This week I learned that one of the people who was held in Bulloch County for almost two years before standing trial and being acquitted by a jury took his own life.
The details of who, why, etc. will emerge when the time is right and that time is not now. Unfortunately, in most places, “who” would be easy for each of you to determine through processes of elimination. But in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, under the rule of District Attorney Daphne Totten, the story is all too commonplace. So let’s talk about it again.
This week’s news made me sad, angry and more motivated to advocate for change. The point at which a man reached the end of his strength was preceded by a series of events that not only should not have happened, but should never have happened. An arrest before the investigation was complete, multiple denials of bail requests, a jury trial that failed to produce any real evidence, and a stigma that lasts a lifetime. Or would have if he were still here.
I’m not a lawyer, but I worked at a law firm in Cobb County before I moved here. I’ve served in the Legislature for nine terms and have seen the voice of influence whenever the legislature had anything to do with the criminal justice system. And in the last year and a half, I’ve handled 13 jury trials, one bank trial, and enough pre-trials to make your head spin. All I can say is that you learn a lot by watching and I wish more people had the opportunity to do so.
What I’ve learned, however, is that the way we handle things in this court circuit is destroying people’s lives. Contrary to what you see on TV, it’s not an assembly line to dump the book on the circuit’s most violent offenders. The entire facility is currently on fire.
The district attorney’s office has apparently taken the position that they must prosecute every case that comes across the desk, regardless of fact. The Bureau also refuses bail for nearly every defendant, regardless of the circumstances or charges. In doing so, it has enabled the bureau to present cases to the grand jury when some of the facts are still unknown, since under state law defendants are entitled to bail after 90 days if no charges are filed.
If you’re following me, that means the DA’s office advocates detaining people without attachment when they don’t even know all the information, but submits the case for a formal prosecution because they need to buy time to gather more information . However, looking at the Office’s track record for almost the first half of its first term, it doesn’t appear that the Office ever collects any of this other information.
In twenty months the office will have:
- Put a domestic violence victim in jail for standing up against their abuser.
- As if that wasn’t bad enough, the woman was acquitted of the felony murder, and when the jury returned a conflicting verdict, prosecutors demanded the maximum for the predicate offense.
- Attempts to prosecute a trooper for defending his life against a thrice convicted criminal who he believed used his vehicle as a weapon.
- The DA’s office opposed bail for 106 days and in three separate bail hearings before the Trooper was released and received no indictment despite an 8-hour presentation to a grand jury. After 15 months, she still hasn’t said publicly whether she will attempt to retry the case or close it for good.
- Another shooting case involving officers from 2021 was prevented from completing, in which soldiers, deputies and three sheriffs-elected were involved in a chase across four counties after a man who kidnapped a woman at gunpoint and fled.
- Lost five counts of sexual assault that cost acquitted defendants a total of 3,216 days in prison (with a price tag of $144,720 in jail costs).
- Four defendants in a drug offense brought to justice for possessing the exact same marijuana and a single gun.
- Three of the accused were acquitted, but two of them spent over a year in prison awaiting trial.
- He technically lost the high-profile Marcus Wilson case, as the accelerator had been charged with felony murder and aggravated assault for over two years, and a jury returned “not guilty” on each of those counts.
- Resisted Grant Spencer’s re-sentencing as a “juvenile delinquent” to allow him access to more career and educational programs while incarcerated without affecting his release date.
- Lost a case in which a man was charged with hunting on someone else’s land.
- Lost a two-fellow murder trial in the shooting of A’Nyah Davis.
- Lost a trial for murder by vehicle in which Totten personally tore the case out of state court to make it a felony, despite facts and law enforcement testimony supporting a misdemeanor charge
- Promised in open court to punish a co-defendant in a murder case because he was not the perpetrator. When she lost the case against his co-defendant, she came back and personally prosecuted the one she once admitted was not the perpetrator.
- Put the case of Frank Davis Jr.’s murder at risk because the eyewitness (and key witness) to that murder died in 2020 while all of the above cases were being tried. Of course, the public prosecutor’s office didn’t hear about it for ten months.
- Paved the way for an offender to become a murderer by giving a man renewed (third time) probation for his attacks on a significant other. Now he is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.
There are others, I assure you. However, the question is how? How can a district attorney have such a deplorable track record? when she can pick every single case that is progressing?
The state recently won a murder trial in Bulloch County in which the defendant represented himself, and there was a child molestation case in Screven County in which the state persevered. That, of course, came after a delay caused by a Brady violation by the state, followed by another delay during a horn swoggle in jury selection. In this case, the state did not tell the defense or the court that any of the jurors in the pool were the Parent of child abuse victim in another case in Screven Countytracked by the same ADA.
And there were a few other “wins” for the state. Such as the conviction of a man charged with the attempted murder of an Effingham County sheriff’s deputy and the case of the rape of multiple Rincon victims. I attribute these victories to the autonomy that the ADAs have over there, as Daphne Totten isn’t usually present. Of course, autonomy has its price. One of the ADAs shot himself in his office while showing his gun to another ADA. The public prosecutor’s office did not even conduct their own investigation or list the incident in a personnel file.
But most of her ADAs have battle wounds because she sends them to war with bad facts and no ammunition. Worse, Totten only tried (or was in the courtroom) in two of the cases listed above. Marcus Wilson’s trial makes three, and while she held the second presidency during that trial, the only words we heard her utter were at the press conference following the verdict. Why?
I dread what two more years of District Attorney Daphne Totten will mean for the four counties in our county. So far, lives have been ruined — and lost — livelihoods have been destroyed, crime victims are routinely re-victimized, and taxpayers are on the hook for all of it… plus salary, benefits, and a work vehicle.
I wish I could stop writing about the antics of the district attorney’s office, because unlike the city government, which tampers with SPLOST dollars, or the county government, which is ripe for nepotism, prosecutors have the ability to affect every aspect of people’s lives . If they get it right, justice will no doubt be served. If they get it wrong, the effects are devastating and long-lasting. You’d think Mrs Totten would consider that at some point.
But until she does, we move on for all the people who have been wronged by their misdeeds.