ATLANTA — A murder victim’s words to his mother before his death were at the center of oral arguments Monday at the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Leshan Tanner appealed his felony murder conviction and life prison sentence. Tanner was convicted in September 2015 in the shooting death of Cedric Huff in June 2014.
Co-defendant Rodnie Stokes pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a 20-year prison sentence. As part of the bargain, he agreed to testify but was not called.
Tanner’s appeal primarily dealt with Huff’s words to his mother while in the hospital, telling her Tanner and “Little Monster” were responsible, the latter being Stokes’ street name.
“If this court upholds the lower court’s decision in this matter, it will eviscerate the requirements set out in the residual hearsay clause,” Tanner’s attorney Dawn Seibert said.
Created in 2013, the residual hearsay provision deals with statements “not specifically covered by any law but having equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness” that are more probative, or substantiating, than any other evidence reasonably available, according to Georgia code.
According to arguments presented Monday and at trial, Tanner went to Huff’s apartment to purchase a half pound of marijuana. Huff was shot in the abdomen.
Seibert told the justices Huff told law enforcement he didn’t know who did it and couldn’t describe his assailants.
“The jurors needed the benefit of watching Cedric Huff as he was confronted with his prior lies and his inconsistent statements. They needed to observe his demeanor and listen to his answers as he was questioned about the aspect of self-interest that pervades his actions and his words,” she said.
Seibert also focused on Huff’s use of the word “they” when describing the robbery, as Tanner had admitted to being in the apartment with Stokes to buy marijuana.
“He vehemently denied that he had any knowledge and was involved in any sense in the robbery,” she said.
Representing the Hall County District Attorney’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Juliet Aldridge said Huff’s statement on its face is more substantiating than Stokes’ potential testimony.
“Georgia has codified that difference … which states that testimony of a single witness is generally sufficient in certain cases, one such exception being a felony case where an accomplice is the witness,” she said.
The state continued to say any alleged error was harmless, as conversations between Tanner and Stokes and other evidence alone could have supported the conviction.
“While it was a necessary and more probative piece of evidence, the state would argue that even taking it away that the state’s case was on other elements of the crime was very strong and that the jury would have found it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Aldridge said.