ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed the murder conviction of Ruby Evans.
A Tift County jury found Evans guilty of conspiring with her son to murder her daughter-in-law, Sunday Blombergh, with an overdose of drugs and of committing malice murder as a party to her husband’s subsequent acts of shooting, strangling and stabbing Blombergh to death.
She appealed contending that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions and that she was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel.
“The murder occurred on April 22, 2010,” a footnote on the opinion said. “On July 8, 2010, a Tift County grand jury indicted appellant for malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, aggravated assault, and conspiracy to commit murder (which conspiracy was alleged to have occurred or about March 26, 2010).”
“Appellant was not indicted with her co-conspirators, Theo Conoly and Herman Evans. Following a trial held on Sept. 25-27, 2012, the jury found appellant guilty on all counts. She was sentenced to serve life without parole for malice murder and to serve a consecutive 10-year term of imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder. The trial court purported to merge the felony murder and aggravated assault convictions into the malice murder count.
“We note, however, that the felony murder count was vacated by operation of law. See Malcolm v. State, 263 Ga. 369, 371-372 (4) (434 SE2d 479) (1993). Appellant filed a timely motion for a new trial on Oct. 2, 2012, which she later amended on Oct. 4, 2017. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion on Sept. 25, 2018. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal, and her case was docketed in this court for the April 2019 term and submitted for decision on the briefs.
“Appellant does not specifically dispute the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting her conviction for conspiracy to commit murder, which was based on acts committed by her and her son about a month prior to the murder. Nevertheless, as is this court’s practice in murder cases, we will also review the record and make a determination as to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting her conviction for conspiracy to commit murder.”
Evans argues that evidence shows that her husband, Herman Evans, was alone with Blombergh when he killed her, and that he was provoked to violence by Blombergh while arguing with her about her drug abuse. Although Ruby Evans admitted that she had wished Blombergh dead, she contends her mere approval of the crime was insufficient to hold her criminally liable.
On March 27, Ruby Evans called the police to report that her Jennings .22 caliber pistol had been stolen from the back room of her flower shop. Then, in the weeks leading up to the murder, she told her husband several times that she was tired of Blombergh’s behavior and pressed him to “go ahead and get rid” of her and to get her out of their lives.
Herman Evans testified that, around noon on April 22, he entered his home and found Blombergh sitting on the living room couch, injecting herself with cocaine. According to Evans, he argued with the victim. He testified that the argument escalated and that he shot her in the back of the head with a .22 caliber pistol that he said he carried with him for work.
After shooting Blombergh, he dragged her into her bedroom, believing that she was dead. He testified that he then drove to his wife’s flower shop to give her Blombergh’s cellphone. He asked her whether she still wanted Blombergh dead and “if she could handle it” if he killed her.
When Ruby Evans said yes, Herman Evans told her the victim was already dead. He left the shop and returned home. When he entered Blombergh’s bedroom, he found her sitting up against the bed, crying out for help. Herman Evans testified he wrapped an extension cord around her neck and attempted to strangle her.
When that did not work, he went out to his truck to retrieve his folding knife and then returned and stabbed Blombergh in the heart with it.
Randy Tomlinson, a friend of Evans’, testified that, on April 22, Herman Evans asked him to buy some peroxide and bring it to him. Tomlinson took the peroxide to Evans’ home and, upon entering the house, smelled a bad odor. Tomlinson saw Blombergh’s body lying on the floor next to the bed.
Tomlinson asked Evans what he had done, and Evans said that Blombergh “had to die.” Tomlinson helped Herman Evans clean up the blood and dispose of the body in a wooded area. Tomlinson testified that, on many previous occasions, Herman Evans had complained that Blombergh was an unfit mother and was only interested in doing drugs and partying.
Ruby Evans cleaned up a blood spot on the couch and burned one of the throw pillows in the fireplace because it had blood on it. The Evanses went through a box of ammunition and got rid of all of the .22 caliber short bullets they thought matched those he had used to shoot Blombergh. Herman Evans testified he disposed of the gun that he used to shoot Blombergh by tossing it out of his truck and into a highway construction zone, and threw the knife away elsewhere.
The couch Blombergh had been sitting on when she was killed was burned, as was the blanket that her body had been wrapped in.
On April 24, Ruby Evans reported Blombergh missing. Investigators found Blombergh’s cellphone charger in her bedroom, but they did not find her cellphone or purse. They also found a burn pile in the backyard. Pursuant to search warrants issued in May, investigators discovered remnants of the couch’s frame in the burn pile, what appeared to be blood on the living room ceiling and the victim’s blood in the carpet in her bedroom.
Ruby Evans tried to talk Conoly out of reporting the crime. When Conoly returned to Tallahassee, Fla., he called the Tift County Sheriff’s Office in Tifton to report what he had been told.
After a month in the woods, the victim’s body had lost most of its soft tissue to decomposition and scavenging animals. The remains were delivered to the medical examiner in several paper bags. The medical examiner testified that the back of the skull had an entrance gunshot wound and that the skull contained a deformed .22 caliber bullet.
The ninth rib on the left side of the torso had been fractured by blunt force. The medical examiner opined that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Given the decomposition of the body, the medical examiner was unable to determine whether the victim had also been strangled or stabbed.
A ballistics expert testified that the .22 caliber bullet recovered from Blombergh’s skull was too deformed to test for a match with a specific weapon; however, it could have been fired from Ruby Evans’ .22 caliber Jennings pistol.
Given this evidence, the jurors could infer that Ruby Evans was motivated to kill Blombergh. She contends that her trial counsel’s performance was deficient in three respects: He failed to move the trial court for a change of venue; he failed to object to the admission of photographs of the victim’s remains, and he failed to object to the admission of irrelevant “blood spatter” evidence.
The opinion said that while the photographs depicted the victim’s skeletal remains and were, therefore, somewhat graphic, that does not alter their admissibility because each of the photographs “was relevant to some point of the [medical examiner’s] testimony.”