Justices on the Georgia Supreme Court have issued opinions upholding the convictions to two Forsyth County men in separate incidents with beating their girlfriends’ children to death.
In summaries of the opinions, justices upheld convictions for Christopher Everett Truett, of Butts County, who was found guilty for beating his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son to death in 2014 and Eder Acosta, a Forsyth County resident who was found guilty in the beating death of his girlfriend’s 6-year-old son with special needs in 2009.
Truett – who previously was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, and child cruelty in the first degree and sentenced to life in prison without parole for malice murder and 20 years to serve concurrently on the child cruelty – argued that he should have a new trial “because the Forsyth County Superior Court judge erred in refusing to permit him to ask his character witnesses if they ‘would be comfortable with him around their children’ or about specific instances of good character.”
“Truett was the only adult present in the home when [the child] died, he did not seek medical aid for Wyatt despite his obvious severe injuries, and he was reluctant to call 911 even after [the child’s mother] arrived,” Justice Michael P. Boggs wrote in a unanimous opinion. “He then fled the scene, disabled his cell phone, and attempted to elude the police. Any error by the trial court in limiting the witnesses’ testimony therefore was harmless, as it is highly probable that any such error did not contribute to the verdicts.”
The motion for a new trial was denied by a trial court, “finding that any error in excluding the disputed evidence was harmless.”
According to trial evidence, Truett had been in a romantic relationship for several weeks with the child’s mother before moving in with her and her two children.
On Feb. 24, 2014, the 2-year-old did not feel well after being up the night before with stomach problems.
The child’s mother testified at the previous trial that “that Truett woke her that morning and said one of the family dogs had pushed the little boy down the stairs. She only saw a bruise above his eye but he otherwise appeared fine to her.”
Truett stayed with the boy while his mother went to work, and the next day, she noticed scratches on her son’s eyes and made a doctor’s appointment for him. Before she left, the child “cried and did not want her to leave.”
While the mother was at work, Truett began sending her texts saying that the toddler did not like him, was having temper tantrums, was hurting himself, had again been knocked over by the dog and had fallen and hurt himself in the tub before sending a message that said “Get home. Something’s wrong.”
When she arrived, she found the toddler lying on the sofa unresponsive, “with blood coming out of his mouth. He had bruises all over his face and body that had not been there when she had left that morning.”
The child’s mother called 911, and Truett left before EMTs arrived.
“A paramedic who arrived on the scene later testified that [the toddler] appeared already to be dead, but he and others continued trying to revive him as they transported him to the hospital,” The emergency room physician concluded the child had been dead for more than an hour when he arrived at the hospital.
During Truett’s trial, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified the child “had suffered severe, multiple, wide-ranging injuries due to beating, squeezing, twisting and strangulation” and that the child’s death was “through loss of blood was an 8-centimeter laceration to his liver that she described as ‘huge’ and ‘severe’ and that resulted in 20 percent of his blood supply pooling in his abdomen.”
The medical examiner concluded that the child had received “multiple blunt force injuries to the abdomen, such as punching or kicking, with blunt impact injuries to the head as a contributing factor” and that the injuries were deliberate.
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Acosta v The State
In Acosta’s case, the court also upheld his murder conviction and life prison sentence after Acosta argued “the Forsyth County Superior Court erred in admitting into evidence statements he made in the first interview with law enforcement officers and for denying his request to instruct jurors on the lesser offense of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter.”
“Discerning no error, we affirm,” Justice Carla Wong McMillian wrote for the unanimous court.
Acosta and his attorneys argued that he had not been read his Miranda Rights before making statements that were used in court “and that his statements were not voluntary because they were improperly induced by the hope that he would not be charged with driving without a license if he spoke with investigators,” which the justices disagreed with in the opinion.
“At the time of the first interview, officers testified Acosta was not a suspect and not under arrest so they were not required to read Acosta his Miranda rights,” the opinion said. “Acosta and [the child’s mother] had gone voluntarily to the police station after officers had followed them to a grocery store parking lot and investigators asked if they would drive to the police station to talk about the child’s death.”
When Acosta told officers he did not have a driver’s license, officers offered to drive the couple to his car and later “testified they were not concerned about Acosta’s lack of a driver’s license because they were investigating a murder.”
Acosta reportedly told investigators the child’s uncles hit him, though both uncles were able to give alibis for each other and gave information implicating Acosta in the death.
When Acosta went to the police a second time, he was considered a suspect and was read his Miranda rights and signed a form waiving those rights. Acosta admitting using his hands and fists on the child during that interview.
In the opinion, McMillian wrote “we conclude that a reasonable person in Acosta’s position would not perceive that he was in custody at the time of the first interview. The investigators asked, and did not demand, that Acosta talk to them at the police station, and Acosta voluntarily agreed to do so.
“Therefore, considering the totality of the circumstances, the investigators were not required to read Acosta his rights under Miranda before conducting the first interview.”
McMillian also wrote, “there is no evidence that any of the officers or the investigators made any promises to Acosta with regard to any prior traffic violation.”
Acosta and his attorneys also argued jurors should have been instructed about the lesser offense of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter, which occurs when an individual causes the death of another without any intention to do so by the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
In the opinion, justices found “Acosta was not entitled to his requested charge on misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter” as the evidence did not support it, “and the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on that offense.”