Polk County jurors reached verdicts in two high profile cases resulting in one not guilty verdict and one reduced charge. In one other case, a Cedartown man pleaded guilty to child molestation and aggravated sodomy.
In one case, a Cedartown woman was sentenced Tuesday on charges resulting from a fatal car accident that took the lives of two Cedartown residents and injured one in a head-on collision on May 22, 2011. The case against Tia Marie Carter resulted in a not guilty verdict for two counts vehicular homicide, however; Carter was convicted of failure to maintain lane and sentenced to serve 12 months in jail.
Jurors also returned a not guilty verdict in the trial of Justin Quartez Sims, of Rockmart who was arrested along with Adrian Bernard Payton, of Union City and charged with armed robbery with a gun, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in connection with the armed robbery of the Quick Stop located at 706 West Elm Street in Rockmart in November of 2012.
District Attorney Jack Browning stated that the prosecution viewed the Sims and Carter cases as "triable" cases", believing that they had very good cases in both. Browning went on to say that even so, as criminal law attorneys who deal with such cases daily, they also recognized that both cases had challenges that would have to be overcome in order to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Browning explained that triable cases such as the two listed above are not necessarily "slam dunks" even though they may sometimes appear that way to the public, however; they are too important and too significant to simply reduce down or give away through the plea bargaining process simply because they present a challenge for getting a conviction.
Regarding the Carter case, Browning made it clear to all parties involved in the months leading up to trial that there were going to be some challenges to overcome in that case such as proving that Carter was actually under the influence of Ambien at the time of the wreck.
Browning also made it clear to all parties involved that he would rather go into court and lose than to make a ridiculous offer of reducing the charges from felonies to simple misdemeanors because two people lost their lives in that wreck and another was seriously injured.
Browning spoke with jurors afterwards and expressed his satisfaction that the jurors recognized and based their verdict, although not the verdict that he had hoped for, on the challenges in the case that he had previously identified. The judge, recognizing the seriousness of the case, followed Browning's request and sentenced Carter to serve 12 months in jail on the failure to maintain lane charge.
The Sims case, an armed robbery case with a co-defendant, presented the challenge of being able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the identity of the person seen on the surveillance video was in fact Mr. Sims. Due to the fact that the person's face in the video was almost entirely covered, the ability to positively identify Sims as the person in the video hinged in large part on the co-defendant's testimony who had already pleaded guilty.
Adrian Bernard Payton testified during his guilty plea and identified Sims as his accomplice; however, at Sim's trial, Payton completely changed his testimony and stated that the person in the video was not Sims, but another person, thereby raising concerns for jurors regarding his credibility and, hence, the State's ability to positively identify Sims.
Browning stated again that as a result of speaking with the jurors after the trial, he was satisfied to know that the Sims jury recognized and based their verdict on the challenges that he had previously identified with the case, as opposed to some reason having no relevance to the case.
District Attorney Jack Browning stated, "make no mistake, our office was not pleased with the outcomes in either of these cases; and, although we had much success this past year, the verdicts in these two cases are a reminder that "nobody wins them all." We must continue to evaluate cases and our own performances in the courtroom to improve how we handle the criminal business in our circuit. Although these were not the outcomes we wanted, speaking to the jurors afterwards reassured me that our juries listen to the cases before them, decide the cases based on the evidence presented to them, and only furthered my belief that we have the greatest system of justice in the world. In the District Attorney's Office, when we believe we have a case, regardless of the challenges that exist in the case, our philosophy is that we would go to trial and possibly lose than offer a reduction of charges or plea deal that, if doing so, would amount to an injustice to the victims and a disservice to the officers involved."
In another case, a Cedartown man changed his mind in the middle of a jury trial and entered a guilty plea. Charles Edward McBurnett, the son of a Cedartown foster parent, was arrested in May of 2010 and charged with child molestation and aggravated sodomy after a former foster child told his mother of an inappropriate incident involving McBurnett. He was arrested in October of 2013 on a fugitive from justice warrant. McBurnett was sentenced to 20 years with five to serve.
It has most certainly been a busy year so far for the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit. Since January, trials commenced and halted due to the inclement weather as well as illnesses. During that time, the courts have had three weeks of criminal jury trials over a four week period.
Earlier this month, Eddie Lee Clark, chose to plead guilty rather than go to trial for the murder of Elizabeth Rae Hutcheson. District Attorney Jack Browning argued in court that Clark should be sentenced to life without parole, as was the position of the district attorney's office from day one, whether Cook pleaded guilty or went to trial. Clark was sentenced to life with a possibility of parole after 50 years.
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