ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday that an Albany woman’s conviction and life term without parole can stand following a high-profile 2010 murder trial.
Tiffany Luchin Wise had appealed her conviction and sentence to the high court arguing that the trial court erred in allowing a police officer to offer hearsay testimony during her trial in front of the jury.
“This is clearly not a case where a police officer tried to smuggle in hearsay from eyewitnesses under the guise of explaining investigative conduct,” the unanimous opinion says. “But even assuming that the trial court should have restricted the officer’s testimony, any error was harmless.”
The evidence presented to jurors, “was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which she was convicted,” the opinion states.
Wise was convicted of killing 88-year-old Mabel Berry, a longtime volunteer at the Albany Rescue Mission, after Berry allowed Wise to come into her home for a talk. According to court records, when Berry turned her back on Wise, Wise beat her repeatedly in the head with a rock.
After being interrupted by neighbors who testified they heard unusual noises coming from Berry’s home and came over to investigate, Wise killed Berry, who had tried to escape the home through a back door, by striking her with a large concrete block after blindfolding her.
In a separate decision, the high court also blocked an attempt by an Albany man to avoid a retrial. Tracy Lashawn Smith, tried for the murder of Jerome Walden in 2011, petitioned the court to stop attempts by the Dougherty District Attorney’s office from retrying him based on the legal doctrine of “double jeopardy.”
In December 2011, Smith was tried for murder before a jury in Albany, but jurors found him guilty only of aggravated assault and aggravated battery before announcing they were undecided on the felony murder charge. The presiding judge declared a mistrial and the district attorney’s office announced plans to retry Smith on the murder charge.
Smith appealed to the trial court on the grounds of double jeopardy — a constitutional protection that prohibits one person from being tried for the same offense twice after being legitimately acquitted or convicted.
The argument from his attorney, Jim Finklestein, was that a retrial would violate Smith’s protections against double jeopardy because the state couldn’t legally retry him for felony murder without also retrying him for the underlying charges of aggravated assault and aggravated battery — charges he’s already been convicted of.
“But in today’s decision, the high court rejects Smith’s argument, saying the case is controlled by the Georgia Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Rower v. State,” Georgia Supreme Court spokesperson Jane Hansen said. “In that case, the high court held that where the state seeks to prosecute a defendant for two offenses in a single prosecution, one of which is included in the other, and the defendant receives a mistrial on the greater offense, the remaining conviction of the lesser offense does not bar retrial of the greater offense.”