A man convicted of shooting a Cobb County transgender woman in the chest and head and murdering her will remain in prison as the Georgia Supreme Court rejected his appeal and upheld a life sentence.
Attorneys for Dorville O'Neal Thomas, 35, argued that the evidence against him didn't support the verdict, the trial judge refused to instruct the jury as they requested and that his trial attorney was ineffective, according to a case summary from the state's high court.
But the justices rejected those arguments in a unanimous decision issued Monday.
“In today’s opinion, the high court has rejected all his arguments and finds no errors on the part of the trial court,” Justice Carol Hunstein wrote for the court. The evidence was “sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas was guilty of malice murder,” she added.
Thomas shot Kalvin McGee in the head and chest as he fired four shots during a struggle with McGee in her Cobb apartment on Jan. 9, 2009. Thomas arrived at the apartment after buying marijuana and planned to pay McGee, a sex worker, for sex. Even though McGee advertised herself as transgender using the name “Meeya” in online escort ads, Thomas reacted violently when the two were in McGee's bed, according to the court.
According to Thomas, he was lying next to McGee on the bed when he realized McGee was not fully female, and he promptly tried to leave. He said an agitated McGee saw the gun in his back pocket and reached for it. Thomas then pulled the gun out of his pocket, and the two tussled on the bed, with Thomas on top of McGee. Thomas said that during the struggle, the gun went off [four] times, and McGee slid onto the floor. Thomas told investigators he never paid McGee.
Evidence at the trial showed that the gunshot to McGee's jaw was likely fired first and at close range and possibly during a struggle, according to the court. Soot was on McGee's hand. But the chest wound was fired from several feet away and likely did not occur during a struggle.
McGee's roommate arrived after Thomas fled and discovered her dead on the floor next to a blood-stained bed. The roommate had texted McGee earlier but investigators did not find her phone in the apartment. Phone records later linked McGee and Thomas, who initially told police he didn't know McGee and was not at the apartment during the shooting.
When police searched Thomas' home, they found the revolver he used to kill McGee wrapped in a towel and stuffed in the attic, according to the court opinion. Thomas eventually admitted that he spoke to McGee by phone and went to her apartment.
A jury convicted Thomas of malice murder after a two-day trial in March 2010. The next day, March 11, Thomas asked for a new trial. That motion was denied after a hearing in October 2013. He then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
In today’s opinion, the high court has rejected all his arguments and finds no errors on the part of the trial court. While Thomas argued there was no evidence that he acted with malice, “It is for a jury to determine from all the facts and circumstances whether a killing is intentional and malicious,” the opinion says. “Here, the jury heard evidence McGee clearly advertised himself as ‘transsexual’ and that Thomas was armed when he went to McGee’s apartment.” And although jurors heard Thomas’s statement that there was a struggle for the gun, they also heard expert evidence that the gunshot wound to McGee’s chest came after he had already been shot and probably did not come during a struggle. “The evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict,” the opinion says.
The state Supreme Court has also rejected Thomas’s claim that the trial judge erred in refusing to instruct jurors that they could consider the shooting an “accident” or they could consider whether he was guilty of the less serious crime of involuntary manslaughter. He also challenged the language the judge used in his jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. But the Court finds these arguments “without merit,” the opinion says. Finally, the Court has rejected his contention that his trial attorney was ineffective in violation of his constitutional rights.
“Judgment affirmed,” the opinion states. “All the Justices concur.”
Thomas is currently serving his life sentence at Dooly State Prison in Unadilla.
[photo via Georgia Department of Corrections]