Georgia’s Supreme Court has upheld the..
The opinion opens with:
In February 2014, a jury found Leonard Rodrigues guilty of malice murder and other crimes in connection with the stabbing
death of Nathaniel Reynolds.
The crimes occurred on January 8, 2013. On July 8, 2013, Rodrigues
and his co-defendant, Ricardo Beltran Gonzalez, were indicted by a Chattooga
County grand jury for: (1) malice murder; (2) felony murder predicated on
aggravated assault; and (3) aggravated assault. At a joint jury trial of
Rodrigues and Gonzalez in February 2014, the jury found Rodrigues and
Gonzalez guilty on all charges. Rodrigues was sentenced to a term of life
imprisonment for malice murder (count 1). The trial court purported to merge
counts 2 and 3 with count 1, but the felony murder count was actually vacated
by operation of law. See Malcolm v. State, 263 Ga. 369, 371-372 (4) (434 SE2d
Rodrigues filed a motion for new trial on February 27, 2014, and
amended it through new counsel on September 10, 2018. After a hearing, the
trial court denied the motion for new trial as amended on September 28, 2018.
Rodrigues then filed a timely notice of appeal, and the case was docketed in
this Court for the April 2019 term and submitted for a decision on the briefs.
Instead, “the overwhelming evidence against [Rodrigues],
completely independent of the [other-acts] evidence offered by [the
State], pointed directly to an intentional and malicious killing
committed by [Rodrigues] in this case rather than one that was
committed in self-defense.” Walker v. State, 306 Ga. 44 (829 SE2d
121, 125) (2019). See also Parks, 300 Ga. at 308 (2). It is undisputed
that Rodrigues stabbed Reynolds. Rodrigues did not deny initiating
the attack against Reynolds, and he admitted at trial that he did not
know if Reynolds was armed when he decided to attack him.
Rodrigues further testified that he stabbed Reynolds with two
shanks for an extended period until the guards were able to subdue
him with pepper spray. In addition, the testimony of five
correctional officers indicated that Rodrigues and Gonzalez were the
aggressors, and that the pair cornered an unarmed Reynolds before
stabbing him a total of 17 times. Therefore, Rodrigues’ “claim of selfdefense falls flat.” Parks, 300 Ga. at 308 (2). Moreover, the marginal
harm of learning that Rodrigues was previously convicted of
involuntary manslaughter related to a stabbing is unlikely to have
substantially impacted the jury’s perception of Rodrigues, given that
they were already aware that Rodrigues was incarcerated at the
time of Reynold’s killing. As a result, even assuming the admission
of testimony regarding the circumstances of the 2008 stabbing
incident involving Rodrigues was erroneous, we conclude that it is
highly probable that the evidence did not contribute to the jury’s
verdict. Accordingly, there is no reversible error.
Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur