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Defendant was convicted of murder and aggravated assault. On appeal, defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and the trial court's admission of a hearsay statement into evidence against him. The court held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. The court also held that the trial court properly permitted one victim to testify about the other victim's statement, "He got me," under the dying declaration and res gestae exceptions to the hearsay rule because the statement was not testimonial and the Confrontational Clause did not prohibit the introduction of the testimony recounting it. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: October 17, 2011
S11A0936. BONILLA v. THE STATE.
Manuel Bonilla was convicted of the murder of Jose Reyes and the
aggravated assault of Jose Cruz.1 He appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the
evidence and the trial court’s allowing a hearsay statement into evidence against
him. We affirm.
1. The evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to
the verdict, showed the following. On the night of December 24, 1999, Jose
Cruz threw a Christmas party at his Gwinnett County apartment for friends and
The crimes occurred on the night of December 24-25, 1999. While a fugitive, Bonilla was
indicted on February 7, 2001, for malice murder, felony murder, and two counts of aggravated
assault. Law enforcement authorities later located and arrested Bonilla in Missouri, and he was
returned to Georgia. On September 4, 2009, a jury convicted him on all counts. The trial court
sentenced Bonilla to life in prison for the malice murder of Reyes plus an additional 20 years for the
aggravated assault against Cruz. The felony murder conviction was vacated by operation of law, and
the conviction for aggravated assault against Reyes merged. On September 11, 2009, Bonilla filed
a motion for new trial, which he amended with the assistance of new counsel on April 13, 2010. On
April 14, 2010, after a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. On January 21, 2011, the court
granted Bonilla’s motion for out-of-time appeal, and he then filed a timely notice of appeal. The
case was docketed in this Court for the April 2011 Term and submitted for decision on the briefs.
family, who were originally from the same town in El Salvador. Bonilla was
one of the guests. When Bonilla drank too much and became belligerent, Cruz
asked him to leave because someone said Bonilla was armed with a knife. After
angrily throwing his coat down, Bonilla started to leave. Another guest, Jose
Reyes, picked up the coat and followed Bonilla outside to give it to him, as the
night was cold.
It was dark and Bonilla was standing to the side of the entryway, but Cruz
saw Reyes recoil from Bonilla. Cruz then heard Reyes say, “He got me,” and
saw Reyes touch his chest. He had been stabbed. Cruz then followed Bonilla
to urge him to wait at the apartment until the police arrived, but Bonilla stabbed
Cruz too. Cruz survived; Reyes, however, died at 10 a.m. on Christmas
morning. Bonilla fled to El Salvador but returned to the United States several
years later. He was arrested in Missouri and returned to Georgia to stand trial.
2. Bonilla argues, in a single sentence, that the evidence was insufficient
to support his convictions. However, when viewed in the light most favorable
to the verdict, the evidence presented at trial and summarized above was
sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Bonilla guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 319 (99 SC 2781, 61 LE2d 560) (1979). See also Vega v. State, 285
Ga. 32, 33 (673 SE2d 223) (2009) (“‘It was for the jury to determine the
credibility of the witnesses and to resolve any conflicts or inconsistencies in the
evidence.’” (citation omitted)).
3. (a) Bonilla also contends that the trial court improperly permitted Cruz
to testify about Reyes’s statement, “He got me,” under the dying declaration and
res gestae exceptions to the hearsay rule.2 While the parties debate the dying
declaration issue at some length, we need not consider it, because the testimony
was clearly admissible under the res gestae exception. Under Georgia law,
“[d]eclarations accompanying an act, or so nearly connected therewith in time
as to be free from all suspicion of device or afterthought, are admissible in
evidence as a part of the res gestae.” OCGA § 24-3-3. “He got me” bears two
hallmarks of such a declaration, as Reyes made the statement while the events
were actually happening and before he had time to deliberate. See Sanford v.
State, 287 Ga. 351, 353 (695 SE2d 579) (2010); Field v. State, 283 Ga. App.
Bonilla also cites testimony by two other witnesses who offered similar accounts of
Reyes’s post-stabbing statement. Cruz’s brother testified that Reyes said, “He got me, that
son-of-a-bitch,” after the stabbing. And another witness testified that Reyes said he felt he was
injured upon returning to the apartment. For the reasons discussed below, admitting this testimony
was not error.
208, 211-212 (641 SE2d 218) (2007). The trial court therefore did not abuse its
discretion in admitting the hearsay testimony.
(b) Bonilla also argues that this testimony by Cruz violated the Sixth
Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, as interpreted in Crawford v. Washington,
541 U.S. 36 (124 SC 1354, 158 LE2d 177) (2004), because the declarant
(Reyes) was not subject to cross examination. However, Crawford applies only
to “testimonial” evidence – formal ex parte statements like affidavits and
statements “‘made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness
reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later
trial,’” such as “[s]tatements taken by police officers in the course of
interrogations.” Id. at 52 (citations omitted). Accord Sanford v. State, 287 Ga.
351, 354 (695 SE2d 579) (2010) (holding that “only a statement that is
testimonial will cause the declarant to be a witness for the purpose of the
Reyes’s statement was not made to an investigating police officer or even
a 911 operator, but informally to bystanders as events were actually happening
and just after he had suffered a serious stabbing. He was telling the bystanders
what had occurred and seeking help, not making a statement in contemplation
of its use at a later trial. See Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813, 827, 832 (126
SC 2266, 165 LE2d 224) (2006) (explaining that a “cry for help” is not
testimonial and that statements made as events are “actually happening” are less
prone to be testimonial). See also Michigan v. Bryant, __ U.S. __, __ (131 SC
1143, 1159, 179 LE2d 93) (2011) (holding that a declarant’s medical condition
helps decide whether his statement is made with the primary purpose of seeking
help rather than providing evidence).
Thus, Reyes’s statement was not
testimonial, and the Confrontation Clause did not prohibit the introduction of
Cruz’s testimony recounting it.
Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.