SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A new prosecutor has been assigned to consider retrying three former Georgia sheriff's deputies accused of killing a man walking down a rural road when they shocked him with stun guns during a 2017 arrest.
Local news outlets report that Columbus-based District Attorney Stacey Jackson was assigned to the case after the district attorney where the death occurred stepped aside.
A judge declared mistrials in October 2021 after Washington County jurors deadlocked in deliberations over the guilt of Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott.
The three were accused of murder, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless conduct in the July 2017 death of 58-year-old Eurie Martin.
Martin’s family and friends have been lobbying for another trial
“It’s been agonizing. Just waiting and seeing who is going to take this case. Is it going to be tried, right? We want a fair trial, and we want the murderers behind bars,” Barbara Evans, Martin’s sister, told WMAZ-TV.
Deputies tried to arrest Martin, who had a history of schizophrenia, after a resident of the hamlet of Deepstep called 911 to report him as suspicious after he approached the person and asked for a drink of water. Martin was walking 30 miles (50 kilometers) on a hot day to see his relatives for his birthday.
Martin was Black, while all three of the now-fired deputies are white.
Prosecutors argued Copeland, Howell and Scott had no reason to detain Martin. They pointed to video evidence they said showed the deputies were unreasonably aggressive, as well as testimony from some witnesses. The deputies shocked him with stun guns repeatedly for up to 90 seconds, handcuffed Martin and minutes later found that he had no pulse, video showed.
Defense attorneys, though, said Martin had illegally walked in the road, littered when he dropped a soft drink can, and took an aggressive stance and obstructed an officer when he didn’t obey the commands of the deputies. They also argued that the stun gun didn’t cause Martin’s death, which meant officers were not assaulting him with a deadly weapon, a key underlying element of one of the murder charges.
District Attorney Tripp Fitzner recused himself after the mistrial, claiming a conflict, and asked for another prosecutor to be named.
Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, said Jackson’s office is equipped to take on this type of case.
“This case does have some notoriety to it. It does have some serious implications. You want to give it to someone who has the experience … and can handle this case,” Skandalakis said.
Jackson will decide whether to retry the men or not. He could also seek new charges. For now, he hasn’t made a decision.
“I haven’t received the file yet,” Jackson told the Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus. “I got the order last week.”
For now, the former deputies remain under indictment and are free on bail.