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Watson-Scott v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

December 12, 2019

GEORGE TREVON WATSON-SCOTT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

         PRESENT: All the Justices

          OPINION

          CLEO E. POWELL, JUSTICE.

         George Trevon Watson-Scott ("Watson-Scott") appeals the ruling of the Court of Appeals that the evidence was sufficient to support his murder conviction because, according to Watson-Scott, the Commonwealth failed to prove that he acted with malice when he fired multiple shots from a handgun that resulted in the death of Carmella Winston ("Winston").

         I. BACKGROUND

         Shortly after 2:30 p.m. on October 9, 2016, Jean Redwood ("Redwood"), Winston's mother, left her home with Winston and Winston's three children to run some errands. Redwood drove her car with Winston riding in the passenger seat and the children in the back seat. As she drove, Redwood saw her eldest daughter, Jewel Henry ("Henry") walking down the street. Redwood stopped and picked her up and gave her a ride to the corner of Hill Street and St. James Street, which was Henry's destination. Redwood turned onto St. James Street and parked. After about five minutes, Henry left the car and began walking back toward Hill Street.

         Shortly after Henry left the car, Redwood heard a gunshot and ducked down. She looked up and saw glass falling off her shoulder. When she looked at Winston, she saw that Winston had been struck by a bullet in the corner of her eye. Redwood did not see anyone else on the street and did not know where the shot came from. After initially getting out of the car to yell for help, she got back into the car, made a U-turn and drove to the home of one of Winston's friends who lived nearby on Hill Street. Winston subsequently died from the gunshot wound she suffered to her head.

         Kenneth Moore ("Moore") was smoking marijuana in his car on St. James Street around the time of the shooting. Moore was parked facing north toward Hill Street and another car, which had two men inside it, was parked in front of him. Moore's wife, Shameek Massey ("Massey"), had left the car to take some groceries inside. As Moore was sitting in his car, he noticed two men with bicycles who were walking along the opposite side of St. James Street toward Hill Street. One of the two men was subsequently identified as Watson-Scott; his companion was unidentified.

         After he noticed the two men, Moore looked down at his phone. Approximately one minute later, Moore heard gunshots. He looked up and saw Watson-Scott about 20 to 25 feet away firing a handgun up St. James Street toward Hill Street. Moore did not see the other man who had been walking with Watson-Scott. Moore then got out of his car. After Watson-Scott fired four or five shots, Moore heard him curse. Watson-Scott then rode away on his bike. According to Moore, aside from the two men in the car in front of him and his wife, he did not see anyone else on the street.

         Massey was standing outside Moore's car when she heard the gunshots. According to Massey, she saw a man firing a gun toward Hill Street. She did not recall seeing anyone else on the street other than Moore and the two men in the car in front of Moore's car.

         Watson-Scott was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of Winston. At trial, after the Commonwealth put on its evidence establishing that Watson-Scott was the person firing the gun, Watson-Scott moved to strike, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to prove malice. Specifically, Watson-Scott argued that there was no evidence that he intended to kill Winston and, because there was no evidence of anyone else on the street that he was shooting at, the doctrine of transferred intent could not apply. In response, the Commonwealth argued that the fact that Watson-Scott intentionally fired a handgun multiple times down a street was sufficient evidence of malice. The trial court acknowledged that there was no evidence that Watson-Scott was shooting at anybody, but questioned whether an inference might be drawn from the fact that Watson-Scott's companion was no longer present when the shooting started. Specifically, the trial court stated:

[W]e know there was another person out there on a bicycle. Isn't it a reasonable inference that he was shooting at that person, cursing at that person? Is that an unreasonable inference?

         After considering the matter, the trial court denied the motion to strike, stating "I think the Commonwealth has met its burden on malice because a deadly weapon was used and four shots were fired." The trial court then convicted Watson-Scott of second degree murder.

         Watson-Scott appealed the matter to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient with regard to the element of malice. The Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, reasoning that "a rational trier of fact could have found that when appellant fired a deadly weapon multiple times up St. James Street he was attempting to shoot a specific person-i.e., the man with a bike who had been walking and ...


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