A Clayton County man accused of brutally beating his girlfriend’s mother and stuffing her in a trunk to die was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison with the opportunity for parole.
Latoris Grovner, 22, was convicted earlier this month of voluntary manslaughter for the death of Alena Marble.
Despite Grovner’s confession to police that he repeatedly punched Marble, 59, clubbed her with a vodka bottle, then with a sauce pot, then left her – alive – in the trunk of her own car for more than a day in 90-degree weather, a Clayton jury determined that his actions were consistent with a crime committed in the heat of the moment.
“This is one of the most brutal cases I believe I’ve ever heard,” Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew O. Simmons said. “Unfortunately, the jury found the defendant not guilty of malice murder. I find that that ties my hands in sentencing … and not being able to give the sentence to Mr. Grovner that probably he deserves.”
Marble’s family lamented the ruling.
“These are man-made laws,” her brother Eugene Donaldson told reporters Monday following the sentencing hearing. “We don’t agree, but all we can do is go by the court’s decision.”
Marble’s granddaughter, Pamela Davis, who was in court every day of the trial, said the family wanted more time in jail for Grovner.
“With a murder like that, we wish they could’ve given him life,” Davis said.
Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, according to Georgia statute. The judge added 10 years for an evidence tampering conviction in which Grovner tried to protect his girlfriend, Kajul Harvey, from being convicted of any part in the crime.
Multiple convictions for aggravated battery and aggravated assault were merged with the manslaughter charge.
Prosecutors sought a conviction for malice murder, which would have put Grovner behind bars for life, with subsequent years for five separate counts of felony murder – causing Marble’s death while committing each of the felony assault and battery charges during the beating.
But because the jury chose the lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter, each felony murder count, which carried its own mandatory life sentence, was nullified, Simmons pointed out.
Only if there were a felony independent of the violence committed against Marble could a felony murder charge, and the accompanying mandatory life sentence, stand, he said.
“I realize that my sentence may be appealed, and I’m going to state the legal basis for my sentence so the state can appeal,” Simmons said. “If someone can tell me how I have inappropriately applied the law, then this sentence can be overturned.”
Simmons also put on the record a message for the state parole board that might consider lessening Grovner’s sentence.
“It is this court’s recommendation that he be denied parole,” Simmons said.
Grovner claimed to investigators during the interview that followed his arrest for the June 3, 2011 beating that he and Harvey, his girlfriend and Marble’s daughter, spoke at length about getting Marble “out of the picture” because she didn’t approve of their relationship.
While he expressed regret over what he’d done in the interview, Grovner also told police that he blamed Marble for influencing Harvey to abort a child he believed was his.
He also told investigators how he on three different occasions after the beating, tried to access Marble’s bank account with her ATM card in the hopes of taking all of her money.
During closing arguments, Grovner’s attorney read the jury the state’s definition of voluntary manslaughter: “A person commits the offense of voluntary manslaughter when he causes the death of another human being under circumstances which would otherwise be murder and if he acts solely as the result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person.”
But White omitted the second requirement of the voluntary manslaughter as listed in Georgia’s statute, which offered an exception: “however, if there should have been an interval between the provocation and the killing sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, of which the jury in all cases shall be the judge, the killing shall be attributed to deliberate revenge and be punished as murder.”
Monday in the sentencing hearing, Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson attempted an end-around of the statutory sentencing, comparing this case to several cases that involved series of individual brutal acts that did not by themselves lead to the death of the victims in those cases.
“It’s not one action, it’s a continuous series of actions,” Lawson said, posing several alternative combinations of sentencing for each individual count that would have added up to at the minimum 90 years, and at most life plus 30 years.
But Simmons rebuffed Lawson’s ideas.
“My reading of the law is that once the jury finds him not guilty of malice murder, that is then an acquittal of all felony murder charges,” he said.
Katheryn Powers, who prosecuted the case, said that the Clayton County District Attorney’s office would be appealing Simmons’ ruling on sentencing.
Grovner, meanwhile, will be turned over to the custody of the state Department of Corrections.
Harvey, who was named on the indictment with Grovner, will be tried separately beginning sometime next month.