ATLANTA — The former chair of the Randolph County School Board is asking the Georgia Supreme Court to rule he is still a resident of the county, while a state inmate from Tift County argues he should not have been sentenced to life in prison for a crime committed when he was 14.
Both cases are scheduled for oral arguments before the high court on Monday.
In the case of Henry Cook v. the Board of Registrars of Randolph County, Cook is appealing a registrar board decision that he is no longer a Randolph County resident.
According to a summary of the facts and issues in the case from the Supreme Court, Cook is appealing to the court for the second time in the past two years. In 2010, the court upheld a ruling that Cook, then chairman of the school board, was in contempt of court for refusing to allow school board members to appeal his decisions. The high court also ruled as unconstitutional a new local law that was designed to allow members to vote him out of office two years before the end of his term.
The current case focuses on whether Cook is still a resident of Randolph County or, as a trial court determined, a resident of Dothan, Ala. Cook testified at trial that his home on Howell Mill Road burned down and that he moved into a house on Jimmy Carter Drive in Randolph County that was owned by his sister, who subsequently died. In February 2009, he bought a house in Dothan.
Following a December 2010 trial, the summary states, the trial court executed an order concluding that Cook was not a resident of Randolph County. He then asked the state Supreme Court for permission to appeal, which the high court granted, to determine whether the Board of Registrars was authorized to remove Cook from the eligible list of voters.
Cook is arguing that the state Supreme Court has authority over the case and that under the circumstances it cannot be concluded that Cook is not a resident of Randolph County, noting that Georgia law does not consider that a person has changed residence if the move is temporary and the person intends to return.
The Board of Registrars argues that the state Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction, that there is evidence that Cook is no longer a resident of the county and that the trial court was correct in its decision.
In the Tift County case, Jonas Brinkley is appealing his conviction in the county for the 1999 rape of Felicia Self on several grounds, including that his sentence to life plus 20 years in prison was unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual.” Brinkley was 14 when the crime occurred.
According to prosecutors, after midnight on April 11, 1999, Brinkley and Lakendrick Carter, armed and wearing stocking masks, robbed Self and her boyfriend at gunpoint and Brinkley raped her. Self went to police after seeing Brinkley walking through her mother’s apartment complex. When a detective tried to approach Brinkley, he fled, prosecutors said, but he was later arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape and armed robbery. Semen found on Self’s kitchen floor was identified as Brinkley’s.
Carter, 19 at the time, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and armed robbery and was sentenced to 15 years in prison plus another five on probation in exchange for his testimony against Brinkley. Brinkley was 15 when the case went to trial in January 2000. The jury rejected Brinkley’s account that the sex had been consensual and convicted him of kidnapping, kidnapping with bodily injury (with the rape as the injury), and armed robbery. He was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison. Five days later, through his attorney, Brinkley filed a motion for a new trial. More than 10 years later — in 2010 — another attorney filed an amended motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied in February 2011.
Brinkley, now 27, is arguing that, given U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the last decade, Georgia should not impose greater-than-life sentences on 14-year-old defendants who haven’t committed a homicide and that his constitutional rights were violated by a 10-year delay in a hearing on his motion for a new trial. He argues his counsel was ineffective, and the trial court erred by failing to assess his competency to stand trial at age 15.
The state argues the trial court did not err in not ordering a competency hearing because it’s up to the defendant to prove incompetence, and there was no evidence to suggest Brinkley was incompetent to stand trial. His attorney was not ineffective, the state argues, and Brinkley has failed to demonstrate that the 10-year delay has ruined his competency claim. The state contends the sentence was not cruel and unusual.