Prosecuting criminals is a team sport. Law enforcement is part of the team. So are the courthouse employees with the clerks’ offices. The probation officials play a major role. The judges and their staffs are key players. The citizens who serve as jurors are indispensable. So many others contribute in important ways behind the scenes.
Within the DA’s offices of the four counties, teamwork is critical. Investigators, secretaries, prosecutors and victim advocates all need each other. This month, that team spirit is essential if we are to succeed.
So far, so good.
I shared with you last week about the rape trial in Fayette with the handicapped victim. While that trial was underway, Warren Sellers was trying a man for murder in the other courtroom.
It was a sickening case. A man beat up his children’s mother and was deported to Mexico. He came back. He went to her house. In front of their children—and with one of their children trying to wrestle him away—he stabbed the mother to death.
There is no way to try two cases of that magnitude at the same time without dedicated teamwork. You need skilled people who care deeply about their community. We have them. As a result, a rapist and a murderer are on their way to prison.
But, we weren’t finished. Just for good measure, Robert Smith tried and convicted a man for a family violence offense. Robert had plenty of help behind the scenes. It was a good week in Fayette.
But, there was no time to celebrate. Trials began in Griffin this week. We were short-handed because Alaina Granade was out on maternity leave. We faced two courtrooms of defendants mustering all their might to whip us.
Michael Rogers began the first murder trial of his life on the fourth floor. His defendant was accused of participating in the beating death of a man with a baseball bat.
On the third floor Randy Coggin began jury selection on a manslaughter case.
Before jury selection ended, that defendant pled guilty. Now we had to scramble to try another case.
Jordan Van Meter is my youngest prosecutor. He had never tried a case. And this wasn’t his courtroom, so he was unfamiliar with the cases.
None of that mattered to Jordan. He wanted to help. Every available staff member not working on the fourth floor murder case wanted to help, too.
Jordan called one case after another. Just as quickly as he called the defendants to trial, they pled guilty.
Finally, one man decided he wanted a trial. He was charged with aggravated battery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon because he shot a man in the gut with a shotgun. He said he did it to protect his wife. She was fighting a man who had touched the meat on a grill with his fingers. The defense lawyer argued that the defendant was justified in shooting the victim to protect his wife. He asked the jury, “Why are we even here?”
The jury’s answer was succinct. “Guilty.” Jordan had won his first case.
About the same time, the verdict came from the fourth floor. Guilty on all counts.
There was time for one more trial on the third floor. We called cases and defendants pled guilty. They had had enough. Our team had won.
We’ll celebrate by prosecuting one murder case in Pike County next week and another murder there the next week. Oh, and we’ll have two more judges holding trials in Spalding at the same time.
Don’t worry. We’re a team.
Ballard is district attorney for the Griffin Judicial District, which includes Fayette, Upson, Spalding and Pike counties.