ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia recently released 20 opinions, as the court approaches the end of its current term. Following are summaries of the more noteworthy cases. Full opinions are available on the court’s website.
ASHLEY DEBELBOT V. THE STATE
Under a ruling by the Supreme Court of Georgia, a military couple convicted of murdering their newborn daughter and sentenced to life in prison is entitled to a new trial. In a unanimous decision written by Justice Keith R. Blackwell, the high court has reversed a Muscogee County court’s denial of the motions for new trial filed by Albert and Ashley Debelbot.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY V. RAGSDALE
A lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Public Safety may not go forward under an opinion by the Georgia Supreme Court. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice John J. Ellington, the high court has reversed a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court, involving a lawsuit brought by Matthew Ragsdale in Fulton County State Court against the Department after he was injured in a car crash with a suspect who was fleeing from law enforcement.
McELRATH V. THE STATE
The Supreme Court of Georgia has ordered a new trial for a young man who was 18 years old when he stabbed his mother to death a week after he was released from a state mental health facility in Atlanta. Following a 2017 trial in Cobb County Superior Court, the jury found Damian McElrath “guilty but mentally ill” of felony murder and aggravated assault, but “not guilty by reason of insanity” of malice murder. Both verdicts stemmed from a single incident in which McElrath, who suffered from either schizophrenia or a related schizoaffective disorder, stabbed his mother more than 50 times. In the opinion, written by Chief Justice Harold D. Melton, the high court has found the verdicts “repugnant” – or contradictory – and has vacated them and remanded the case for a new trial.
SAWYER V. THE STATE
The Supreme Court of Georgia upheld Devin Sawyer’s convictions in DeKalb County for felony murder and other crimes connected to the 2012 death of Michael Weeks Jr., the 2½-year-old son of Sawyer’s then-girlfriend. According to the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy and testified at Sawyer’s trial, the child suffered numerous and severe injuries to several internal organs that caused his death. The court rejected Sawyer’s claim that he received “ineffective assistance” from his trial counsel.
IN OTHER CASES, the Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld murder convictions and life prison sentences for:
♦ Damon Bamberg (Jeff Davis Co.)
♦ Sonya Bamberg (Jeff Davis Co.)
The Supreme Court has upheld the murder convictions and life prison sentences of this mother and son for the shooting death of the son’s ex-wife, Allison Nicole Bamberg.
♦ Thanquarius R. Calhoun (Franklin Co.)
♦ Cornelius Edwards (Fulton Co.)
♦ Fernando Hogan (Fulton Co.)
The Supreme Court has upheld Hogan’s convictions and life prison sentence for murder and other crimes stemming from the 2014 shooting death of Kilon Williams and the aggravated assault of Williams’s friend, Nicholas Gibson. However, the Court has vacated Hogan’s conviction and sentence for the aggravated assault of Gibson, as that conviction should have been merged with the armed robbery conviction for sentencing purposes as they stemmed from the same incident.
IN LAWYER DISCIPLINARY MATTERS, the Georgia Supreme Court has disbarred the following attorney:
Julianne Wesley Holliday.