Henderson v. GeorgiaAnnotate this Case
Appellant Sylvester Henderson was indicted, along with a co-defendant, for malice murder, felony murder, and other charges relating to the death of Derrick Brown. In 2011, appellant entered a guilty plea for felony murder. The trial court accepted appellant’s guilty plea, entered final judgment of conviction, and sentenced appellant to life in prison. The remaining counts of the indictment either merged with the conviction for felony murder or, as with the malice murder count, were nol prossed. Over two years later, in May 2014, appellant filed a “Motion of Withdrawal of Guilty Plea,” and the trial court dismissed the motion for lack of jurisdiction. Although not in the record, the State indicated that in 2015, appellant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus which was still pending with the Coffee County superior court. In early 2016, appellant filed a pro se motion for out-of-time appeal of the guilty plea conviction in which he asserted, among other things, that plea counsel failed to file a motion for new trial to preserve his right of appellate review of his conviction, that plea counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in that counsel failed to investigate appellant’s mental history, and that the trial court failed to inquire into his competency to enter a plea freely, knowingly, and voluntarily despite the fact that evidence of his alleged incompetency was brought to the court’s attention. The trial court denied the motion, finding the guilty plea was entered freely and voluntarily based on the totality of the record, and that even if counsel failed to file a direct appeal, counsel could not be deemed to have provided ineffective assistance as such an appeal would have been frivolous given the record facts. The trial court noted that the guilty plea transcript reflected appellant was taking the prescription drug Risperdal, but appellant stated under oath that the drug did not affect his decision-making or reasoning. The record also reflected that on his written and signed guilty plea form appellant disclosed he was taking Risperdal, and indicated in handwriting that the drug was “not affecting [his] decision-making or reasoning ability.” The trial court further found appellant appeared to understand each question asked of him and provided intelligent, appropriate answers to questions, and also that appellant’s assertions that counsel exerted undue influence over him to enter his plea could not be resolved by reference to the record. Appellant filed a timely pro se notice of appeal. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed.