The Georgia Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction of a Barrow County man who killed his wife with a baseball bat because the trial judge barred evidence of her sexual affairs.
James Lynn, who was sentenced to life without parole, argued in his appeal that he was guilty of the less serious crime of voluntary manslaughter because his wife, Tonya Lynn, provoked him by “taunting him with news that she was having sex with two other men.”
Lynn testified at trial the two were arguing in their Winder home after they had recently reconciled when his 38-year-old wife mocked him, saying she had rekindled one affair and started another. The judge allowed him to testify about her taunt but refused to allow testimony from her former paramours or from her employer about the flowers she received from both men.
Prosecutors argued the testimony was irrelevant, but the defense argued it bolstered Lynn’s claim he became enraged after she taunted him and compared him unfavorably to her lovers.
The couple had a tumultuous relationship and Lynn’s credibility was an important issue for the jury because his testimony was “hotly disputed” by the prosecutor who contended he lied, the Supreme Court ruled.
Georgia law allows for a killing to be ruled a voluntary manslaughter when a person “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.”
The high court said there was enough evidence to sustain a charge of murder but the trial court erred in not allowing evidence that his act was more appropriately manslaughter.
“At least in the circumstances of this case, we think that proof that Tonya really was having affairs … would tend to make it more likely that she, just as (Lynn) testified, told him of those affairs in the minutes before he killed her,” Monday’s opinion said. “As such, proof of the recent affairs … is relevant in this case, and the trial court erred when it concluded otherwise.”
The killing on July 26, 2011 brought public attention because the then 42-year-old Lynn had hid his wife’s body in a well and apparently sent a text from her cellphone to her niece to make it appear that she had run off, leaving her husband and their four children. The niece reported her aunt missing.
Under police questioning, Lynn confessed and told police where to find the body.
The case now goes back to Superior Court for a possible re-trial.
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