High court reinstates two Fulton murder convictions
4:55 pm, February 18th, 2013
The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the murder convictions and sentences for two men that a Fulton County judge tossed out because one page of a three-page investigative report was missing at the time of their trial.
In separate trials in 2008, Christopher James and Herman Lawson were convicted of murdering Fatima Fisher and Jeremiah Ingram; a third co-defendant indicted on the same charges was later acquitted by a jury.
In 2011, now-retired Fulton County Superior court Judge Marvin Arrington Sr. ordered new trials for both men, agreeing with their lawyers that a missing page of a three-page report from the medical examiner’s office was a “critical piece of evidence” that could have helped fix the time of the murders and possibly helped their cases.
In a five-page opinion for a unanimous court, Justice Robert Benham noted that the copies of the report in both the prosecution and defense files were missing the page, which Arrington’s order said was likely due to the report being photocopied on a copier set to print double-sided documents. Benham’s opinion said the lower court “made it clear that it found no evidence of malfeasance or misfeasance with regard to the missing page” on the part of the state.
That the third defendant’s attorneys were able to easily ascertain that a page was missing – they were numbered, Benham noted – and acquire the full report prior to the trial indicated that the full document could have been obtained “by the exercise of reasonable diligence.”
“That their co-indictee’s defense team recognized that a page was missing and obtained it defeats appellees’ claim of suppression,” wrote Benham, granting the state’s motion to overturn Arrington’s order.
The office of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had no response to the ruling, according to spokeswoman Yvette Jones.
Roswell defense attorney Raina Nadler, who represented the inmates on appeal along with Riverdale attorney Barbara Collins, said they had not had a chance to discuss the order with the clients.