Ruff v. State

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to modification resulting from motions for reconsideration under Supreme Court Rule 27, the Court’s reconsideration, and editorial revisions by the Reporter of Decisions. The version of the opinion published in the Advance Sheets for the Georgia Reports, designated as the “Final Copy,” will replace any prior version on the Court’s website and docket. A bound volume of the Georgia Reports will contain the final and official text of the opinion. In the Supreme Court of Georgia Decided: August 9, 2022 S22A0709. RUFF v. THE STATE. COLVIN, Justice. Appellant Tahj Ruff was convicted of felony murder and related offenses in connection with the shooting death of Lynwood Williams. 1 On appeal, Ruff raises three claims of error. For the 1 A Sumter County grand jury initially charged Ruff and Winfred Floyd in August 2018 on a 10-count indictment for crimes associated with the shooting death of Lynwood Williams. On May 28, 2019, Ruff and Floyd were re-indicted on a 5-count indictment for felony murder predicated on aggravated assault (Count 1 – Ruff), aggravated assault (Count 2 – Ruff), possession of methamphetamine (Count 3 – Ruff), aggravated assault (Count 4 – Floyd), and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault (Count 5 – Ruff and Floyd). A joint jury trial was held on February 3 through 7, 2020. On the first day of trial, the court, at the State’s request, entered an order of nolle prosequion Count 3. Thereafter, the jury found Ruff and Floyd guilty of all remaining counts. Ruff was sentenced to two concurrent life-without-parole sentences for felony murder (Counts 1 and 5), and 20 years concurrent for the aggravated assault. Floyd’s case is not part of this appeal. Ruff timely filed a motion for new trial, which was amended through new counsel on November 18, 2020. After briefing by both parties, the trial court summarily denied the motion as amended on January 7, 2022. Ruff timely filed a notice of appeal; the appeal was docketed to the April 2022 term of this Court and was submitted for a decision on the briefs. reasons set forth below, we affirm Ruff’s convictions; however, because the trial court erred in sentencing, we vacate Ruff’s sentences and remand the case to the trial court with direction that Ruff be re-sentenced. By way of background, the record shows that, on February 17, 2018, Ruff and Floyd armed themselves with guns and drove to the home of Jamie Wilborn, the mother of Floyd’s children. Ruff was aware of some issues between Floyd and Wilborn concerning their children. When the men arrived at the house, Ruff stayed by the car while Floyd confronted Wilborn’s boyfriend, Lynwood Williams. Floyd and Williams got into a verbal altercation, during which Floyd took out his gun and pointed it at Williams’s head. Williams struck Floyd, took the gun, and walked away. Ruff then shot at Williams and a bullet struck him in the back. Williams spun around, fired the gun he had taken from Floyd, and …

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