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Atlanta�Prosecutors have won a rare chance to retry an accused murder defendant, thanks to the 113-year-old musings of Logan Edwin Bleckley, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court from 1887 to 1894. In 1890 and in 2003, the state high court dealt with an unusual situation: A mistrial occurred on the last day before an accused criminal’s right to a speedy trial would result in the defendant’s automatic acquittal. Bleckley and his court sidestepped the issue by ruling that the defendant could be retried based on a superseding indictment. But the chief justice imagined what should happen in the case of a mistrial that occurs on the cusp of a speedy trial deadline. The trial could go forward in the following court term, Bleckley wrote, equating a mistrial caused by a deadlocked jury to an “inevitable accident or providential cause” that would result in prosecutors getting more time to conduct their trial. Brown v. State, 85 Ga. 713 (1890). Faced with similar circumstances in 2003, Justice Robert Benham and four other justices adopted Bleckley’s views in voting to reverse the automatic acquittal of Charles Varner, who had been accused of the shooting death of Barron Gillespie. “We endorse Chief Justice Bleckley’s 19th-century suggested resolution and apply it to the 21st-century dilemma with which we are faced,” Benham wrote. Justice P. Harris Hines penned a scathing dissent, claiming the majority had “violently shaken the salutary doctrine of stare decisis” by relying on “unpersuasive dicta” and usurping the role of legislators. State v. Varner, No. S03A0936 (Ga. Nov. 26, 2003). The dispute grew out of last year’s trial of Varner before Fulton County Superior Court Senior Judge Charles L. Carnes. Varner had asked in May 2002 for a speedy trial, meaning that he was supposed to get one by the end of the term that ended in the last week of October 2002. The trial started on Oct. 28. After 2 1/2 days of testimony and 14 hours of deliberations, the jury convicted Varner of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But it could not reach a unanimous verdict on murder charges. Prosecutors announced that they were ready to retry the murder charges, but there were no jurors available on such short notice. The following Monday a new court term had started, and Carnes granted Varner an acquittal on the murder charge. Sentenced to 25 years on the two convictions, Varner was sent to prison. District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. asked the Georgia Supreme Court to reinstate the murder charge.

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