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Second mistrial declared in Brooks Co. absentee ballot case

A South Georgia declared a mistrial in the Lula Smart case on April 18, 2014
A South Georgia declared a mistrial in the Lula Smart case on April 18, 2014
Associated Press

It was a rainy, dreary day in Quitman, Georgia on Friday, April 18, but inside a Brooks County courtroom the trial of Lula Smart ended the same way the first trial ended back in late September 2013 -- a mistrial.

In essence, it was 'same script, different cast' as Superior Court Judge Richard Porter resided over a case which has had several twist and turns since July 2010.

The Lula Smart trial which began on Monday, April 14, lasted five days and just like the first trial, the State of Georgia's presentation and explanation of evidence relating to absentee ballot fraud had fallen apart in open court within the first week and the Superior Court judge decided to declare a mistrial.

This was the second mistrial declared in the last seven months. The first one occurred when Superior Court Judge Ronnie Lane from Seminole County made a similar motion after hearing the case after just five days.

The State of Georgia couldn't prove that Lula Smart and/or the Quitman 10+2 committed absentee ballot fraud.

Even though Porter didn't reside over the first mistrial, the Sonny Perdue judicial appointee in 2009 was instrumental in allowing write-in candidates--Myra Exum and Gary Rentz-- to appear on the ballot for the Brooks County School Board contest back in 2010.

Linda Troutman beat Gary Rentz twice--once as a primary opponent in July 2010, and a second time with Rentz as a "write-in" candidate. Elizabeth Thomas accomplished the same feat against Myra Exum.

Troutman and Thomas were also included as defendants and is part of the Quitman 10+2. Subsequently, they were eventually seated on the Brooks County Board of Education despite the obstacles set forth by the State of Georgia.

Porter's decision to allow Rentz and Exum to be on the ballot in the first place back in 2010 may have broken a Georgia election law.

The law says only qualified write-in candidates can have their votes counted, and candidates who have run for the office in the primary and lost are not eligible to be a qualified write-in candidates.

Here's the law:

(d) No person shall be eligible as a write-in candidate in a general or special election if such person was a candidate for nomination or election to the same office in the immediately preceding primary. (O.C.G.A.§ 21-2-133)

From the very beginning, many people questioned whether this case was about sour grapes by conservative political opponents and despite the apparent weakness of the case, local authorities led by long-time Republican District Attorney, J. David Miller proceeded to prosecute a group of African-Americans from Brooks County known as the Quitman 10+2.

Miller had called Steve Turner of the GBI's Thomasville office to investigate in 2010.However, those 2010 primary elections had been certified by the Secretary of State at the time.

Was Thomasville's GBI office used mostly to intimidate African-Americans in this South Georgia rural community in an effort to suppress the vote and impact voter turnout in future elections?

The following provides the circumstances of why mistrials are called:

A judge may declare a mistrial for several reasons, including lack of jurisdiction, incorrect jury selection, or a deadlocked, or hung, jury.

A deadlocked jury—where the jurors cannot agree over the defendant's guilt or innocence—is a common reason for declaring a mistrial. Extraordinary circumstances, such as death or illness of a necessary juror or an attorney, may also result in a mistrial.

A mistrial may also result from a fundamental error so prejudicial to the defendant that it cannot be cured by appropriate instructions to the jury, such as improper remarks made during the prosecution's summation."

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