Number of victims: 2
Date of murders:
Date of arrest:
2 days after
Date of birth: 1952
Victims profile: His wife, Brenda Jenkins Palmer, and his
stepdaughter, Christine Jenkins
Method of murder:
Location: Burke County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 8, 1997
(271 Ga. 234)
(517 SE2d 502)
Murder. Burke Superior Court. Before Judge Fleming.
Willie Williams Palmer was found guilty of two
counts of malice murder and two counts of felony murder in the
shooting deaths of his wife, Brenda Jenkins Palmer, and his
stepdaughter, Christine Jenkins. He was also convicted of kidnapping,
burglary, cruelty to children, possession of a firearm by a
convicted felon, and possession of a firearm during the commission
of a crime. The jury recommended a death sentence for each malice
murder conviction after finding three statutory aggravating
circumstances: the murder of Brenda Palmer was committed while the
defendant was engaged in the commission of a burglary; the murder of
Christine Jenkins was committed while the defendant was engaged in
the commission of a burglary; and the murder of Brenda Palmer was
committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of the
murder of Christine Jenkins. OCGA 17-10-30
(b) (2). The trial court sentenced Palmer to death. He appeals and
The evidence adduced at trial shows that Palmer
and Brenda Palmer married in 1993. They had a baby, Willshala
Palmer, in 1994.
Several witnesses testified that Palmer
physically abused Brenda and he often threatened to kill her. Brenda
separated from Palmer in May 1995 and began divorce proceedings.
Palmer owned a piece of land and he told numerous witnesses he would
kill Brenda if she tried to take it.
In July 1995, he was jailed for violating a
restraining order to stay away from Brenda. Brenda, Christine
Jenkins (Brenda's 15-year-old daughter), and Willshala moved to a
two-room house without running water in Vidette. Brenda had an
outstanding loan with a loan company and she told the loan company
manager in August 1995 that she feared for her life if Palmer got
out of jail. Brenda asked the manager not to tell anyone where she
On September 1, 1995, Palmer was released from
jail and he went to the loan company, where he was a regular
customer, to borrow money to pay his lawyer. He asked the manager if
she had seen Brenda, but the manager did not reply. Palmer said she
did not have to answer his question because "I will find her." He
added, "when I find her, I will kill that bitch." The manager
testified that she was scared by Palmer's cold demeanor when he made
this threat. During the next ten days, Palmer threatened to kill
Brenda several times in front of several witnesses. He told one
witness that he was "going to do it execution-style" and that it
would be on TV.
Palmer was also angry with his ex-girlfriend,
Brenda Smith, with whom he lived for 13 years before his marriage to
Brenda Palmer and who was living with him again after her house
burned down. He told a witness he was "going to kill Brenda [Smith]
and the other Brenda," and he told another witness that "there won't
be no Brendas."
On September 10, 1995, Palmer chased Brenda Smith
when she was a passenger in her sister's car and bumped his car into
the rear of their car. Brenda Smith fled on foot and Palmer told
Brenda Smith's sister, "Y'all don't know who in the hell y'all are
Palmer also spent part of the day looking for his
guns and he asked his son and his nephew where they had been kept
while he was in jail. The State presented evidence that Palmer owned
a .22 caliber rifle and that he had used this rifle to shoot at his
brother on two previous occasions when Palmer was angry with him.
That night, Palmer asked his nephew, Frederico Palmer, to ride with
him to Augusta. Frederico got into Palmer's blue Caprice Classic,
but Palmer drove to Vidette instead.
Palmer asked Frederico, "Do you think I should do
this?" Frederico replied, "What are you talking about?" Palmer said,
"I'm fixing to go kill Brenda and her daughter." Frederico did not
Palmer parked the car near a laundromat close to
Brenda Palmer's house, put on gloves, and pulled out a .22 caliber
rifle. He instructed Frederico to drop him off near Brenda's house,
park the car by some dumpsters, and catch up to him on foot.
Palmer was fumbling with the telephone box on the
side of Brenda's house when Frederico arrived. Palmer asked for help
disconnecting the phone line and Frederico unplugged it. Palmer
kicked in the front door and turned on the light. Christine Jenkins,
Palmer's stepdaughter, was lying on a bed. Palmer said, "Hey Bootie
[Christine's nickname], I told you I was coming back." Palmer then
shot her once in the face, killing her.
Palmer went into the back room where Brenda was
holding Willshala in front of her as a shield. Palmer told Frederico
to take the baby and Frederico complied, knocking Brenda to the
floor. Palmer then killed Brenda by shooting her twice in the head.
When the men departed, they left the baby in the house. Palmer
concocted an alibi, telling Frederico to say that they had gone to
Augusta together to see a friend. Palmer tossed the murder weapon,
gloves, and shoes off a bridge.
Two days later, Frederico confessed and led the
police to the rifle, gloves, and shoes. He pled guilty to two counts
of felony murder and testified for the State. Ballistics testing
revealed that the .22 rifle was the murder weapon, and several
witnesses, including a sheriff's deputy who temporarily confiscated
the rifle during a 1992 traffic stop, identified this weapon as
belonging to Palmer. The recovered shoes were size 11, the same size
A witness who knows Palmer testified that he saw
Palmer's blue Caprice Classic parked near the Vidette laundromat on
the night of the murders. The witness said that Palmer's car is
easily recognizable because it is missing part of its front grille.
At trial, Palmer also attempted to prove that he is mentally
retarded through an expert witness and IQ scores that ranged from
61-72. However, the State's expert testified that Palmer malingered
on the attempted IQ testing by the State.
1. The evidence was sufficient to authorize a
rational trier of fact to find Palmer guilty of the crimes charged
beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U. S. 307 (99 SC
2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979). The evidence was also sufficient to
enable the jury to find the existence of the three statutory
aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.; OCGA
17-10-35 (c) (2).
2. Palmer claims that the State violated Batson
v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79 (106 SC 1712, 90 LE2d 69) (1986), by
exercising its peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory
manner. The jury venire was composed of thirty-two African-Americans
and thirty-six whites and the State used all ten of its peremptory
strikes to remove African-Americans from the jury. However, the jury
which convicted Palmer and recommended a death sentence included
eight African-Americans, and the record shows that the State
accepted many African-American jurors. The trial court required the
State to give race-neutral reasons for its strikes, rendering the
preliminary showing of prima facie discrimination moot. Hernandez v.
New York, 500 U. S. 352, 359 (111 SC 1859, 114 LE2d 395) (1991);
Barnes v. State, 269 Ga. 345, 349 (6)
(496 SE2d 674) (1998). After reviewing
the State's reasons for its peremptory strikes, we conclude that the
trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the reasons
were race-neutral and sufficient. Barnes, supra (a trial court's
finding on whether the opponent of the strikes has met his burden of
persuasion is entitled to great deference and affirmed unless
clearly erroneous). We find no error in the trial court's Batson
4. Palmer claims that the trial court improperly
limited the testimony of a defense psychologist. We disagree. The
record shows that the psychologist was reciting some test procedures
he might use in some cases when the trial court interjected and told
defense counsel to "get down to what we did in this case." This
comment by the trial court simply reminded the defense to present
relevant testimony, and the psychologist was able to fully explain
the test procedures used with Palmer, why they were used, and the
results. Since the psychologist's relevant testimony was not limited
in any way, we find no error.
5. Palmer argues that the trial judge was not
impartial because he made frequent and unnecessary comments, and he
asked non-neutral questions to several witnesses. Because Palmer did
not object at trial to any alleged judicial partiality, this
argument is waived on appeal. Earnest v. State,
262 Ga. 494, 495 (1) (422
SE2d 188) (1992). In addition, the record does not support
this claim because it shows that the judge's comments and questions
were not adversarial.
6. The sentencing phase jury charge was not
improper. The trial court did not err by failing to instruct the
jury that a unanimous finding on mitigating circumstances is not
required, since the trial court charged the jury that it was not
necessary to find any mitigating circumstances to impose a life
sentence. McClain v. State, 267 Ga. 378,
386 (6) (477 SE2d 814) (1996). Also,
viewing the charge as a whole, we conclude that the jury was not
misled into believing that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard
applicable to a finding of mental retardation in the guilt-innocence
phase applied to its consideration of alleged mental retardation in
the sentencing phase.
8. Palmer complains that the trial court erred by
allowing the State to introduce four prior incidents as similar
transactions in the guilt-innocence phase.
(a) Palmer shooting at his brother. The State
presented evidence that Palmer shot at his brother, Fready Palmer,
on two separate occasions. In October 1992, Fready and the defendant
had an argument and "tussled" with each other. Shortly thereafter,
Fready was walking down a street when Palmer shot him six times from
behind. Palmer then walked up to Fready and told a witness, "He
ought to be dead"; Fready feigned death until his brother went away.
He thought that the rifle Palmer used to shoot him was the same
rifle as the murder weapon. In July 1995, Fready and Palmer had an
argument, which escalated into a fight, about whose car was the
fastest. About fifteen minutes later, Fready and a friend were in
the friend's pickup truck when Palmer fired five times into the
truck through the windshield and door. No one was hit. Fready
testified that the gun used in this assault was a rifle similar to
the murder weapon.
Before evidence of prior crimes is admissible,
the trial court must determine that the State has affirmatively
shown that: (1) the State seeks to admit evidence of the independent
offenses or acts for an appropriate purpose; (2) there is sufficient
evidence that the accused committed the independent offenses or acts;
and (3) there is sufficient connection or similarity between the
independent offenses or acts and the crimes charged so that proof of
the former tends to prove the latter. Williams v. State,
261 Ga. 640, 642 (2) (b) (409
SE2d 649) (1991). See also Uniform Superior Court Rule 31.3
(B). The trial court found that the independent acts were offered
for an appropriate purpose, to show course of conduct and bent of
mind, and that there was sufficient evidence that Palmer committed
them. The trial court also found sufficient similarity between the
independent acts and the charged crimes so that proof of the
independent acts tends to prove Palmer guilty of the murders. We
find no error. The prior shootings were similar to the charged
crimes and probative of Palmer's method of resolving disputes with
family members by shooting at them with a rifle. See Williams v.
State, 269 Ga. 827, 829 (3) (504
SE2d 441) (1998); Willingham v. State,
268 Ga. 64, 64-65 (3) (485 SE2d 735)
(1997); Farley v. State, 265 Ga. 622,
623-624 (2) (458 SE2d 643) (1995);
Edwards v. State, 261 Ga. 509, 509-510
(406 SE2d 79) (1991).
(b) Palmer's assault on Brenda Smith. The State
introduced evidence that Palmer was angry with his ex-girlfriend
Brenda Smith on the night of the murders, and had threatened that
there will be "no Brendas." A few hours before the murders, Palmer
chased Brenda Smith and her sister and crashed his car into the rear
of their car. Brenda Smith escaped on foot. The trial court did not
err by ruling that this assault was admissible as a similar
transaction. 2 The State sought to
introduce evidence of the assault to show bent of mind and motive,
and several eyewitnesses testified about it. Proof of Palmer's
assault on Brenda Smith on the same night as the murder of Brenda
Palmer (in accordance with his stated desire to eliminate both
Brendas) tends to prove Palmer guilty of the murder of Brenda
Palmer. See Williams, 261 Ga. at 642 (2) (b).
(c) The deputy's identification of the murder
weapon as belonging to Palmer. A sheriff's deputy testified that he
pulled Palmer over in 1992 3 and
noticed a .22 caliber rifle in the back seat of Palmer's car. The
deputy temporarily confiscated the rifle and recorded its serial
number. At Palmer's trial, the deputy identified the murder weapon
as the same rifle in Palmer's possession during the traffic stop.
The evidence of the traffic stop was not a similar transaction, but
simply relevant evidence that Palmer possessed the murder weapon. "
'Evidence is relevant to show that [the] accused owned . . . or had
in his possession weapons with which the crime was or might have
been committed prior to, or after, the commission of the crime.' "
Tyler v. State, 251 Ga. 381, 382 (2) (306
SE2d 263) (1983) quoting Wilson v. State,
215 Ga. 782, 783 (2) (113
SE2d 447) (1960). The deputy's testimony about Palmer's
possession of the murder weapon was admissible.
9. The victim-impact evidence was not improper.
See Pickren v. State, 269 Ga. 453,
453-455 (1) (500 SE2d 566) (1998);
Turner v. State, 268 Ga. 213, 214-216
(2) (486 SE2d 839) (1997).
10. Although the trial court did not give a
charge on the purpose of victim-impact evidence, see Turner, 268 Ga.
at 216, Palmer never requested such a charge and did not object to
the failure of the trial court to give it. Therefore, we find no
reversible error. See Speed v. State, 270 Ga.
688 (32) (512 SE2d 896) (1999).
11. Palmer complains that a sheriff's
investigator testified in the sentencing phase that Palmer told him
if he was convicted he would ask the court to kill him. Palmer,
however, did not object to this testimony so this issue is waived on
appeal. Earnest, 262 Ga. at 495 (1).
12. Palmer cried at the end of his testimony in
the guilt-innocence phase, and the jury took a break immediately
thereafter. The prosecutor referred to Palmer's crying in his guilt-innocence
phase closing argument by stating, "And how long did that sobbing
last on that witness stand? About ten seconds, until you walked out
that door." Palmer objected that the prosecutor was referring to
matters not in evidence. The trial court stated, "All right. Members
of the jury, you will remember the evidence. Argue the evidence and
the reasonable deductions." Palmer did not request additional
instructions or admonishment by the trial court, and he did not move
for a mistrial. " 'It is well settled that a sustained objection to
improper argument of counsel cannot serve as the basis for reversal
unless it is contemporaneous with a denied motion for mistrial,
denied request to strike, or denied request for curative
instructions.' " Kyler v. State, 270 Ga. 81,
82 (2) (508 SE2d 152) (1998), quoting
Prince v. State, 257 Ga. 84, 88 (6) (355
SE2d 424) (1987). Since Palmer requested no further action by
the trial court after his objection was sustained, there is no
13. Palmer argues that his name is incorrect in
the indictment, that his real name is Willie Palmer and that the
indictment lists a Willie Williams Palmer. He claims error in the
denial of his plea of misnomer asserted during jury selection.
However, the proper time for filing a plea of misnomer is before
arraignment. Pulliam v. Donaldson, 140 Ga.
864, 865 (1) (80 SE 315)
(1913). Therefore, Palmer's plea of misnomer was untimely. See id.;
Robinson v. State, 231 Ga. App. 368,
368-369 (1) (498 SE2d 579) (1998).
Moreover, Palmer is clearly the person named in the indictment. See
14. Palmer's death sentences were not imposed as
the result of passion, prejudice, or other arbitrary factor. OCGA
17-10-35 (c) (1). The death sentences
were also not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed
in similar cases, considering both the crimes and the defendant.
OCGA 17-10-35 (c) (3). The similar
cases in the Appendix support the imposition of the death penalty in
this case, in that all involve a murder committed during a burglary
or the deliberate, unprovoked killing of two or more people, and
thus show the willingness of juries to impose the death penalty
under these circumstances.
605 (308 SE2d 145)
Daniel J. Craig, District Attorney, Charles R.
Sheppard, Assistant District Attorney, Thurbert E. Baker, Attorney
General, Susan V. Boleyn, Senior Assistant Attorney General,
Patricia A. Burton, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.
crimes were committed on September 10 or 11, 1995. On October
23, 1995, Palmer was indicted for malice murder (2 counts),
felony murder (2 counts), burglary, kidnapping, cruelty to
children, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The
trial took place from October 28 to November 8, 1997. Palmer was
convicted of all counts on November 7, 1997, and the jury
recommended two death sentences for the malice murders the
following day. In addition to the death sentences, the trial
court sentenced Palmer to twenty years for burglary, ten years
for kidnapping, ten years for cruelty to children, five years
for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and five years
for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime,
all sentences to be served consecutively. The felony murder
convictions were vacated by operation of law. Malcolm v. State,
263 Ga. 369, 371-372 (4) (434
SE2d 479) (1993). Palmer filed a motion for new trial on
November 14, 1997, and an amended motion for new trial on July
22, 1998, which was denied the same day. This case was docketed
on September 28, 1998, and orally argued on January 25, 1999.
2 During the
trial, the parties and the trial court erroneously characterized
this assault as a "prior difficulty." See Maxwell v. State,
262 Ga. 73, 74-75 (2) (b) (414
SE2d 470) (1992), overruled by Wall v. State,
269 Ga. 506, 507-508 (2) (500
SE2d 904) (1998).
3 The trial
court prevented the State from presenting evidence about the reason
for this traffic stop.
Richard O. Ward, Charlotta Norby, for appellant.
DECIDED JUNE 1, 1999 -- RECONSIDERATION DENIED JULY 6, 1999.
Willie Williams Palmer