Georgia Supreme Court: Prosecutor Caused Mistrial on Purpose
A Georgia man whose 2015 prosecution for murder ended in a mistrial can't be tried again, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding a lower court that found the district attorney intentionally caused the first trial to be scrapped.
The ruling by Georgia's highest court spares Monquez Jackson of Albany from facing a second jury in the 2012 robbery and slaying of Anthony Westbrook. Prosecutors said Jackson shot the victim in the back of the head and left his nude body in a dump after Jackson, his wife and her brother forced Westbrook to withdraw money from an ATM.
The trial judge declared a mistrial in Jackson's case after concluding Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards made a misleading statement to the jury during closing arguments. The state Supreme Court agreed unanimously with the judge's decision that a new trial would subject Jackson to double jeopardy.
In its decision, the high court said the trial court had broad discretion to declare a mistrial after it "clearly found that the DA made the offending comments in hopes that they would result in a mistrial. It found that the DA made the comments 'intentionally and strategically after realizing the evidence was not overwhelming.'"
Edwards did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. In appealing the trial judge's decision, Edwards denied that his statements to the jury were improper and said he wasn't trying to cause a mistrial.
At the 2015 trial, Jackson's wife and her brother both testified against him as part of a plea deal after they were also charged in connection to the slaying. A fourth defendant, charged with helping the others clean up evidence after the slaying, was never called to testify before the trial jury.
After being warned by the judge to limit any statements about the uncalled witness during closing arguments, the Supreme Court's decision said, Jackson's defense attorney told the trial jury: "I wonder what she would have had to say."
Edwards, in his own closing argument, said he didn't need the uncalled witness to testify because "all she could tell you is, 'Yeah, we went back to the car to clean it up.'"
The trial judge found the district attorney's statement was misleading because the uncalled witness, Tomeka Porter, told authorities before the trial that Jackson's wife had confessed to being the killer. The judge granted a request by Jackson's defense attorneys for a mistrial.
The trial judge also found the evidence against Jackson was weak. Investigators testified there was no physical evidence linking him to Westbrook's slaying. And Jackson's wife and brother-in-law gave sometimes conflicting testimony against him.