THE SLOW GRIND

The process of a trial is pre­cise, me­thod­i­cal... and time con­sum­ing

The Covington News - - News - Am­ber Pittman apittman@cov­news.com

Once the state and the de­fen­dant both an­nounce that we are ready for trial, we at­tempt to try the case as soon as pos­si­ble.

— Layla Zon District At­tor­ney

A down econ­omy may af­fect many things, but not the pace of court pro­ceed­ings, es­pe­cially in homi­cide cases.

That’s ev­i­dent in New­ton County, where eight mur­der cases are on­go­ing, in­clud­ing two death penalty cases. In all, there are 15 de­fen­dants who are charged with mur­der and are await­ing dis­pen­sa­tion of their cases.

One of the cases dates from 2008. Most date from 2009.

So why does it take so long? Why does the sys­tem wait so many years to seek jus­tice for vic­tims of homi­cides? Ac­cord­ing to Clerk of Courts Linda Hays, the old adage “the wheels of jus­tice grind slowly” isn’t a say­ing for no rea­son.

“De­pend­ing on the com­plex­ity of the case, the longer it could take,” she said. “When a case goes to trial, there is lit­tle chance of reach­ing a con­clu­sion quickly. If the mur­der case is a death penalty case then that takes even longer.

“Once some­one is charged with a crime au­to­mat­i­cally you would think the case would come to court to be tried soon; how­ever, that just starts the process. A lot of work has to be done be­fore a case is ready to be tried… Given the tremen­dous

amount of cases which are be­ing set for trial as well as the judge’s sched­ules, a trial date can­not be set im­me­di­ately… Be­sides the mur­der cases to be tried, there are nu­mer­ous other cases to be tried be­fore a judge and a jury.”

Once the in­ves­tiga­tive part of the case is fin­ished by law en­force­ment, it is turned over to the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice. The de­fen­dants have a right to an at­tor­ney, which has to be ei­ther hired by them or ap­pointed from the pub­lic de­fend­ers of­fice. For cases where there is more than one co-de­fen­dant, dif­fer­ent at­tor­neys (called con­flict at­tor­neys) have to be lo­cated be­fore a case can even be­gin.

There are five judges in the Al­covy cir­cuit, which in­cludes Wal­ton County. In New­ton there is court three (some­times five) days a week and the five judges have to hear civil and crim­i­nal cases be­tween them. New­est judge Ken Wynne can­not be in­volved with any case that came into the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice while he was the DA, so those cases must be fun­neled to the other judges.

Then there is the dis­cov­ery process, where ev­i­dence is shared be­tween the pros­e­cu­tion and the de­fense. The ev­i­dence has to be looked over, wit­nesses have to be in­ter­viewed, if needed, and ex­perts have to be con­tacted and sched­uled to ap­pear in court. For some de­fen­dants, men­tal eval­u­a­tions have to be sched­uled and per­formed. Some­times a de­fen­dant will de­cide they want a dif­fer­ent at­tor­ney, which means that a new at­tor­ney has to be brought up-tospeed in the case.

“We have four reg­u­lar terms of court — Jan­uary, April, July and Oc­to­ber,” ex­plained Hays. “But you can only try so many cases in one week… The length of time it takes to try a case de­ter­mines how many cases are tried that week. Cases not ready or con­tin­ued are placed on the next jury trial calendar and a spe­cial term is usu­ally set al­most ev­ery month.”

District At­tor­ney Layla Zon re­it­er­ated Hays state­ments, say­ing that each case is dif­fer­ent, but that mur­der cases al­ways take longer to in­ves­ti­gate.

“We await re­ports from sci­en­tific tests per­formed by the Ge­or­gia Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, com­pli­ance with sub­poe­nas for the pro­duc­tion of ev­i­dence, and once those re­sults come in, there may be fol­low-up in­ves­ti­ga­tion that is needed,” said Zon.

“Some cases in­volve wit­nesses that are out of state or, in one case that we cur­rently have pend­ing now, out of the coun­try. An at­tor­ney ap­pointed or hired to rep­re­sent a de­fen­dant charged with mur­der is go­ing to need ad­e­quate time to re­view all of the state's ev­i­dence and re­ports and may need to file mo­tions that must be heard be­fore trial. Once the state and the de­fen­dant both an­nounce that we are ready for trial, we at­tempt to try the case as soon as pos­si­ble.”

“The judges have set spe­cial trial terms for us to spe­cially set mur­der cases so that we can re­solve the is­sue of the de­fen­dant’s guilt and pro­vide clo­sure to the vic­tim’s fam­ily. Our goal at the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice is to try the case as soon as we can do so, re­al­iz­ing that a de­fen­dant is en­ti­tled to a fair trial and he or she must be ad­e­quately pre­pared to go for­ward to trial or the con­vic­tion will not be up­held af­ter the trial. A de­fen­dant con­victed of mur­der is fac­ing a min­i­mum of a life sen­tence and the Supreme Court is go­ing to re­view each con­vic­tion to en­sure that the de­fen­dant's rights were pro­tected. Ide­ally, we make sure that we don't have to try the case a sec­ond time if we can help it."

ON THE DOCKET

There are eight mur­der cases un­der way in New­ton County, with 15 de­fen­dants. Here is a look at the cases and de­fen­dants.

Abel Tor­res — Tor­res, 32, is ac­cused of killing his room­mate, 29-year-old Fer­nando Gon­za­lez in 2008 be­fore flee­ing.

Authorities ar­rested Tor­res, who is from Cal­i­for­nia, on a Grey­hound bus.

Tor­res had pre­vi­ously been found in­com­pe­tent to stand trial by doc­tors at Ge­or­gia Re­gional Hos­pi­tal. He faces charges of mur­der, ag­gra­vated as­sault, false im­pris­on­ment and pos­ses­sion of a firearm dur­ing the com­mis­sion of a felony.

His case is ten­ta­tively set to be heard dur­ing the week of July 18 be­fore Judge Ho­race John­son Jr.

Rod­ney Re­nia Young — Young is ac­cused of blud­geon­ing to death his ex-fi­ancée’s son, 28-yearold Gary La­mar Jones, in 2008.

Ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, the vic­tim came home from church on March 30, 2008, and was at­tacked. He was bound to a chair, stabbed in the neck and blud­geoned with a ham­mer. Threats di­rected at his mother, Young’s ex-fi­ancée, were scrawled on the walls in blood.

Young has pleaded not guilty and Judge Sa­muel Ozburn hopes to hear the case in the fall.

In June, de­fense at­tor­neys filed a no­tice that “the de­fense in­tends to raise the is­sue that the de­fen­dant or ac­cused was in­sane, men­tally ill or men­tally re­tarded.”

Larry Gri­son — Two years af­ter the shoot­ing death of 34-year-old Calvin Ken­trell Banks, one of the ac­cused has yet to head to trial.

Gri­son, now 32, was found less than a mile from Banks’ home with a large amount of mar­i­juana. Al­though not ini­tially charged in the case, he later faced charges of mur­der and armed rob­bery, along with a co-de­fen­dant Ricky “Money Mont” Matthews, who was sen­tenced last sum­mer.

Gri­son is ex­pected to have a trial be­fore the end of the year.

Candice Pope, Jor­dan Cole­man and Bran­don Ham­brick — The charred re­mains of Alvin Hall were found in a burn­ing car on New Year’s Eve 2009.

Less than a week later authorities be­gan to un­ravel what they be­lieved hap­pened to the city of Atlanta em­ployee. Pope, 27, Cole­man, 19 and Ham­brick, 18, are charged with lur­ing Hall into a car, where he was duck-taped and placed in the trunk

be­fore be­ing driven to New­ton County where he was shot and the car set on fire.

The mo­tive, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, was rob­bery. They say that the group planned to steal Hall’s ATM card and drain his ac­count, a scam Pope and Ham­brick al­legedly fre­quently ran in Atlanta.

Pope and Cole­man an­nounced ready for trial in June. Ham­brick is ex­pected to an­nounce that he is ready for trial as well later this sum­mer.

Roland Wil­son — Wil­son is charged in the beat­ing death of Wil­liam Okafor, af­ter the 21-year-old suc­cumbed to his in­juries in Au­gust 2009.

Wil­son is ac­cused of go­ing to Okafor’s home and lur­ing him out­side. The vic­tim’s par­ents al­legedly heard ar­gu­ing on the side of the house and a rel­a­tive of the vic­tim re­port­edly told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they wit­nessed Wil­son strike Okafor in the head with a brick.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are still look­ing for the other three males who were al­legedly at the home with Wil­son.

Wil­son, who is now 25, last had a sta­tus hear­ing be­fore a judge in May of this year.

Sam Dawkins, Robert Lambert, Michael West and Chad Allen — The four men, along with a cast of sev­eral bit play­ers, are ac­cused of the tor­ture and mur­der of 38-year-old Andrew Ni­chols whose body was found par­tially buried in So­cial Cir­cle in late 2009.

Judge Sa­muel Ozburn has cleared his calendar at times to have all de­fen- dants and their at­tor­neys in the court­room at once. Each has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Lambert, Allen and West’s at­tor­neys have filed mo­tions to sup­press state­ments made to authorities as well as DNA ev­i­dence taken from the de­fen­dant. Al­though the judge de­nied their re­quest to sup­press DNA, in Lambert’s case, the judge did al­low state­ments to be sup­pressed.

Lambert’s at­tor­ney ar­gued that he had re­quested an at­tor­ney which should have caused ques­tion­ing to cease. The mo­tion states that in­ves­ti­ga­tors “er­ro­neously ad­vised by the of­fi­cer that he, the de­fen­dant, could not make a state­ment to the of­fi­cer un­less the de­fen­dant signed a waiver form.”

Al­though the mo­tion was de­nied, West’s at­tor­ney filed a mo­tion to sup­press a state­ment, say­ing West was un­der the in­flu­ence at the time.

The judge an­swered back, say­ing: “al­though the in­ter­view with the de­fen­dant shows the de­fen­dant did mum­ble dur­ing the in­ter­view, he ap­peared other­wise co­her­ent, aware of his Mi­randa rights and other­wise cog­nizant of the fact that he was mak­ing state­ments to po­lice.

There is no trial date set in this case, and mo­tions are still be­ing heard pe­ri­od­i­cally by the judge on each de­fen­dant.

Ricky Lewis Smith — The 46-year-old is charged with shoot­ing Ta­juana Lashawn Stroud in 2009.

Smith al­legedly shot Stroud, along with his brother Steven Cadet Smith (who did not die) at

a home on Ga. High­way 162. A mo­tive has yet to be re­leased.

His trial is ex­pected to be­gin in front of se­nior Judge John Ott the week of Oct. 17.

Pablo Mal­don­ado, Brit­tney Beasley and Chris­tian Cald­well

— Ti­mothy Cle­ments was found mur­dered just be­fore Fa­ther’s Day 2009, his body float­ing in Snap­ping Shoals Creek.

Shortly af­ter Cle­ments was found, Mal­don­ado, 24; Beasley, 20; and Cald­well, 19 — along with 18y e a r-o l d Ka­tria McClain (who has al­ready taken a plea in the case) were ar­rested. Mal­don­ado worked for Cle­ments at his land­scap­ing busi­ness and Beasley and Cald­well lived with him at his Kirk­land Road home. McClain was re­port­edly in a re­la­tion­ship with the pur­ported ring­leader.

They re­port­edly stole his truck and fled to Alabama. Ac­cord­ing to McClain, who took a plea deal last year, the group planned the mur­der out the night be­fore.

Mo­tions are still be­ing heard in the three’s cases. District At­tor­ney Layla Zon has said that she will seek the death penalty against Mal­don­ado, mean­ing his case could take even longer than the oth­ers to make its way through the sys­tem.

There is no trial date set for any of the de­fen­dants at this time.

Wil­liam Braw­ley/The Cov­ing­ton News

The eight mur­der cases that are on­go­ing in New­ton County have been mov­ing slowly while ev­i­dence is com­piled and cases are pre­pared. On av­er­age, a mur­der case in New­ton County lasts at least two years.

SMITH

MAL­DON­ADO

BEASLEY

CALD­WELL

LAMBERT

ALLEN

WEST

DAWKINS

GRI­SON

YOUNG

HAM­BRICK

COLE­MAN

POPE

WIL­SON

TOR­RES

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