Put­nal takes guilty plea in tod­dler death

♦ Af­ter May state supreme court rul­ing, mur­der plea taken by Put­nal who will spend life be­hind bars with­out pa­role

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - From staff re­ports

A Cedartown man will avoid the death penalty af­ter plead­ing guilty in the mur­der of an in­fant, but he will spend the rest of his life be­hind bars with­out pa­role.

29-year-old Dustin Drew Put­nal pled guilty on Aug. 2 and was sen­tenced to life for the death of Ella Grayce Pointer in late 2016.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jack Brown­ing said in a press re­lease fol­low­ing the sen­tenc­ing that the “res­o­lu­tion of the case was with the ap­proval and bless­ing of Ella Grayce’s fam­ily.”

He added in the same re­lease the plea fol­lowed a May rul­ing from the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court de­ci­sion on a pre-trial ap­peal that would have made his job harder in se­cur­ing a death penalty con­vic­tion.

Brown­ing ex­plained the plea deal with Put­nal fol­lowed this rul­ing from the state’s high court, and said in his re­lease this morn­ing that “the Supreme Court wrote that ‘the in­for­ma­tion that the trial court er­ro­neously re­vealed to the pros­e­cu­tion team can­not

be ex­tracted from the minds of those with whom it has been im­prop­erly shared … [and] although it is im­pos­si­ble to know with cer­tainty be­fore trial whether and to pre­cisely what ex­tent Put­nal has been prej­u­diced, it is con­ceiv­able that, with­out ad­di­tional cu­ra­tive mea­sures, he could turn out to have been prej­u­diced to an ex­tent that would re­quire any con­vic­tion or sen­tence to be set aside.’”

He said in the re­lease he was “an­gered and frus­trated by the fact that, although the Supreme Court’s rul­ing in this im­por­tant case had noth­ing to do with the ac­tions of his of­fice or po­lice, the now un­avoid­able re­al­ity is this – the ef­fect of the Supreme Court’s rul­ing, in light of the trial court’s er­ror, has not only hand­i­capped the abil­ity of the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice to pur­sue the death penalty with con­fi­dence, but has placed any trial and re­sult­ing con­vic­tion and sen­tence in this case in jeop­ardy for years to come.”

As a re­sult, Brown­ing added that “the only way to re­solve this case at this point with the fi­nal­ity and cer­tainty that the fam­ily of Ella Grayce – and our com­mu­nity as a whole – de­serves was to pur­sue a con­vic­tion and sen­tence through a guilty plea that will guar­an­tee Put­nal will spend the rest of his life be­hind bars with no chance of ever be­ing re­leased, and that he will have no op­por­tu­nity or ba­sis to ever ap­peal his con­vic­tion and sen­tence.”

“This has been a night­mare for the fam­ily that can­not be put into words – from the loss of Ella Grayce, to the amount of time that has passed and un­cer­tainty con­cern­ing the case against Put­nal as it moved through the court sys­tem,” he said.

He re­mained in fre­quent con­tact with Ella’s fam­ily through­out the case, and he said they ap­proved of the sen­tence as a way to bring clo­sure to those who were clos­est to Ella.

“Now they can live their lives with­out the con­stant fear that Put­nal’s con­vic­tion might be over­turned for some rea­son and he be al­lowed to go free,” Brown­ing said. “The sen­tence was not what I be­lieve Put­nal’s crime de­served, but given the un­cer­tainty of the case fol­low­ing the Supreme Court rul­ing, the Put­nal’s sen­tence pro­vided the fam­ily with what they have al­ways wanted with the case, and that is def­i­nite clo­sure and the comfort of know­ing that it is over.”

He asked “for the pub­lic to re­spect the fam­ily’s pri­vacy, and to of­fer them their prayers and sup­port as they move for­ward and con­tinue to heal from this hor­ri­ble tragedy.”

“This res­o­lu­tion has given the fam­ily the clo­sure and cer­tain fi­nal­ity that they have prayed for and asked of our of­fice, and they now wish to focus their thoughts on hon­or­ing their mem­o­ries of Ella Grayce and her life, not on the man who took her from them,” Brown­ing said.

Brown­ing planned to seek the death penalty in a fil­ing back in April 2017, months af­ter Put­nal’s ar­rest first on a pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion charge, then in­dict­ment from the grand jury on mal­ice mur­der, two counts of felony mur­der, ag­gra­vated bat­tery, two counts of cru­elty to chil­dren and a lone count of ag­gra­vated sex­ual bat­tery.

Ella Grayce Pointer, who was 21-months-old at the time of her death on Oct. 30, 2016, was found not breath­ing by med­i­cal per­son­nel at Put­nal’s home on Adam­son Drive two days prior. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Polk County Po­lice and GBI de­ter­mined the tod­dler was not ac­ci­den­tal.

Put­nal’s case be­gan mak­ing its way through the Tal­lapoosa Cir­cuit Su­pe­rior Court un­der Judge Meng Lim back in 2017, af­ter he was in­dicted and later ar­raigned in April of last year.

In June 2017, Put­nal’s at­tor­neys pre­sented the court with mo­tions to be heard with­out notice to the pros­e­cu­tion. The mo­tions re­quested two men­tal health ex­perts re­tained by the defense be al­lowed ac­cess to Put­nal at the de­ten­tion cen­ter where he was in­car­cer­ated.

On June 27, 2017, the judge signed two or­ders pro­posed by the defense, each of which stated that the or­der “shall be con­fi­den­tial and shall not be dis­closed un­til such di­rec­tion from the court.” But three days later, the trial judge – act­ing on his own and with­out prior notice to the defense — filed both mo­tions and or­ders pub­licly with the clerk of court and had the mo­tions served to the state.

Af­ter start­ing an ap­peal in De­cem­ber 2017 over the de­ci­sion, in May the Ge­or­gia State Supreme Court ruled that re­veal­ing the mo­tion was a mis­take.

Dustin Drew Put­nal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.