Justice Bennett assigns recusal hearings related to accused Wilson’s murder case
Judge Lovett Bennett Jr. has been tasked with considering whether his colleague in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge Michael T. Muldrew, should recuse himself from hearing the pending murder case against William Marcus. ” Marc “Wilson and also to decide whether Wilson’s lead lawyer Francys Johnson was in contempt of court last Thursday morning.
Wilson, now 23, faces murder and aggravated assault charges for the June 14, 2020 death of 17-year-old Haley Hutcheson, who was shot dead while in separate motor vehicles traveling along Veterans Memorial Parkway, the Statesboro Bypass. Denied bail, Wilson has now been in jail for 15 months.
Last week’s proceedings were not a trial, but rather a hearing on a petition filed by Wilson’s lawyers seeking to have him declared immune from prosecution on the basis of Georgian law to ‘hold his ground’ .
The hearing, which began on Wednesday, was scheduled to last three days. But a tense exchange on Thursday morning extended a long midday break of several hours and interrupted the hearing at the end of the afternoon.
That morning, after Johnson saw some documents in a notebook that had been handed to him, apparently in error, by a Muldrew court assistant, the judge ordered Johnson to return them. He refused to do so, insisting that the documents be sent to the clerk of the court instead. Soon after, Muldrew ordered MPs to arrest Johnson for contempt of court. But when Muldrew ordered a sheriff’s deputy to seize Johnson’s notebook, the deputy did so, Mawuli Davis, another of Wilson’s defense attorneys, said in an affidavit.
Three of Wilson’s other defense attorneys, including Davis, Martha C. Hall, and R. Gary Spencer, then filed a habeas corpus motion seeking Johnson’s release, and Davis filed motions for Muldrew to be recused at the times out of a hearing to find out whether Johnson was in contempt and to continue to deal with Wilson’s case and his potential trial.
When Muldrew resumed hearing at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, he issued an order freeing Johnson, who had been held elsewhere in the Bulloch County Judicial Annex, to await a hearing on the contempt of court allegation. The judge also said that, in accordance with the Superior Court Uniform Rules, he would forward motions for disqualification to another judge for consideration and would no longer deal with the Wilson case until the other judge decides to send it back to his court. .
Muldrew filed orders Friday asking Bulloch County Superior Court Clerk Heather Banks McNeal to “randomly reassign” the two motions to another judge for review. McNeal then issued notices attributing them to Bennett, “using the circuit’s existing, random and unbiased case assignment.”
With the goal of removing Muldrew from deciding these matters, the only opportunities in the regular rotation of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court were Bennett and Chief Justice F. Gates Peed.
At this point, Bennett does not have to adjudicate the Wilson case and is not required to decide whether Johnson should have been charged with contempt of court. Instead, Bennett is only tasked with considering whether Muldrew should be challenged from the contempt hearing and the case as a whole.
Meanwhile, Johnson, while remaining Wilson’s lead defense attorney, now has his own attorney.
On Friday, S. Lester Tate III of the firm of Cartersville Akin & Tate filed an electronic notice of appearance as Johnson’s “attorney of record” with the Bulloch County Superior Court.
Tate, former chair of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and the General Practice and Trial Section of the State Bar of Georgia, lists attorney discipline and criminal defense cases among several practice areas on his firm’s website.
But it was Davis who signed Thursday’s recusal motion. In the attached affidavit, he said the binder that was given to Johnson contained copies of emails exchanged between Wilson and his parents and others while he was in jail.
Davis asserted that the judge received Wilson’s emails as “potential ex parte communications” – that is, for one party in the case and not the other – and that he did not disclosed this to the defense.
“Mr. Davis asserts that a reasonable person would think that Mr. Wilson cannot have a fair hearing in this case or the trial, and seeks the disqualification of Justice Muldrew in this case,” the affidavit concludes.
With the immunity hearing adjourned late Thursday afternoon, Muldrew also granted an indefinite extension.
Speaking to the judge at the time, Davis said Wilson did not want to appear in court without Johnson because he was her senior lawyer.
“This tribunal went out of its way to ensure that all rights accorded to Mr. Wilson as an accused are scrupulously respected,” Muldrew said, adding that he believed Wilson was always represented by competent counsel. .
June 2020 tragedy
Witnesses in previous hearings said Wilson, while driving his car, fired a handgun and a bullet hit Hutcheson in the back of the head as she was riding with four others teenagers in a van on the ring road around 1 a.m. that Sunday.
But defense attorneys have claimed that Wilson, who is biracial, and a white girlfriend at the time who was in the car with him suffered racist attacks, including shouted insults and aggressive driving, from the share of the occupants of the truck.
With the motion for immunity, the defense claimed Wilson acted in his own defense and that of his then girlfriend, who was one of the witnesses who testified last week.
No hearing on the recusal motions had been scheduled for Monday.