Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Kilgore (Defendant), was convicted for the murder of Roger Norman (Mr. Norman) and was given a life sentence. He appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. It is possible for various persons to be parties to a single agreement and thus one conspiracy, even though they do not know the identity of one another and even though they are not all aware of the details of the plan of operation. However, there has to be limits on the concept that persons who do not know each other can agree to commit a crime.
In the early morning of July 8, 1981, the victim, Mr. Norman, was traveling south on Interstate 59 to his home in Alabama. While driving he was shot in the head and killed. At trial, the state introduced evidence of a conspiracy to kill Mr. Norman. In particular, the state introduced evidence of three different attempts on Mr. Norman’s life. For the first attempt, David Oldaker (Oldaker) testified that on February 6, 1981, Greg Benton (Benton) asked Oldaker to travel to Mr. Norman’s home to kill him. Benton told Oldaker that he was hired by a man name Tom who lived in Soddy-Daisy Tennessee and sold pharmaceuticals. Oldaker and Benton were unsuccessful in their attempt to kill Norman. As to the second attempt, Ed Williams (Williams), an employee of a truck stop located off the interstate testified that on the evening of June 8, 1981, he witnessed two cars traveling close together over a bridge on the interstate. Williams testified that he heard sounds like a car backfiring and
later, that Mr. Norman’s vehicle pulled into the truck stop while the other vehicle continued on the interstate. Williams testified that Mr. Norman had been shot in the back. Further, Sheriff Steele of Dade County testified that Mr. Norman told him that the perpetrator had been driving a 1962 or 1963 rambler with Tennessee plates. Constance Chambers (Chambers), the Defendant’s ex-girlfriend, testified that she allowed the Defendant and Lee Berry to use her 1964 Rambler, with Tennessee plates. Chambers testified that the day after she allowed the two men to use her car, the Defendant returned and told her that they had killed a man near Trenton, Georgia. Chambers testified that the Defendant later received a call from Tom Carden (Carden), during which she heard the Defendant say “apparently we didn’t get him.” Chambers also testified that on June 15, 1981, the Defendant received a phone call from Carden, during which the Defendant told Carden that more money and another man was needed
to complete the job. Chambers testified that she drove with the Defendant to Carden’s trailer where the Defendant took $15,000 from Carden’s mailbox. Chambers testified that she later spent time in Florida with the Defendant and that the Defendant told her that he had killed a man.
Issue. Whether the Defendant, who did not know if or communicate with Oldaker and Benton, can be considered to have agreed to and become co-conspirators in the murder of Mr. Norman?
Held. The court found that the Defendant, Oldaker and Benton were not co-conspirators and as a result, it was an error to admit the hearsay testimony of Oldaker.
Discussion. The court focused on the differences between a “chain” conspiracy and a “wheel” conspiracy, which was the type at issue in the case before the court.
A conspiracy is more likely to be found in the “chain” situation because the parties should know by the large, ongoing nature of the conspiracy that other members exist. Further, the parties should know of the conspiracy because the various links have a community of interest in that the success of one member’s part is dependent upon the success of the entire enterprise. Chain conspiracies usually exist in situations involving the sale of narcotics or other contraband.
Alternatively, in a “wheel” conspiracy, there is one hub who deals individually with different people (“spokes”) who do not know the identity of one another. The court noted that it is generally more difficult to infer a conspiracy from these formations because they are less likely to have a community of interests or reason to know each other’s identity because one spoke’s success is usually independent from the success of the other spokes.