Albany judge's ruling nullifies jury verdict

ALBANY -- After discussion during a hearing Monday morning, Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette set aside a jury's conviction of a local businessman charged with theft and dismissed all charges, officials say.

In an order that is likely to be filed later this week, Lockette granted defense attorney Phil Cannon's request for a directed verdict of not guilty for lack of evidence against Cannon's client, Christopher Weaver.

Weaver was convicted by a 12-member Dougherty County Superior Court jury last Nov. 18 on theft charges connected with what prosecutors had said was a scheme to steal thousands of dollars from a local Alltel store.

"It's a relief for us," Cannon said. "It was a very complex case, involving a lot of complicated information. ... Chris is looking forward to moving on with his life and rebuilding his career."

Before the jury reached its verdict, Cannon asked the court for a directed verdict of not guilty, arguing that, among other things, the prosecution had failed to meet their burden to prove Weaver's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The motion for a directed verdict is a common defense motion in criminal trials.

Rather than ruling immediately whether the motion had merit, Lockette reserved ruling on the matter and allowed the jury had reach a verdict. He set the hearing on the defense motion for Monday.

Officials with the Dougherty District Attorney's Office were surprised by the post-trial granting of the defense and said that they were researching whether the decision can be appealed.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's determination in this case," Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Cohilas said. "We believe that the verdict issued by 12 jurors who heard the evidence in the case was valid and we are currently researching any appellate options that may exist."

The Weaver order paves the way for a civil action filed in connection with the acts alleged in the indictment to continue.

Cannon said that Weaver had maintained his innocence and that Monday's ruling was vindication for his client.

"I think it speaks directly to the fact that Chris Weaver did not commit this crime," Cannon said. "Chris was adamant that he had done nothing wrong and even rejected a deal before the trial began."

A co-defendant in the case, Jim "Jimbo" Adams, pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to serve 10 years on probation and to pay $20,000 in restitution.