and that he hit her for the first time on Thanksgiving 2006.

Hall's eldest daughter, Ansley-Rae, testified Tuesday morning that her mother and step-father argued regularly over a variety of things, including financial stress, custody battles with ex-spouses and the ex-spouses themselves. She testified that she had seen both her mother and step-father hit each other. On Thanksgiving 2006, she said she overheard an altercation between them and found her mother unconscious on the floor.

On July 30, 2008, she said their argument began over hot dogs, and that she left a short time later to go to an Atlanta Braves game.


Details emerge in fatal shooting

By Elizabeth Melville - The Newnan Times-Herald

August 8, 2008

Judge James Stripling ruled in Coweta Magistrate Court Thursday afternoon that there was adequate probable cause to charge Michelle Garner Hall, 38, of Sharpsburg with one count of malice murder and one count of aggravated assault in the July 30 shooting death of her husband, 37-year-old John Brittson "Britt" Hall.

Hall's case was bound over to Coweta Superior Court, where it could be placed on the indictment calendar as early as September.

Immediately following the probable cause hearing, Hall had a bond hearing with Judge William F. Lee in Superior Court. Lee granted her a $100,000 bond with the provision that she have no contact with her stepchildren, according to Senior Assistant District Attorney Ray Mayer.

At the probable cause hearing on Thursday, Capt. Tony Grant of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office testified to the court about the evidence collected during the investigation.

According to Grant's testimony, the fatal shooting took place at the Halls' Sharpsburg home at 143 Joe Cox Road. Coweta County emergency dispatchers received a 911 call from Michelle Hall on July 30 at 8:02 p.m. She reportedly told dispatchers that her husband had shot himself.

Deputies arrived on the scene to find John Hall already deceased inside the residence. They began processing the scene as a possible suicide, according to Grant. However, they quickly discovered that evidence at the scene was "not consistent" with Michelle Hall's statements.

First, her story changed several times during the course of the investigation.

Investigators believe that, based on the evidence at the scene, Hall was actually shot first in the upper thigh. Once he was on the floor, he was shot a second time in the left side of his chest. Investigators believe Hall then crawled into a small half-bath on the first floor before collapsing. It was there Grant believes Hall was shot a third time, through his left elbow. That bullet reportedly traveled the length of his arm and into his shoulder.

Investigators recovered eight spent cartridge rounds at the residence, according to Grant's testimony. Six of the spent cartridges were found in the gun when police arrived, and two were found next to the body in the bathroom. As for the bullets, investigators have only accounted for five -- two recovered from the victim, three located in the house -- and they don't know when the other three were fired.

Hall's 8-year-old daughter, who was at the residence when the fatal shooting occurred, was interviewed by the sheriff's office. According to Grant's testimony, the girl told Investigator Elaine Jordan that her mother had instructed her to go to her room with the dog and stay there. The child told investigators that a short while later she heard what she describes as approximately six "army gun pops," according to Grant. Between each shot she heard John Hall repeating, "Put the gun down."

As for the inconsistencies in Michelle Hall's statements to police, she originally stated that John Hall had put the gun to his chest and fired it. According to Grant, evidence suggested that the gunshot was "not a press-contact wound." In fact, preliminary findings by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suggest the gun may have been fired anywhere from between 18 and 24 inches away.

After Michelle Hall was transported to the sheriff's office for questioning, she told a different story to Inv. Jordan. According to Grant, Hall told Jordan that she and her husband had been fighting and she thought he was going for their gun. She got there first and the two "kicked it around" until she managed to grab it, causing it to accidentally discharge and shoot him in the leg, according to Grant's testimony.

Hall reportedly told Jordan that she fired additional shots in the residence attempting to "unload the weapon." She stated she went outside to finish unloading the weapon when her husband called her back in.

She allegedly re-entered the home to find him sitting in the foyer by the bathroom. She claims he attempted to grab her to pin her down -- though in another statement she said her husband was trying to hug her -- at which time the weapon accidentally fired a second time, striking him in the chest.

When asked about his gunshot wound to the arm, Hall had no explanation for investigators, according to Grant's testimony.

Defense Attorney Brian D. Lewis -- who was filling in Thursday for Attorney Mike Kam -- argued to Judge Stripling that the prosecution had only presented evidence that Hall may have committed voluntary manslaughter in the passion of a domestic disturbance -- and not malice murder.

Lewis offered as evidence the fact that Hall inquired about her husband's well-being to officers following the shooting and that she may have attempted to perform CPR on him after calling 911.

Mayer argued to Stripling that Hall's stories to investigators were not consistent with evidence at the scene and suggest that what unfolded between her and her husband was "not an accident and certainly not suicide."


Sharpsburg woman charged in husband's shooting death

By Elizabeth Melville - The Newnan Times-Herald

July 31, 2008

A Sharpsburg woman remains in the Coweta County Jail today charged in Wednesday’s shooting death of her husband — 37-year-old John Britt Hall.

Michelle Garner Hall, 38, is charged with malice murder and aggravated assault, according to Capt. Tony Grant of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office. She was denied bond Thursday afternoon at her first appearance hearing at the jail, and her case was bound over to Superior Court, according to Capt. Lenn Wood. Her next bond/probable cause hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.

The fatal shooting took place at the Halls’ Sharpsburg home, at 143 Joe Cox Road off Highway 16 East outside Raymond. Coweta County emergency dispatchers received a 911 call Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. and informed responding deputies that a male subject was allegedly shooting at a female and was possibly turning the gun on himself, according to Grant.

Deputies arrived on the scene to find John Hall already deceased inside the residence. He had been shot once in the chest and possibly up to two other times — once in the arm and once in the leg, according to the captain.

Michelle Hall’s initial account to investigators of what had happened was that her husband shot himself. However, evidence found at the scene during the investigation contradicted her statements and led Grant to believe her rendition was “obviously untrue.”

During her interview with investigators at the sheriff’s office, Michelle Hall changed her story to say that she was holding the .38 caliber revolver in her hand when it accidentally discharged, according to Grant.

John Hall’s body has been transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab in Atlanta for autopsy. The gun is also in Atlanta for ballistics testing. Grant suspects that enough rounds were fired during the altercation that the gun may have been reloaded at some point.

If the gun was indeed reloaded and John Hall was shot a total of three times, Grant said he’d be hard-pressed to believe Michelle Hall’s explanation that her husband’s death resulted from an accident.

According to Michelle Hall’s statements to law enforcement, domestic altercations had become typical recently — beginning around the time her husband was laid off by Delta Airlines as the company was down-sizing, according to Grant. Hall told police that she and her husband had been arguing all afternoon Wednesday leading up to the shooting.

According to Grant, there have been no police calls relating to domestic disputes between the couple in the past.

There was an 8-year-old child at home upstairs when the fatal exchange took place downstairs in the residence.

This incident marks the fourth suspected homicide that has happened in Coweta in the last two months.

Sheriff Mike Yeager believes the increase in violent crimes may be due in part to the struggling economy and the overall increase in stress put on people in the community.

“Across the state, the economy has really got law enforcement working right now,” said Yeager Thursday afternoon. Just last week, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice reported an increase in violent crimes among juveniles in the state, but a surprising decrease in crime overall.

“We’ve seen an increase in violent crime — especially the homicides we’ve experienced,” Yeager continued. “The same seems to be holding true for juveniles and adults.

“This is just another tragic story, and unfortunately we can’t predict human behavior.”

The investigation is ongoing. If anyone has information, they are urged to call the sheriff’s office at 770-253-1502.


Supreme Court of Georgia

HALL v. The STATE.

No. S10A0692.

September 20, 2010

Michelle Garner Hall was convicted of malice murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of her husband, Britt Hall. She appeals from the denial of her motion for new trial,1 contending that the trial court erred by admitting similar transaction evidence and prior consistent statements and by failing to charge on involuntary manslaughter. Finding no error, we affirm.

1. The evidence adduced at trial authorized the jury to find that appellant was married to the victim and that the couple was experiencing stress as a result of serious financial difficulties. On July 30, 2008, appellant called 911 and stated that the victim had shot at her and then shot himself. There was medical testimony that the victim was shot in the chest from a distance between six and eight inches and died from this injury. The victim also sustained pre-mortem gunshot wounds to his thigh and the back of his left arm and had a bruise behind his right ear. The jury heard the audio recording of appellant's 911 call and the video recorded statements she made to police officers, in which she initially reiterated her suicide statement but later claimed that, after a struggle in which the victim was accidentally shot in the leg, she got the weapon, left the house, tried to unload it, then returned inside where, during a final struggle in which the victim wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down, the gun discharged inflicting the chest wound.2 The only other person in the home at the time of these events was appellant's eight-year-old daughter, Alyssa Davis, who testified that, from her bedroom directly over the struggling couple, she heard the victim repeatedly tell appellant to “put the gun down.”

Appellant, through her statements to police officers and ballistics testimony presented at trial, raised the defenses of justification and accident by claiming the victim was fatally shot during her struggle with him to prevent him from killing her and then committing suicide. However, witness credibility as well as the question of justification are matters for the jury, which was free to reject the version of the events favorable to appellant. See Roper v. State, 281 Ga. 878, 880(1) (644 S.E.2d 120) (2007). On appeal this Court does not resolve conflicts in trial testimony or reweigh the evidence. Dockery v. State, 287 Ga. 275(1) (--- S.E.2d ----) (2010). The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charged crimes. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 SC 2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979).

2. Appellant contends the trial court erred by admitting as similar transaction evidence the testimony of her former husbands, Davis and Hart, regarding acts of violence she perpetrated against them. These acts consisted of incidents in which appellant during times of stress struck or kicked her then-spouse. Appellant urges that these prior batteries were inadmissible because they were not sufficiently similar so that proof of these independent crimes tended to establish the crimes charged. See Lumpkin v. State, 205 Ga.App. 68, 69(2) (421 S.E.2d 100) (1992), cited by appellant.

When considering the admissibility of similar transaction evidence, the proper focus is on the similarities, not the differences, between the separate crimes and the crimes in question. Phillips v. State, Ga. (Case No. S10A0948, decided July 12, 2010). As in this case, the victims in the similar transactions were current or former spouses of appellant; the crimes all occurred when appellant was under stress3 ; and they involved acts of violence that were either entirely unprovoked or disproportionate to any provocation. Moreover,

“[i]n cases of domestic violence, prior incidents of abuse against family members or sexual partners are more generally permitted because there is a logical connection between violent acts against two different persons with whom the accused had a similar emotional or intimate attachment.”

(Footnote omitted.) Thomas v. State, 246 Ga.App. 448, 449(1) (540 S.E.2d 662) (2000).

Contrary to appellant's further assertion, the 15 and 13 year lapses of time between the prior incidents and the crimes at issue here do not require exclusion of the evidence. See Pareja v. State, 286 Ga. 117, 119-121 (686 S.E.2d 232) (2009). Compare Slakman v. State, 272 Ga. 662(4) (533 S.E.2d 383) (2000) (event more than 30 years old may be too remote to be admitted as evidence of a similar transaction). Given that the similar transaction evidence reflects appellant's behavior towards prior spouses, we conclude that any prejudice from the age of these prior incidents was outweighed by the probative value of the evidence under the particular facts of this case and the purpose for which the similar transactions were offered. See Pareja v. State, supra at 119-120.

In reviewing the trial court's decision to admit similar transaction evidence, “we must be mindful that this decision should be upheld unless it is an abuse of discretion. [Cit.]” Pareja v. State, supra, 286 Ga. at 121. Because the evidence was sufficient to establish the required similarity between the charged crimes and the batteries appellant inflicted on her former husbands, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting this evidence.

3. Appellant contends the trial court erred by admitting the prior consistent statement by appellant's daughter, Alyssa Davis. The transcript reveals that, during defense counsel's cross-examination of the child, counsel elicited confirmation from Alyssa about certain information she had previously told her third-grade teacher and written in a journal the teacher had given her. The information included matters, e.g., that Alyssa had observed the victim punch appellant, that conflicted with Alyssa's testimony at trial. Over objection, the State was allowed to play for the jury the audio recorded statement Alyssa gave to a police officer within hours after the victim's death; this statement was consistent with Alyssa's trial testimony.

A witness's prior consistent statement is admissible only where: (1) the veracity of a witness's trial testimony has been placed in issue at trial; (2) the witness is present at trial; and (3) the witness is available for cross-examination. A witness's veracity is placed in issue so as to permit the introduction of a prior consistent statement if affirmative charges of recent fabrication, improper influence, or improper motive are raised during cross-examination.

(Punctuation and footnotes omitted.) Duggan v. State, 285 Ga. 363, 366(2) (677 S.E.2d 92) (2009). The transcript reveals that, although appellant carefully did not accuse her nine-year-old daughter directly of lying, the child's veracity was affirmatively attacked by questions eliciting the inconsistencies between the child's testimony on direct examination and the statements she previously had made in her journal and to her teacher, thereby raising issues of recent fabrication, improper influence or improper motive. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to introduce Alyssa's prior consistent statement. See Tuff v. State, 278 Ga. 91(4) (597 S.E.2d 328) (2004).

4. In her final enumeration, appellant contends the trial court erred by refusing to give the jury her requested instruction on involuntary manslaughter, see OCGA § 16-5-3(a), which she asserts was supported by her statements to police officers reflecting that she had engaged in reckless conduct, e.g., by mishandling the revolver in that she failed to properly unload it and by mistakenly ignoring the risk of bringing the revolver back inside the home in proximity of the victim while knowing him to be suicidal, homicidal or both. The offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act “requires evidence of an unintentional killing ‘by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony.’ ․ [Cit.]” (Emphasis deleted.) Finley v. State, 286 Ga. 47, 49(4)(b) (685 S.E.2d 258) (2009). The uncontroverted forensic evidence established that the victim was shot three times, in the chest, thigh and the back of his left arm; as to the arm wound, physical evidence indicated it was sustained while the victim was either lying prone on the floor or crawling on hands and knees. These injuries were inconsistent with the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony, and certainly not consistent with appellant's cited misdemeanor of reckless conduct, even assuming, arguendo, that reckless conduct could be demonstrated by the matters set forth by appellant. A charge of involuntary manslaughter is not warranted if no evidence supports the charge. Folson v. State, 278 Ga. 690(4) (606 S.E.2d 262) (2004). The trial court did not err by failing to give appellant's requested charge.

Judgment affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  The crimes occurred on July 30, 2008. Hall was indicted January 5, 2009 in Coweta County on charges of malice murder, felony murder and family violence aggravated assault. She was found guilty of all charges on September 25, 2009 and was sentenced that day to life in prison for the malice murder conviction and a concurrent 20 year sentence for the family violence aggravated assault conviction. See OCGA § 16-5-21(j) (family connection as essential element State must prove for conviction); see generally Eidson v. State, 262 Ga.App. 664(1) (586 S.E.2d 362) (2003). See also Drinkard v. Walker, 281 Ga. 211 (636 S.E.2d 530) (2006) (where single act by defendant is element in two offenses, offenses do not merge where each offense requires proof of an additional fact). Her motion for new trial, filed October 9, 2009 and amended November 18, 2009, was denied December 4, 2009. A notice of appeal was filed December 17, 2009. The appeal was docketed for the April term in this Court and orally argued April 5, 2010.

2.  In her statements appellant did not expressly address the manner in which the arm wound to the victim was inflicted.

3.  The transcript reflects that the four similar transaction instances involved appellant's stress over an impending party that she was hosting; stress as a spouse was preparing to depart alone on a trip when appellant had also wanted to go; stress after learning that her spouse told another woman he no longer loved appellant; and stress when a divorced spouse returned for belongings from the marital home.

HUNSTEIN, Chief Justice.

All the Justices concur.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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