The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia

Fictional Cases from Attorney Richard Clem: The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia

The song "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" was written in 1972 by Bobby Russell and sung by Vicki Lawrence. The song refers to a conviction of murder by the singer's brother, for a crime actually committed by the singer.

I present here the (fictional) report of the Georgia Supreme Court affirming the brother's conviction.


Defendant brings this appeal after his conviction for first-degree murder of Andy Wolloe, for which he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Defendant was convicted based upon the following circumstantial evidence. Defendant had returned from a two week trip to Canletop, Georgia. Upon his return, he was seen at Webb's Bar, where he was seen conversing with the victim. According to witnesses who were present in the bar, Wolloe confided to defendant that defendant's wife had been having affairs both with one Seth Amos, as well as with Wolloe. According to Wolloe's overheard account, the affair with Amos had been taking place during defendant's stay in Candletop.

After this conversation, witnesses reported that both Wolloe and defendant hastily left the bar. Witnesses reported that Wolloe "looked scared" when making his hasty departure.

Defendant then returned to his home, at which time he confirmed that his wife was not present. The defendant also retrieved a gun, which had originally been owned by his deceased father.

Shortly thereafter, an alert law-enforcement officer heard the sound of a gunshot near the Wolloe residence. (The record is unclear as to whether the arresting officer was an officer of the Georgia State Patrol or a deputy sheriff.) The officer stopped to investigate, and saw defendant near the road holding the gun later identified as the one belonging to the deceased father.

The officer detained defendant and disarmed him. A cursory inspection of the Wolloe residence revealed Wolloe lying in his kitchen in a puddle of blood. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder.

Given the strong circumstantial case, the trial was relatively short. After his conviction, the defendant brought this appeal. He argues that the evidence was insufficient, as a matter of law, to convict. He also argues ineffective assistance of counsel, bias on the part of the trial judge, and a violation of his Miranda rights by the arresting officer.

I. The Sufficiency of the Evidence.

In support of his claim that the evidence was insufficient to convict, defendant points to a set of footprints that were seen near the Wolloe residence on the night of the murder. Those footprints were smaller than both his and Wolloe's, and he claims that the existence of these footprints support the inference that the person who made those footprints actually committed the crime.

We note that this evidence is similar to that rejected in Eason v. State, 125 S.E.2d 488, 217 Ga. 831 (1962), in which the defendant similarly claimed that the murder was actually perpetrated by another visitor. As in that case, there is no evidence that the maker of the unknown footprints offered any violence toward the victim. As we stated in Eason, "It was not necessary to show that it was impossible for the offense to have been committed by anybody else, or that it might not, by bare possibility, have been done by another." Id., quoting Johnson v. State, 73 Ga. 107.

The footprint evidence was before the jury, but it was undoubtedly discounted in light of the strong circumstantial case against the defendant. The dead body of a man who was alive earlier that evening was found minutes after the arresting officer heard the gunshot and encountered the defendant in the immediate area holding a gun.

The defendant's explanation for the gunshot was that he knew the officer was patrolling in the area, and that he fired the shot after discovering the already dead body in an effort to "flag down" the officer to report the crime. The jury apparently discounted this implausible explanation.

We have carefully considered the evidence and determined that it was sufficient to exclude every reasonable hypothesis except the guilt of the defendant and amply authorized the verdict finding him guilty as charged in the indictment.

II. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Defendant argues that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, but alleges merely that his retained attorney was a "backwoods Southern lawyer" without any specific allegations.

What we stated in Estes v. Perkins, 225 Ga. 268, 167 S.E.2d 588 (1969), applies equally to the instant case:

An examination of the reporter's transcript of the trial wherein the petitioner was convicted shows that she was adequately and ably represented, and that the trial was not, as she now contends, a mockery of justice or a farce. While another lawyer or other lawyers, had they represented the petitioner upon her trial, might have conducted her defense in a different manner, and might have exercised different judgments with respect to the matters referred to in her petition, the fact that her attorneys chose to try the petitioner's case in the 270*270 manner in which it was tried and made certain decisions as to the conduct of her defense with which she and her presently employed attorneys now disagree, does not require a finding that their representation of the petitioner was so inadequate as to amount to a denial to her of the effective assistance of counsel.

Seeing no error, we decline to reverse based upon defendant's conclusory allegations.

III. Impartiality of Trial Judge

Once again, the defendant's challenge to the impartiality of the trial judge are lacking in specifics. Defendant alleges merely that the judge had "bloodstains on his hands," but points to only one allegation. At the conclusion of the trial, after the verdict had been returned, and after the proceedings had been adjourned, the judge allegedly slapped the sheriff on the back, smiled, and made a comment to the effect that dinner was waiting for him at home. Defendant makes no claim that anything happened during the trial to show impartiality. We believe that the defendant's claim is even weaker than the one we recently rejected in Wilson v. State, 229 Ga. 224, 190 S.E.2d 78 (1972), in which the defendant argued that he was prejudiced by the "tone of voice" of the judge during certain questioning. In rejecting that claim, we stated:

[U]nless the court, during the examination of the witness by himself, expresses or intimates an opinion on the facts of the case, or as to what has or has not been proved, or the examination takes such course as to become argumentative in character.

In the instant case, there is not even a hint that the trial judge became argumentative or partisan in any fashion. Indeed, the sole allegation of judicial misconduct took place outside the hearing of the jury, and after the verdict had been returned. There was clearly no prejudicial error.

IV. Failure to give Miranda warnings.

Finally, the defendant argues that he underwent a custodial interrogation without first having been given the warnings required by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Defendant claims that he was already in custody at the time the arresting officer asked him, without giving any warnings, "why'd you do it?" However, there is no evidence that the defendant offered any answer to this question, and certainly no incriminating statement was offered into evidence as a result of the question. Therefore, even assuming that defendant was entitled to Miranda warnings, he was in no way prejudiced.


Finding no error, we affirm the defendant's conviction. Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.

Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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