Georgia Supreme Court overturns Elbert County man’s murder conviction

The jury should have been allowed to consider voluntary manslaughter, justices rule

The Georgia Supreme Court has narrowly reversed the murder conviction of a man in Elbert County convicted of killing his cousin after learning the cousin was having an affair with his partner.

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the court ruled that the jury should have been allowed to consider whether defendant Sherman Lamont Allen committed the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.

“Because there was sufficient evidence to support the jury instruction, the (trial) court erred in refusing to give it,” the appellate court said. “And because the State has failed to carry its burden to show that it is highly probable that the error did not contribute to the verdict, that error requires us to reverse Allen’s murder conviction.”

Allen can be retried.

The case turns on whether Allen was sufficiently provoked by his partner’s affair.

The state Supreme Court said the discovery of adulterous conduct can provide the necessary provocation to warrant a voluntary manslaughter charge.

“There was at least slight evidence of provocation to support a voluntary manslaughter claim, so the (trial) court was required to give the instruction despite Allen’s main theory that he acted in self-defense,” the court said.

The incident occurred in March 2017. Allen and his partner since 2005, Tia Allen, were living together and raising her son and their two children. The two were not legally married but considered themselves husband and wife.

In December 2016, Tia Allen became friends with Sherman Allen’s cousin, Treston Smith. Then Smith and Tia Allen became romantically involved.

Sherman Allen became suspicious, then saw Smith exiting Tia Allen’s vehicle at a gas station in the early morning hours of March 16, 2017.

Allen approached Smith and an argument ensued. Things turned physical after, Allen alleges, Smith punched him in the face. Allen then hit and kick Smith and left him at the gas station. Law enforcement found Smith there and a coroner pronounced him dead at the scene.

Smith died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy. Sherman Allen turned himself in hours later.

During trial in March 2019, Sherman Allen testified in his defense that Smith had started the fight and he never intended to injure or kill Smith and was just trying to protect himself, alleging Smith stabbed him with a knife.

Sherman Allen asked for the jury to be given an instruction about voluntary manslaughter, but the trial judge denied the request.

The state Supreme Court said it was wrong for the trial judge to find that voluntary manslaughter requires an intent to kill. The justices clarified that in some instances, only the intent to commit an underlying felony is required.

Sherman Allen was charged and convicted of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of aggravated battery. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

“Although there is very strong evidence that Allen intended to kill Smith, this evidence does not answer the question of whether that intent was the result of serious provocation such that he could be found guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter,” the court said.

Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs wrote a dissenting opinion, with agreement from three other justices. He said Georgia’s courts have held for more than a century that voluntary manslaughter is only appropriately considered in cases like Allen’s when a defendant catches their significant other during or just after “sexual relations.”

Boggs said the court’s ruling creates a standard “where nearly every defendant who kills a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend (and that person’s lover) in the future could have the jury charged on, and thus both murders reduced to, voluntary manslaughter.”

The Northern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, which covers Elbert County, and Allen’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.

AJC reporter Rosie Manins contributed to this report.