Harrell v. GeorgiaAnnotate this Case
Lister Harrell appealed his convictions and sentences for attempting to intimidate a court officer and for cruelty to animals. The evidence showed that Harrell was charged with violating the duties of a landlord and, after he failed to appear for a court hearing in connection with that charge, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Harrell posted messages on Facebook that referred to Dodge County Superior Court Clerk Rhett Walker and Deputy Chief Clerk Tammy Graham. One post threatened that if the bench warrant was not lifted, Harrell would post an internet link to a video which he claimed showed Graham engaging in sexual activity with Harrell and two other men (no such video existed). Harrell also posted a claim that Graham had lied to the court regarding whether Harrell had been served with notice of a hearing regarding the accusation that he violated the duties of a landlord; it was his failure to appear at this hearing which served as the basis for the bench warrant being issued for him. At trial, evidence was also presented that Harrell left two voice mail messages intended for Shirley Webb, Harrell's former girlfriend and the mother of two of Harrell's children. In one message, Harrell referred to a "dead pussy" in Webb's mailbox. In the other message, Harrell implied that he intended to upload pornographic videos of Webb to an internet site. That same day, Webb's boyfriend found a dead cat in their mailbox. As the boyfriend called 911 from his cell phone to report the dead cat, Harrell drove by the house, slowed down considerably, rolled down a window, and pointed at the mailbox containing the dead cat before driving away. Harrell argued on appeal of his conviction and sentence that, on its face and as applied to him, OCGA 16-10-97 (a)(1) was unconstitutional because it violated the right of free speech found in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Harrell further contended that he should not have been tried on the animal cruelty charge in the same proceeding in which he had to answer the charges of endeavoring to intimidate court officers, and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever the counts. The State argued that Harrell used the dead cat, and thus the results of the act of animal cruelty, "to intimidate or otherwise hinder [Webb] from continued participation in [Harrell's] court case," and that Harrell thus had a "common motive" in making communications intended to intimidate Walker, Graham, and Webb, all in relation to court cases involving him. The Supreme Court concluded the State's argument was necessarily dependent on the claim that at the time of the animal cruelty, Webb was involved in a court case of Harrell's. But, the Court found the State made absolutely no showing in this regard; neither at the pre-trial motion hearing, nor at trial, did the State attempt to produce any evidence to support its statement to the trial court that Webb was "a witness in one court action" involving Harrell. The Court concluded that the trial court's failure to sever the counts was harmful error. In these circumstances, Harrell's conviction on the charge of animal cruelty must be reversed. Harrell's remaining enumerations of error were either rendered moot by our reversal of his convictions or are unlikely to recur on retrial.