A senior judge has denied a motion to dismiss the presiding judge in the death penalty case of Elwyn Crocker Sr. in Effingham County.
Crocker is facing a multitude of charges in connection with the deaths of Elwyn John Crocker, Jr. and Mary Frances Crocker, both of whom were found buried in the backyard of the family home in late 2018. Elwyn Jr. had been missing for more than two years and authorities say Crocker and four others were keeping the two children in kennels, naked and without food or other basic care.
Defense attorneys appeared before Judge Robert W. Guy Jr. back in March to argue that Judge F. Gates Peed should be removed from the criminal case because he also presided over the family court case relating to the surviving minor child in 2018 and early 2019 The civil case contained detailed allegations that would not be included in the criminal case, but the bell, defense attorneys said, could not be undone.
Motions to Deny Judge Peed
Jerilyn Bell and Samuel C. Wood of the Capital Defender’s Office filed motions to stay Peed’s trial under the federal and state constitutions and laws of Georgia and the codes of conduct of the judiciary. Their motions said that in such a case, “response required.”
The 42-page motion outlined arguments based on Peed overseeing a civil crime hearing involving Crocker, a minor child, and DFCS. However, the official trial in the criminal case began after the civil case.
Defense attorneys did not allege any wrongdoing on the part of Peed, but rather that the court was compelled, in the interests of the minor child, to reach conclusions and serve as fact finders. Those inevitable actions, lawyers say, affect Peed’s ability to be fair and impartial while Crocker seeks to avoid the death penalty.
From the application:
“The complexity of the juvenile justice process has created an irreparable conflict with Mr. Crocker’s death penalty case. This court makes determinations in the best interest [redacted]current standard in juvenile courts, it has been compelled to establish facts and undertake legal analysis that prevent this court from setting aside the juvenile court experience in Mr. Crocker’s death penalty case.”
The motion included heavy redaction to protect the facts from the juvenile trial, but stated that the day after the bodies of Elwyn Crocker, Jr. and Mary Frances Crocker were discovered, Peed “revealed intelligence corroborating the truth of the charges … In doing so.” the judge has not only made a judgment that violates the presumption of innocence, but also taken into account evidence from necessary state witnesses in the criminal proceedings.”
The attorneys also argued that the DFCS matter, while reasonable, crossed the line of the court’s independent obligation to protect itself from extrajudicial information. They cited specific “undisputed negative evidence.” They also said that the appearance of bias was high, especially because the civil trial began before the criminal trial for bail, charges and the like.
The lawyers asked Judge Peed to voluntarily withdraw from the criminal case, although Peed did not, and subsequently asked an administrative judge to appoint another judge to rule on the matter. Judge Robert W. Guy of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit was appointed presiding over the denial.
When defense attorneys appeared in court on March 10, they also asked Judge Guy to conduct the recusal hearing in a closed setting and further restrict access to much of the information contained in the files about the teenage children. Judge Guy refused to remove the media from the courtroom but agreed to seal the unreedited motions to stay.
Brian Deal, Chief ADA of the Effingham Office, told the court that prosecutors at the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit had taken no position on the matter.
Ultimately, Judge Guy did not issue a decision on March 10, instead giving defense attorneys until the end of March to file additional briefs and documentation on the undredacted files.
decision to withdraw
Judge Guy May 3 signed an order filed May 9 in Effingham County Superior Court denying the defense’s motion to remove Judge Peed from the case. No reasons were given in the final order.
Much of the judge’s order refers to other sealed files, meaning they cannot be viewed by the public because they “contain factual findings and legal conclusions pertaining to this limited juvenile court information.” Judge Guy wrote that “the harm that would result from the disclosure of this confidential information, unless otherwise sealed, clearly outweighs the public’s right of access in all circumstances”.
The prosecution of Crocker, his wife Candice Crocker, their mother Kimberly Wright, Wright’s boyfriend Roy Prater, and Candice Crocker’s brother Mark Wright have been hampered by delays in the trials and legal backlogs following the state’s announcement that it would seek the death penalty.
Read a chronicle of the case here.