ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life sentence given Solomon "Troy" Hester for the 2007 murder of his girlfriend, Allison Renee Brownell.
In appealing the Hall County conviction, Hester claimed the state violated his constitutional right to due process by suppressing the results of two toxicology tests that showed the presence of marijuana in the Brownell's blood.
However, in the high court's unanimous ruling, Presiding Justice Hugh Thompson wrote that the trial court made no reversible error because Hester failed to show a reasonable probability that disclosure of the evidence would have caused a different outcome in the trial.
BACKGROUND, AS POSTED ON THE GEORGIA SUPREME COURT'S WEBSITE:
The evidence at trial showed that Brownell lived with Hester in Hall County with her two daughters, ages 9 and 10. According to briefs filed by the state, on Oct. 1, 2007, the girls went to school on the bus, came home and played with a friend. After supper, they lay outside with their mother, looking at the stars and talking before they went to bed around 9:00 p.m. Brownell and Hester were sitting on the couch drinking and arguing. The older daughter later testified she heard her mother yell, If you put your hands on me, I ll call the cops. Then she heard a loud noise. The girl ran down the hall to the living room where she saw her mother lying on the couch with a bullet hole in her head. She later said she did not see a gun in her mother's hand.
Police arrived after Hester called 911. Investigators found the right-handed victim with a gun in her left hand. Although Hester told police the victim had been sitting up when she shot herself, the crime scene investigator testified the blood splatter and the bullet s trajectory demonstrated the victim s head had been down against the seat of the couch when she was shot. The medical expert who performed the autopsy determined that the way the victim was holding the gun when police first arrived was not consistent with the bullet path through her head and into the sofa cushion. Several experts testified it would have been awkward for the victim to shoot herself based on the muzzle stamp and the bullet s trajectory. A toxicology report performed after Brownell s death revealed she had a blood alcohol concentration of .27. A level of .08 or higher is considered legally intoxicated in Georgia.
Hester was indicted in October 2007 for the malice murder and aggravated assault of Brownell, cruelty to children of her daughters and a firearm possession charge.
A few days before trial, Hester made a motion to compel the GBI to perform a test on the victim's blood sample to test for the presence of marijuana. The trial court granted the motion and the GBI performed an immunoassay test, which tests the blood for the presence of marijuana metabolites, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. The victim's metabolites level registered at the exact cutoff level, warranting further testing. If the metabolites level had been any lower, the GBI would have reported that the victim's blood was negative for marijuana. The need for further testing was reported in open court during the trial in the presence of Hester and his counsel.
The second test performed on the blood sample was a more accurate and rigorous test known as a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer. The toxicologist who performed that test ultimately determined that the victim's blood was negative for the presence of marijuana metabolites. The results of the test were posted for the state to access the day after the defense rested its case. On March 20, 2009, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, and Hester was sentenced to life plus seven years in prison. Hester filed a motion for new trial, which was denied, and he then appealed to the state Supreme Court. His attorneys argued the state violated the U.S. Supreme Court s 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland by suppressing the two toxicology reports.
MORE ON THE HIGH COURT'S DECISION
But in its opinion upholding Hester's conviction and life sentence, the high court disagreed, pointing out that under the Brady decision, a defendant must prove not only that the state suppressed evidence that would be favorable to his case, but that had the evidence been disclosed, a reasonable probability exists that the outcome of his trial would have been different. Because appellant made no showing that the undisclosed test results would have made his defense theory more credible or revealed anything other than what he already had presented to the jury, he has failed to meet his burden of proving a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different, the opinion says.