Georgia Supreme Court reinstates Hall murder
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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,
The state Supreme Court ruling was made Monday,
according to Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete
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
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
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
McMurry and defense attorney Michael Kam finished
closing arguments Friday morning. The jury began deliberations around
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Supreme Court of Georgia
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
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)
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
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
(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
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.
HUNSTEIN, Chief Justice.
All the Justices concur.