A unanimous state Supreme Court rejected an appeal arguing that prosecutors failed to prove venue in a 2007 shooting in Stone Mountain.
Justice Robert Benham wrote the Feb. 1 decision, in which the seven justices ruled that prosecutors provided enough evidence to prove that the shooting occurred in DeKalb County—thus upholding the shooter’s life sentence.
In February 2007, Damien Carr and three other teenagers were playing basketball in their Stone Mountain neighborhood when Raymond Armstrong and two of his friends—from a different neighborhood—got into an argument with Carr and his friends.
According to court documents, Armstrong “brandished” a gun in his pocket two times in the exchange before leaving the area. Carr and six other neighborhood teens continued hanging out in the same area until dark. Then Armstrong returned to the Allgood Terrace cul-de-sac with a large group of boys and exchanged punches with Carr. Ultimately, Armstrong fired his gun and killed Carr, who was unarmed.
A jury indicted Armstrong four months after the shooting of malice murder, felony murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Later, a DeKalb jury returned a guilty verdict that resulted in a life sentence.
In an attempt to nullify the decision, Armstrong appealed, arguing that the state failed to prove venue. “More specifically, he contended that, although the police were called to an address at 4391 Allgood Terrace, the evidence only showed the shooting occurred somewhere at the basketball courts,” the ruling states.
In its decision, the court explored the facets of Georgia’s venue laws and rules. “All criminal cases shall be tried in the county where the crime was committed,” Benham quotes the state’s Constitution. “Venue,” he added, “is a jurisdictional fact, and is an essential element in proving that one is guilty of the crime charged.”
Prosecutors must prove venue beyond a reasonable doubt. A failure to prove venue “renders the verdict contrary to law, without a sufficient evidentiary basis, and warrants reversal,” the court points out in the decision.
Benham further explained that state law permits an array of methods to prove venue, ranging from direct to circumstantial evidence. A map of the crime scene area combined with witness testimony, for example, would be sufficient to meet the burden of proof.
At Armstrong’s trial, eyewitnesses stated consistently that the shooting occurred at Allgood Terrace. What’s more, one witness stated that the basketball goal was located in front of a specific house on Allgood Terrace, which a detective identified as being in DeKalb County and pointed to it in an aerial photograph.
“This evidence was sufficient for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that venue was in DeKalb County,” the court concluded.