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Marlina Hamilton

Other Georgia exonerations
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Shortly before midnight on October 11, 2010, 33-year-old Marlina Hamilton fatally shot her ex-husband, 32-year-old Christopher Donaldson after he attacked her in her home in Albany, Georgia. The shooting culminated years of physical and emotional abuse that included a forced abortion after Donaldson raped her.

Hamilton told police she acted in self-defense after Donaldson began beating her. Donaldson’s 15-year-old son, Devontae, told police that he was awakened by two gunshots and called 911. When he went downstairs, he discovered his mother and Donaldson struggling for a handgun. The gun’s magazine was on the floor. Devontae said Donaldson wrested the gun free and hit Hamilton on the head with it. He said he pushed Donaldson off of Hamilton and pushed Donaldson into the den. There, Donaldson picked up the magazine, shoved it into the pistol and aimed it at Hamilton. Devontae said he then hit Donaldson and disarmed him.

Donaldson went to the front porch where police found him when they arrived. Donaldson was taken to the hospital where he died soon after.

Hamilton told police she shot Donaldson because she believed he was going to kill her.

On February 23, 2011, a Dougherty County grand jury indicted Hamilton on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault-family violence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Hamilton went to trial in Dougherty County Superior Court in March 2011. The prosecution’s case was based on the theory that Hamilton was attracted to “bad boys” and had lived a lifestyle that assumed a risk of abuse.

The prosecution told the jury that Hamilton was “already” a single parent with a child when she and Donaldson began living together in the late 1990s. They were married two days before Donaldson went to prison for a drug conviction in 2006. Hamilton was pregnant by another man when she filed for divorce two years later. The prosecution contended that she continued to associate with Donaldson after he was released because she “wanted to keep him and his money, because he was a source of money at some level for her.”

Lavon Davis Sr. testified for the prosecution that he was the father of her first child, though they did not marry. He told the jury that he was in prison because he killed a woman. Xavier Ferguson was called as a prosecution witness to testify that 15 years prior to the trial, he and Hamilton were in a relationship at the same time he was a member of a drug ring. Hamilton’s defense attorney, Johnnie Graham, objected to the testimony as unfairly prejudicial and unrelated to the case.

The prosecutor said, “They are offering a battered woman syndrome defense, and my position is that she is not a battered woman because she has engaged in activity that she has knowledge of as far as this lifestyle. She knows that these folks were involved with dope and cheating…She is bringing it upon herself. She is creating a situation, and it is a part of the whole picture of what is she is about.”

Dr. Melissa Sims, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, testified that Donaldson was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 327 pounds. He was shot once in the lower abdomen, with the bullet entering in a downward angle, and once in his right thigh, with bullet entering at an upward angle. Dr. Sims said there was no way to tell from the wounds whether the shots were aimed or not.

Hamilton testified and described a litany of abuse. In 2001, when Hamilton worked for a health care service, he accused her of cheating on him when he saw her driving at night. She said Donaldson took her into an alley to beat her. Hamilton did not report the beating because she felt it was her fault—she had failed to tell him that she was going out to take care of a patient. Donaldson promised it would not happen again, she said.

Later, when Hamilton was working two jobs, she came home and Donaldson demanded that she drive to his mother’s home to retrieve their children. An argument ensued and he beat her with a broomstick.

Later, when Hamilton informed Donald she was pregnant with twins—a development that was exciting because she was a twin—Donaldson punched her in the mouth. “He said he didn’t want them,” she testified. “The next two weeks, it was a constant fight. He was punching me [in front of their children]. He just kept on fighting me and punishing me. And I told him that I was going to keep [the twins] and I would give them up for adoption. His response was: ‘Hell, no, you are not.’”

Hamilton told the jury, “I had an abortion because he kept beating on me. He was going to make sure that either I miscarried or had an abortion.”

She said she left Donaldson for a year, although she tried to remain cordial for the sake of the children. In 2005, Hamilton and Donaldson got back together. Not long after, Donaldson was arrested. His lawyer suggested it would be better for Donaldson at sentencing if they were married, so in January 2006, just before sentencing, they were married. Donaldson was sentenced to six and a half years in prison—which was later reduced to five years. Twice a month, she drove the children to visit him in prison, a 300-mile roundtrip. Later that year, she asked for a divorce, which was finalized in 2008. In 2009, Donaldson was released on parole.

In June 2010, Donaldson showed up unannounced at Hamilton’s home and said he wanted to get back together. Hamilton said that when she refused, he “punched me several times. I got hit in the mouth and I had a black eye. And he ripped my dress off.”

She said that Donaldson dragged her down a hallway to her bedroom where he raped her. He said, “Don’t think about calling nobody. Ain’t nobody going to believe you…Get your ass up and go to work.” Hamilton said she did not report the rape because the police would believe Donaldson when he told them it was "consensual.”

Hamilton testified that when she learned she was pregnant as a result, Donaldson said it was a sign they would get back together. Hamilton, however, had an abortion.

In August 2010, Hamilton said that when Donaldson came to pick up their son, he accused her of having a boyfriend and began punching her in front of the children. In September, Donaldson called her and said her car was leaning. When she looked, her tires had been slashed. Later that month, her car smelled of gasoline and she found matches on the vehicle. A vulgarity was spray painted on the side of her home.

On September 28, 2010, Hamilton was awakened by two gunshots and then heard Donaldson banging on her front door. When she opened the door, Donaldson said he had been shot. Hamilton gathered the children and went to the home of her sister and brother-in-law. When Donaldson arrived, he had no wounds and was demanding to see Hamilton. He left when Hamilton’s brother-in-law threatened to call the police.

Kenneth Green, Hamilton’s neighbor, testified that on that night, he saw a heavyset Black man drive up, and fire a shot into the air and then into the ground. The man then went to the front of Hamilton’s house. He later saw everyone leave.

Hamilton also testified that on October 7, 2010, Donaldson came by and said he wanted to leave his car there because he could not make the loan payments and the license plate had expired. She agreed to drive him home. When she went inside, she said, he attacked her. She said he choked her and when she regained consciousness, she was in a closet. She said he kept her captive all night. In the morning, he said he wanted “another chance.” She said she told him, “I will do whatever you want…if you will just stop this…the beatings, the arguments.” She was allowed to leave.

Hamilton said she told a friend, Brandi Jackson, what happened and Jackson gave Hamilton Jackson’s handgun. Hamilton put it under the sofa in the den, where she had been sleeping. After the rape, she said, she could no longer sleep in her bedroom.

On October 11, 2010, Donaldson was in her home when she came in from work and was complaining about money. She said he began pacing back and forth, punching his fists, saying, “Oh, I am going to show you. I’m going to show you I ain’t no joke.” Hamilton said she retreated to the bathroom and texted Jackson to call 911.

When police arrived after 11 p.m., they asked if Donaldson had hit her. She said he had threatened her. She told the jury that although she had not called the police in the past, she had decided, “it was clear to me that it was never going to end at that point.”

Police ordered Donaldson to leave and he did. But as soon as the police were gone, he began calling Hamilton’s cell phone—eight times in four minutes. Donaldson then appeared outside a window, begging her to come outside, but she refused.

Donaldson then pushed his way into the house, went into the den and sat on the sofa. Hamilton said he wanted another chance. When she said no and that he had to leave, he began pacing and jumping up and down, making a fist, and saying, “People think I’m stupid. People think I am crazy.”

Hamilton said she was trying to move to a spot so she could run when Donaldson hit her. “I don’t know what he hit me with, but he hit me with something…I saw flashes of light,” she said. “I was trying to crawl off the sofa and get away and know where I’m at. And then Chris swung toward me again and I shot him.” She said she had grabbed the gun from under the sofa.

“I thought he was really going to try to give it to me that night,” she said. “He was really going to try to kill me…I didn’t aim in any direction. I just shot...because I felt he was going to kill me that night.”

She said Donaldson got on top of her and began choking her. She said, “And he was hitting me and we started fighting for the gun. And I was trying to get the clip out of the gun because he was pointing the gun in my face.” She said when her son, Devontae, came into the room, “I finally got the clip out of the gun…I threw the clip far away.” At that point, she said Donaldson began beating her in the head with the gun. She said Devontae managed to pull Donaldson off her. She called 911 and herded the children outside.

Angela Whitaker, a co-worker and friend of Hamilton, testified for the defense that she had noticed bruises and scratches on Hamilton’s arms and legs in the past. On one occasion, she pulled a piece of glass out of Hamilton’s back. Whitaker said she drove Hamilton to get an abortion of a pregnancy that Donaldson wanted to end.

Jackson, a friend of Hamilton’s for 20 years, testified that she lent the gun to Hamilton. She said Hamilton had confided much of the abuse over the years, including the rape.

Jamilla Solomon, a co-worker of Hamilton’s, testified that in 2010, Hamilton told her about the rape and that she arranged for Hamilton to get an abortion in Augusta, Georgia.

Silke Deely, director of a battered women’s shelter, provided expert testimony about battered person syndrome. She testified about how a victim will protect their abusers from consequences and why a victim does not report repeated abuse over time. “There is fear and intimidation and threats,” Deeley testified. “[The abuser] finds ways to manipulate the situation to make her fearful of the events that may follow if she doesn’t comply with what he is asking her to do.”

On March 25, 2011, the jury acquitted Hamilton of malice murder and convicted her of felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony. She was sentenced to life in prison.

In May 2015, assistant Dougherty County public defender Kevin Armstrong filed a motion for a new trial. The motion said that Hamilton’s trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense for several reasons. The lawyer had failed to call two witnesses, Dr. Judith Hatch and Monique Moseley, a nurse practitioner. Both witnesses would have corroborated Hamilton’s reports of abuse, including the rape. The motion also said that the trial defense lawyer had failed to timely object to the prosecution’s eliciting evidence of Hamilton’s prior relationships.

The motion also asserted that the trial defense attorney should have sought a pre-trial ruling that Hamilton had acted in self-defense and therefore was immune from criminal prosecution.

During a subsequent hearing, the defense lawyer, Johnnie Graham, said she planned to present a self-defense case at trial and that she did not seek a pre-trial ruling because she erroneously thought she could only do one or the other.

In September 2015, Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette granted Hamilton a new trial and vacated her convictions. The prosecution appealed. Assistant public defender Troy Golden, who handled the appeal for Hamilton, noted that the case had been very much like a rape trial, except that Hamilton, although she was the defendant, was not the rapist, but the victim.

In September 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the ruling ordering a new trial. On November 7, 2016, Hamilton was released on bond pending a retrial.

When the prosecution said it would retry the case, attorney William Godfrey, who was representing Hamilton, filed a motion seeking immunity from prosecution based on self-defense. Judge Lockette granted a defense motion to admit the transcripts of the trial and the hearing on the motion for new trial. The prosecution appealed that ruling and in January 2019, that appeal was dismissed.

In April 2019, Judge Lockette granted the motion for immunity. The prosecution appealed and in February 2020, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the finding that Hamilton was immune from prosecution. The court agreed with Judge Lockette’s finding that “Donaldson’s threat to use deadly force on the night in question was, in fact, imminent under the circumstances. And Hamilton was justified in defending herself.”

On May 26, 2020, Judge Lockette signed an order officially dismissing the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/31/2020
Last Updated: 7/31/2020
State:Georgia
County:Dougherty
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2010
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No