Supreme Court denies appeal
in 1995 murder
September 27, 2007
The Georgia Supreme Court recently affirmed the
malice murder conviction of Melissa Nicole Norris, who was found
guilty in McDuffie County of shooting and killing her father when
she was 15 years old and in the ninth grade, according to a court
Ms. Norris was convicted of killing her father,
39-year-old Charles Barry Norris, whose body was found Dec. 20,
1995, slumped on the living room couch with a single gunshot to
his head, according to reports from The Augusta Chronicle. The
family lived on Johns Road in Thomson. She was sentenced to life
in prison plus five years.
According to the press release, at issue was
whether, given her age, Ms. Norris understood what she was doing
in waiving her constitutional rights prior to giving a statement
to police. She confessed to her brother and police that following
an argument with her father, she got a pistol and shot him at
close range in the back of the head. Her mother, who was with her
at all times she was being interviewed, encouraged police to
continue with the questioning.
In writing the unanimous decision, Justice
George Carley wrote, "Considering the totality of the
circumstances, we conclude that the trial court did not err in
finding that (Ms. Norris) knowingly and voluntarily waived her
Norris found guilty of
By Columbia County Bureau
August 8, 1997
THOMSON - It took a jury just over 30 minutes
Thursday to return a guilty verdict against Thomson teen-ager
Melissa Nicole Norris, leaving her with the grim prospect of a
life behind bars.
Ms. Norris sank into her seat sobbing silently
following the jury's verdict, while faces in the courtroom - many
of them her family and friends - reacted with a mixture of shock
Jurors apparently gave no credence to Ms.
Norris' story that it was her brother Clifton who really pulled
the trigger, inflicting a fatal gunshot to the back of the head of
their father, Charles Barry Norris, 39, as he sat watching
television at home on Dec. 20, 1995.
After dismissing the jury, Superior Court Judge
Purnell Davis II sentenced Ms. Norris to life plus five years in
prison for her convictions of murder, aggravated assault and
possession of a weapon while in the commission of a felony.
Ms. Norris may be eligible for parole in 2010,
District Attorney Dennis Sanders said.
Ms. Norris confessed to the crime in the early
morning hours of Dec. 21, 1995, not long after her brother told
police she did it.
In closing arguments, defense lawyer Michael
Garrett told jurors Clifton Norris had used his influence over his
15-year-old sister to persuade her to take the rap.
"Clifton had cleverly put his sister between
himself and harm's way - between him and the law," Mr. Garrett
Mr. Norris was the more likely killer, said Mr.
Garrett, because he had the motive and the means - alluding to the
stormy relationship between the younger Mr. Norris and his father.
During questioning the evening after the
murder, Mr. Norris told police where to find the murder weapon -
his own .38-caliber revolver - disposed of in a trash bin behind a
Thomson Pizza Hut.
"His story just doesn't add up. Are you really
going to base a murder conviction on this young man's statements?"
Mr. Garrett asked jurors.
But Mr. Sanders dismissed Ms. Norris'
revelations about her brother as a cynical attempt to escape
"This is a secret ambush tactic," Mr. Sanders
said. "There's no reason for this concocted story."
Mr. Sanders accused Mr. Garrett of trying to
confuse the jury. "There's only one side of the truth. The other
side is a lie," Mr. Sanders said.
Ms. Norris' new story was phony, Mr. Sanders
said, and so were her tearful courtroom displays of emotion. "It
was an act," the prosecutor said.
"You have an absolute duty to find the truth in
this case," he told the jury. In the end, jurors believed the
Meanwhile, defense lawyers looked ahead to
possible appeal of the verdict.
"We have a number of issues we want to address
and appeal in this case," Mr. Garrett said.
Girl testifies her brother
By Columbia County Bureau
August 7, 1997
THOMSON - Melissa Norris took
the witness stand Wednesday, and recanted her signed confession
taken by police the day after her father, Charles Barry Norris was
found murdered in his Thomson home.
Ms. Norris claimed the statement - which she
and her mother Sharon Norris signed - was a fabrication resulting
from long hours of police questioning and a desire to protect her
older brother Clifton.
"I didn't know what Clifton told them, so I
told (police) I did it and it was an accident," she said, under
cross-examination by District Attorney Dennis Sanders.
Her version of events in court testimony
differed radically from the statement, which said she took a .38
caliber revolver from her brother's room and shot her father in
the back of the head while he sat on the living room couch,
watching television, just five days before Christmas 1995.
She tearfully told jurors she heard her father
and brother arguing from her bedroom the afternoon the murder
"I just turned my TV up like I always did, so I
wouldn't hear it," she said.
Minutes later, the next sound to rock the house
was the fatal gunshot, which she said brought her out of her room.
"I saw Clifton standing there with a gun and daddy was dead," she
Ms. Norris then said her brother persuaded her
to take the blame, to protect him from a life sentence - a
sentence she will face if found guilty as charged.
"Clifton told me that I wouldn't get in any
trouble and I would probably go to juvenile hall for a little
while and then come home and everything would be back to normal,"
said Ms. Norris, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder.
In an effort to establish a motive, defense
attorney Michael Garrett questioned Clifton Norris about his
troubled relationship with his father.
But before Mr. Norris took the stand, the
proceedings were put temporarily on hold until attorney Thomson
Jimmy Plunkett could consult with Judge Purnell Davis about any
Mr. Plunkett declined to comment when asked if
he represented Mr. Norris.
Mr. Garrett then questioned Mr. Norris about an
incident which ended in a violent confrontation with his father,
with the younger Mr. Norris making a threat. "I told him I was
going to shoot him," he said.
Mr. Norris stuck to the story he told police
the night of the murder, however, that incriminated his sister and
eventually led to her confession.
Mr. Norris said his sister told him what had
"Turn and look the jury in the eyes and tell
them," said Mr. Sanders, pressing Mr. Norris on the point of his
guilt or innocence.
"I didn't shoot my father," Mr. Norris said,
obliging the request.
Today, attorneys will give their final
arguments, and the case will be turned over to a jury of three men
and nine women to decide.
Defense says son, not
daughter, killed father as trial of teen begins
By Columbia County Bureau
August 6, 1997
THOMSON -- Melissa Norris' defense lawyer
opened her murder trial Tuesday by pointing the finger at her
20-year-old brother, Clifton.
"It was he who had the motive and he who had
the means," said defense attorney Michael Garrett in his opening
statement before a McDuffie County jury of three men and nine
Ms. Norris stands accused of killing her
father, 39-year-old Charles Barry Norris, whose body was found
Dec. 20, 1995, slumped on the living room couch with a single
gunshot to his head.
District Attorney Dennis Sanders told jurors it
was her father's dislike of his daughter's friends and the threat
of restriction that motivated Ms. Norris to commit murder. "He
didn't want her out running the streets," he said.
Mr. Garrett had a different story to tell.
"Every case is like a pancake - no matter how thin it is, there's
always two sides," he said.
Mr. Garrett told jurors to expect evidence
pointing to the son, not the daughter as the one responsible for
the fatal bullet.
"Evidence will show that Melissa Norris did not
pull the trigger," Mr. Garrett said.
The elder Mr. Norris had a rocky relationship
with his son, which included physical altercations and threats of
violence, Mr. Garrett said.
Mr. Garrett claimed Ms. Norris' brother had
possession of the gun before the killing and it was he who told
police where to find it afterward.
The reason he said the younger Mr. Norris laid
the blame on his sister - a sophomore at Thomson High School at
the time - was because he thought unlike himself, she would by
tried as a juvenile.
After questioning her brother and getting a
confession from Ms. Norris, however, prosecutors decided to charge
the 15-year-old girl as an adult.
Prior to the opening statements, Judge E.
Purnell Davis II, agreed to admit as evidence statements obtained
by police, in which Ms. Norris admitted shooting her father.
Taken in the early morning hours of Dec. 21,
Ms. Norris' statement relates her taking a .38-caliber revolver
from her brother's room, approaching her father from behind and
shooting him once at point-blank range in the back of the head.
"I didn't know the gun was loaded," said Ms.
Norris, according to the statement taken by Georgia Bureau of
Investigation Agent Tony Williamson.
Defense lawyer Kirk Gilliard argued the
statement should be excluded because it was taken despite requests
to speak with a lawyer by Ms. Norris' mother, Sharon Norris.
Testimony from Agent Williamson and McDuffie
County sheriff's investigator Jerry Stanphill - who interviewed
Ms. Norris that day - contradicted Mrs. Norris' claims. And as
evidence of that, Mr. Sanders presented a waiver of rights form
signed by Ms. Norris and her mother.
Supreme Court of Georgia
NORRIS v. The STATE.
September 24, 2007
Michael E. Garner, Columbus, GA, for
Appellant.Dennis C. Sanders, Dist. Atty., Durwood R. Davis, Asst.
Dist. Atty., Thomson, GA, Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Benjamin
Henry Pierman, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, GA, for Appellee.
After a jury trial, Appellant Melissa Nicole
Norris was found guilty of the malice murder of her father,
aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during commission
of a felony. Merging the aggravated assault into the murder
count, the trial court entered judgments of conviction for malice
murder and the weapons charge, and sentenced Appellant to life
imprisonment and to a consecutive five-year term. A motion for
new trial was denied. She appeals pursuant to the trial court's
grant of a motion for out-of-time appeal.*
1. Construed most strongly in support of the
verdict, the evidence shows that Barry Norris was found shot to
death in his home. Appellant, who was 15 years old, confessed to
her brother and to police that, after an argument with her father,
she took a pistol and shot him in the back of the head at close
range. Expert medical testimony showed that the victim died as
the result of a contact range gunshot to the back of his head.
The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to
have found Norris guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes
for which she was convicted. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307,
99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); Murray v. State, 276 Ga.
396, 397(1), 578 S.E.2d 853 (2003); James v. State, 275 Ga.
387(1), 565 S.E.2d 802 (2002).
2. Appellant contends that the trial court
erred in ruling that she made a knowing and intelligent waiver of
her federal and state constitutional rights prior to giving a
statement to police.
Even where, as here, a juvenile is involved,
the question of whether there was a knowing and intelligent waiver
of constitutional rights depends on the totality of the
circumstances surrounding a police interrogation. Fare v. Michael
C., 442 U.S. 707, 725(III), 99 S.Ct. 2560, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979);
Riley v. State, 237 Ga. 124, 128, 226 S.E.2d 922 (1976).
Among the factors to be considered are the
accused's age and education; his knowledge of the charge and his
constitutional rights; his ability to consult with family,
friends, or an attorney; the length, method, and time of the
interrogation; and whether he previously had refused to give a
statement or repudiated the statement later. [Cits.] On appeal,
we accept the trial court's findings on disputed facts and
credibility of witnesses unless clearly erroneous, but
independently apply the law to the facts. [Cits.]
State v. Rodriguez, 274 Ga. 728, 559 S.E.2d 435
At the time of the interrogation, Appellant was
in the ninth grade and could read and understand English. She
had not yet been charged, but her mother, Mrs. Sharon Norris, had
just been told that Appellant was a suspect. A juvenile
waiver-of-rights form was read in its entirety to, and signed by,
Appellant and Mrs. Norris. Appellant had the opportunity to
consult with her mother, who was present for the entire interview.
Hanifa v. State, 269 Ga. 797, 805(3), 505 S.E.2d 731 (1998). A
parent's presence, although not required, is a significant factor
in support of a finding of waiver. Sanford v. State, 331 Ark.
334, 962 S.W.2d 335, 342(II)(B) (1998).
When Mrs. Norris twice asked whether an
attorney was necessary, the detective who conducted the interview
specifically told her that the decision of whether to speak to an
attorney belonged to both her and Appellant, and, each time, Mrs.
Norris indicated that the interview could continue. Thus,
contrary to Appellant's argument, the trial court was not required
to find that the police incorrectly stated that her mother was the
only person who could exercise Appellant's constitutional rights.
Compare State v. Rodriguez, supra at 729, 559 S.E.2d 435.
Furthermore, Appellant did not give any indication of such a
misunderstanding. Compare State v. Rodriguez, supra. Nor did
either of them ever invoke Appellant's right to remain silent or
ask that the questioning cease. Mrs. Norris cooperated with the
police in their investigation of Appellant's involvement in the
crimes and wanted the interview to continue, but that does not
constitute a failure to act on behalf of her daughter or require a
finding that the statement was not voluntarily made. Chapman v.
State, 273 Ga. 865, 870(4)(a), 548 S.E.2d 278 (2001); Burnham v.
State, 265 Ga. 129, 133(4), 453 S.E.2d 449 (1995), disapproved on
other grounds, Stinski v. State, 281 Ga. 783, 785(2)(b), fn. 2,
642 S.E.2d 1 (2007).
Although the testimony of Appellant's mother
conflicted with that of the investigating officers, the trial
court recognized the existence of a contradiction in the testimony
and resolved it in favor of the admissibility of Appellant's
confession. “The trial court was entitled to determine the
credibility of the witnesses and to believe the officers, and its
findings were not clearly erroneous. [Cit.]” Murphy v. State, 267
Ga. 100, 102(7), 475 S.E.2d 590 (1996).
The interview was conducted at 3:30 a.m. and,
when Appellant was confronted with the accusations, she became
upset and began crying. However, there is not any evidence that
the interrogation was “abusive or overly long.” Chapman v. State,
supra. Appellant was not under the influence of drugs or
alcohol, she had access to food, drink, and a restroom, she did
not ever refuse to give a statement, and she did not recant her
confession until trial.
Considering the totality of the circumstances,
we conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that
Appellant knowingly and voluntarily waived her rights.
Therefore, there was no error in admitting her custodial statement
into evidence. Murray v. State, supra at 398(2), 578 S.E.2d 853;
Chapman v. State, supra; Hanifa v. State, supra.
FOOTNOTE. The crimes occurred on December 20, 1995, and the
grand jury returned an indictment on February 28, 1996. The jury
found Norris guilty on August 7, 1997 and, on the same day, the
trial court entered the judgments of conviction and sentences.
The motion for new trial was filed on August 13, 1997 and denied
on March 12, 2001. The motion for out-of-time appeal was filed
on March 1, 2006, amended on January 11, 2007, and granted on
January 30, 2007. Norris filed a notice of appeal on February
19, 2007. The case was docketed in this Court on March 20, 2007,
and submitted for decision on May 14, 2007.
All the Justices concur.
Melissa Nicole Norris
Melissa Nicole Norris
Melissa Nicole Norris
(Georgia Department of Corrections)