The Supreme Court of Georgia has reversed a Chatham County judge and ruled that when three young men go on trial for the highly publicized murder of a Savannah State College co-ed, the jury will hear evidence the trial judge had ruled was inadmissible.
State prosecutors hope to prove at trial that on Jan. 21, 2013, Kevin Lenard Smith, Roderick “Rod” Demione Parrish, and Jordan Lamar Campbell attempted to rob Rebecca Lorraine Foley when she arrived home at her apartment on the Southside of Savannah, GA. Foley, 21, was a student at Savannah State University. As Foley arrived in her red Volkswagen Beetle, the three men, all in their early 20s, approached with a gun. Foley attempted to drive away, but the men shot at her through the rear passenger window. They then fled the scene in a get-away vehicle driven by a fourth man, James Pastures, leaving Foley to bleed to death. The State hopes to prove that all four men were members of the gang, the Bloods. The men went into hiding, escaping detection until May 2013 when Smith was arrested on unrelated aggravated assault charges from a March 2013 shooting. Authorities determined that the gun used in the March shooting was the same caliber of gun used to kill Foley. During questioning about the March shooting, Smith stated he had purchased the firearm in March 2013 from someone he did not know well, by the name of “Jarod” or “Rod” (as in Roderick Parrish), according to the State. Ballistics testing confirmed that the weapon used in the March 2013 shooting matched the ballistics from the Foley crime scene. Eventually, the men became concerned that Pastures, the driver in the Foley case, was talking to police. The State hopes to prove that subsequently, on Jan. 19, 2014, Pastures was murdered by gang members Shaqeal Speaks and Henry Sanders. In August 2016, Smith, Parrish, and Campbell were indicted for malice murder, felony murder and other crimes related to Foley’s death. Sanders and Speaks were indicted for murder and other crimes related to Pastures’ death. In November 2016, Parrish’s attorney filed a motion objecting to the State’s proposed use of Smith’s statement that he had bought a gun from “Rod” Parrish. Following a hearing, the trial judge entered an order blocking admissibility of Smith’s statement unless Smith chose to testify and Parrish’s attorney had an opportunity to cross-examine him, based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1950 decision in Crawford v. Washington. In Crawford, the high court held that cross-examination is required to allow the admissibility of prior out-of-court testimony of witnesses who have since become unavailable. The State then filed a motion to sever Smith’s trial from that of the others, concerned that if he was not tried separately, prosecutors would be limited in their use of Smith’s prior statement to law enforcement about the gun used to kill Foley. The judge denied that motion. The State then appealed the trial judge’s ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The trial court found that because Smith’s statement was not ‘clearly inculpatory’ of Parrish, severance of Smith’s trial from Parrish’s trial was not mandated. But the trial court’s analysis should not have ended there,” Justice Michael P. Boggs writes in today’s unanimous opinion. Because the court found that Smith’s statement did not directly “inculpate” – or incriminate – Parrish, “it should have concluded further that the statement would be admissible against Smith with an instruction to the jury to consider the statement only against him.”
“Here, Smith’s statement that he bought the gun from Parrish after the murder is not directly inculpatory of Parrish, and so it would be admissible against Smith with an instruction to the jury to consider the statement only against Smith,” the opinion says. “The trial court therefore erred in ruling that the statement is wholly inadmissible.” The high court therefore reverses the trial court’s ruling on Parrish’s motion to exclude Smith’s statement and remands “this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Attorneys for Appellant (State): Margaret Heap, District Attorney, Frank Pennington, II, Asst. D.A.