The Supreme Court of Georgia upheld a Gainesville man’s murder sentence stemming from a botched drug deal three years ago, denying his claims of ineffective counsel and insufficient evidence to prove his conviction.
Marquis Lejon Studivant was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole following a trial in August 2018 in connection to the death of Dennis Gayton, 47.
Studivant and his new counsel filed briefs for this appeal earlier this year, and the court unanimously upheld the conviction Monday, Aug. 24.
Tadrick Osborne, of Gainesville, and Studivant were drug dealers in the Newtown area of Gainesville, according to the Supreme Court of Georgia’s summary included in its opinion. The documents show the two men had bags of synthetic marijuana when Gayton approached them in his truck near Carlton Street around 9:30 p.m. April 4, 2017, according to the court’s opinion.
Gayton, who was with his 15-year-old son, said he wanted to buy drugs for $40, according to the court’s summary.
Studivant walked up to the truck and demanded all of Gayton’s money, and when Gayton refused, Studivant pointed a handgun at the two men in the truck, according to the court. Gayton was shot while wrestling with Studivant for the gun, according to the court.
Studivant and Osborne ran from the scene, and Gayton’s car crashed into a tree, police said.
Both men were indicted on charges of murder and conspiracy to sell synthetic marijuana.
Osborne pleaded guilty to an amended charge of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to sell a Schedule I substance, and he testified at Studivant’s trial. Osborne’s plea led to a 30-year sentence with the first 20 years in prison.
Osborne’s latest possible release date is June 20, 2037. The rest of Osborne’s sentence may be served on probation.
Studivant argued in his appeal there was no evidence he and Osborne conspired to sell the drugs and that there was no corroboration for Osborne’s testimony.
According to the court’s opinion, the prosecution must show two or more people with a “mutual understanding to pursue a criminal objective.”
The court said the evidence was sufficient based on Osborne’s testimony and witnesses who saw them together that evening, including one who saw them running from the scene.
Gayton’s son also identified Studivant as the man who shot his father, according to the court’s opinion.
Studivant also argued the court should not have allowed evidence seized from a car he was driving before his arrest, namely a rose-colored iPhone with potentially incriminating evidence.
The court ruled against the claim without having to consider the search warrant’s legitimacy, because no evidence from the car or the iPhone was admitted at trial.
Studivant’s final claim was that he had ineffective counsel because the attorney did not call Studivant’s girlfriend as an alibi witness.
At a previous hearing petitioning for a new trial, the girlfriend said she came home from work between 10-11 p.m. the night of the shooting to find Studivant at the house, according to the court’s opinion.
She also said police cars were already there “as a result of the investigation into the murder,” according to the court’s opinion. The attorney’s investigator spoke to the witness at least two times about possibly testifying, but the lawyer ultimately decided against calling her to the stand, according to the court.
The court ruled the testimony would not have clearly established an alibi for Studivant because of the unclear timeline.