A Georgia man, who has served 12 years of his lifetime murder sentence, is entitled to a new trial after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Derrick Cartwright was found guilty of murdering Kevin Stafford on April 3, 2006. On Monday the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that his trial lawyer and appeals attorney failed to present evidence contradicting a police officer’s testimony that was deemed crucial to the jury’s decision.
His trial took place in 2007 and lasted four days. Prosecutors had four eyewitnesses who said they saw him shoot Stafford. But, AJC reports their testimony was inconsistent, and the defense challenged their credibility, citing that two had felony drug convictions and a third was facing felony charges at the time. One of the witnesses also admitted to using cocaine right before the shooting took place.
Five witnesses for the defense reportedly testified that Cartwright was asleep in his family’s apartment the night Stafford was shot. Cartwright blamed the shooting on an alleged cocaine dealer who testified against him.
According to reports Detective Andrew Tyner, who interviewed Cartwright after he was arrested, said that he never mentioned an alibi after his arrest. But, the lead police investigator, Bernard Spicer, testified during Cartwright’s 2006 preliminary hearing that Tyner had told him the suspect did have an alibi. However, the defense attorneys never called Spicer to the stand. And a second defense attorney also failed to call Spicer to testify during his initial appeals.
During a 2012 appeal, the state Supreme Court to ruled that, “Cartwright has failed to establish a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have become different if Detective Spicer’s testimony had been introduced to impeach that of Detective Tyner.” Cartwright’s conviction was upheld.
In 2016, Cartwright filed a petition for habeas corpus, which is a civil action against the authority holding the defendant in custody. This was also denied by the state Supreme Court, citing that Cartwright didn’t testify during his original trial and only presented his alibi defense through his five witnesses.
Following that denial, Cartwright’s attorney, J. Mark Shelnutt, filed an appeal that his appellate counsel and original defense attorney provided ineffective assistance, which was approved by the Georgia Supreme Court, effectively overturning his conviction.
The Georgia Supreme Court found that his “appellate counsel performed his duties in an objectively unreasonable way” and that his trial attorney “whiffed on this issue,” regarding cross-examining Tyner’s testimony and calling Spicer to the witness stand.
Shelnutt told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer this means prosecutors will either have to try Cartwright again or seek some other resolution, such as a plea agreement.
Until then, Cartwright will still be held on the murder charge, but he may be granted bond by a Superior Court judge. Snelnutt told the newspaper a bond motion will be filed. District Attorney Julia Slater told the Ledger-Enquirer that her staff hasn’t decided whether to retry Cartwright.