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Georgia Supreme Court upholds conviction in 2014 Newton drug deal murder
Georgia Supreme Court building in Atlanta. - photo by File Photo

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a man for the 2014 shooting death of a Newton County resident despite claims the evidence was legally insufficient to support it.

Horace Coates, 38, appealed his March 2017 convictions on charges of malice murder and other crimes connected to the shooting death of Adrian Brooks and aggravated assault of Senchael Clements in mid-2014.

Brooks, a 35-year-old Newton County man, was found dead in the Gum Tree neighborhood off Kirkland Road July 3, 2014, after being shot in the abdomen.

A Newton County grand jury returned an eight-count indictment against Coates in January 2015, and U.S. Marshals arrested him in Jacksonville, Florida, in November 2015.

He was found guilty in Newton County Superior Court of Malice Murder, Felony Murder, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Assault, and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony in March 2017. 

Coates is serving a life sentence on the murder conviction, and an additional 30 years for his conviction on other charges. He has been housed in Autry State Prison near Pelham in Mitchell County since May 2017, according to Department of Corrections records.

Justice Carla Wong McMillian wrote for the Court — in documents released about their Monday, Oct. 5, decision — that they affirmed Coates' convictions after finding the Newton County Superior Court did not make any errors at trial to warrant reversing them and the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction.

“The evidence shows that Coates came back to Brooks’s home after visiting him that day, pulled a gun on Brooks and told Brooks to “give it up” after Brooks refused to sell him drugs, restrained Brooks when Brooks attempted to run for the door, and left Brooks to die after he was shot,” the justices wrote.

They wrote that investigators found Brooks with $133 in his hand and $834 in his pants pocket. They also located a sandwich bag of marijuana in Brooks’s driveway, a .45-caliber shell casing on the floor inside the door of his residence, and another .45-caliber shell casing in the living room. 

“Investigators also identified a bullet hole in the front wall of the residence and a bullet that went through the wall and into a wooden post on the front porch. 

“The medical examiner removed bullet fragments from Brooks and concluded that Brooks died from a single gunshot wound to the right flank area of his torso. 

“A GBI firearms examiner testified that the recovered shell casings, bullet in the wooden post, and bullet fragments were fired from the same firearm, a Glock .45 automatic pistol. 

“Under two pseudonyms, Coates fled the country and later returned to Florida, where he was arrested on Nov. 6, 2015, and found with a .45-caliber magazine and rounds. 

Coates maintained that “this evidence was insufficient to support his convictions as a matter of constitutional due process.”

“When evaluating the sufficiency of evidence, this Court views the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict and asks whether any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We conclude that the evidence was sufficient,” justices wrote. 

Coates also contended that he cannot be guilty of malice murder “because neither witness to the shooting asserted that Coates was the assailant who shot Brooks and because the State could not provide any evidence that he intended to kill Brooks,” according to Court documents.

“Although the witnesses diverged in their testimonies on whether it was Coates or one of his associates who actually shot Brooks, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that Coates committed malice murder either as the shooter or as a party to the crime.” 

The justices cited a 2019 Georgia case in writing that, “A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.”

“It is for a jury to determine from all the facts and circumstances whether a killing is intentional and malicious.”

The justices also wrote that every person “concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be charged with and convicted of commission of the crime.” 

“Conviction as a party to a crime requires proof that the defendant ‘shared a common criminal intent with the direct perpetrators’ of the crimes.' 

“A jury may infer a common criminal intent from the defendant’s presence, companionship, and conduct with other perpetrators before, during, and after the crimes.”

They also wrote that, “Similarly, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that Coates was guilty of aggravated assault against Clements even though Clements claimed that (other men) with Coates held him at gunpoint while Coates and Brooks fought and Williams stole drugs.”

Coates also argued “that even in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict, the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions because there were only two witnesses who testified about the crimes and their stories conflicted substantially.

“More specifically, Coates argues that all of the crimes for which he was convicted require the use of a firearm, but only one witness claimed that Coates had a gun, the other witness said that Coates had a butcher knife rather than a gun, and no gun was ever found. 

“Moreover, Coates argues that both witnesses’ credibility was questionable. However, our review must leave ‘to the jury the resolution of conflicts or consistencies in the evidence, credibility of witnesses, and reasonable inferences to be made from evidence.’”

All the justices concurred except for Sarah H. Warren, who did not participate.