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A jury convicted Tony Jamerson of raping his former girlfriend. But DeKalb County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Hilton M. Fuller Jr. wasn’t certain justice was done. After pondering the verdict for a week, Fuller on Monday notified a county prosecutor and Jamerson’s public defender, Corinne M. Mull, that he was “inclined” to grant a motion for a new trial — even though he didn’t have one. DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer M. Daniels, who prosecuted Jamerson during a five-day trial earlier this month, says she was stunned. She asked the judge repeatedly why the verdict — which jurors reached on Jan. 12 after four hours of deliberation — troubled him. Fuller wouldn’t elaborate, she says. He just kept saying, “I don’t feel justice was done in this case,” she recalls. “His last statement was, ‘I don’t have to have a reason.’ “ Daniels says Fuller’s action is not only “highly unusual,” but it has troubled the majority of the jury who convicted the 27-year-old Jamerson. “It completely undermines their faith in the judicial system,” she says. “They’re told to be the judges of credibility in the case. That’s their job. They did that. They are educated people. They are not a group of imbeciles.” But Mull says Fuller “was trying to do something decent” by privately notifying both sides of his concerns. Prior to the trial, she says, prosecutors had offered Jamerson 12 months’ probation for criminal trespassing in a plea bargain he accepted, but the victim rejected the offer. “There was never any statement made that he would overturn the verdict,” she says. But Fuller, she acknowledges, was “thinking about the possibility were a motion to be made” that he might grant it. It’s not the first time Fuller has thrown out a felony case that Mull defended. In 1997, Fuller first declared a mistrial and then, after a second trial, threw out a jury’s murder verdict against Jan Barry Sandlin. Sandlin, whom Mull defended during the first two trials, was accused of killing his baby boy 25 years earlier and then blaming his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter. Sandlin was convicted in a third trial in which Atlanta attorney Steven Sadow defended him. On Thursday, Fuller was scheduled to return to the bench to hear Mull argue the new trial motion, which she filed the day after she and Daniels met in Fuller’s chambers. But while dozens of the victim’s fellow church members gathered outside Fuller’s office in a courthouse corridor, the judge postponed the hearing three times for unspecified personal health reasons. He then rescheduled it for 8:30 a.m. Thursday. In the courtroom were rape victim Debra Edwards, fellow congregation members at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, prosecutors and some still-baffled jurors. Juror Phillip Potts of Dunwoody says the possibility that Fuller may set aside the case “makes you wonder why we even had a jury trial.” He says he and other jurors lost sleep during the trial as they agonized over their decision. “We were very serious about the deliberations,” he says, and throughout them “no one believed the defendant was telling the truth. … under Georgia law it was sufficient if we believed the woman was telling the truth, and we did. We still have nothing to show that she was telling anything but the truth.” The rape case against Jamerson was not the easiest to try, Daniels says. There were no witnesses to the March 2000 rape, and because Edwards didn’t go to the hospital until the day after, there was little physical evidence. Also, Jamerson and the victim, whose age was not released, had been involved in a previous relationship. Although the couple never married, they did have a five-year-old son. But Edwards had ended the relationship with Jamerson in March 1999 when she became active at New Birth and took a vow of celibacy until her marriage, Daniels says. And immediately after the rape, she recounted her ordeal to two close friends who encouraged her to go to the hospital and report it to police. The physician at Grady Memorial Hospital also remembered her. “According to the doctor, she was tearful and upset but was consolable,” Daniels says. “All that’s consistent with somebody who has been through a rape.” BOTH TESTIFIED Both Edwards and Jamerson testified. Jamerson’s story of how he stopped by to see his former girlfriend, ostensibly to discuss their son, matched her account in every way, except for the sexual encounter that followed, Daniels says. Edwards told the jury that after she and Jamerson ran an errand and returned to her home, he grabbed her from behind, pinned her arms, then carried her to the bed and, while she fought him, raped her, the prosecutor says. Jamerson insisted that she had willingly had sex with him after he took her hand and kissed her on the neck “to comfort her” and to demonstrate that he intended to support his son, she says. Jamerson also acknowledged that he never offered her any child support or told her that he wanted to insure the boy, now that he had a steady job. Mull says what happened was consensual sex, not rape. Although the victim had taken vows of celibacy, “she succumbed to his charms.” Mull says the victim acknowledged a rape only after a church deacon and a fellow church member suggested it. Rape, Mull says, would not violate those celibacy vows. “The jury basically got to hear from everyone,” Daniels says. “They heard from the victim, from the outcry witnesses, and from the defendant. There were only two people in the court who knew what happened that day. That’s the victim and the defendant. It’s a matter of credibility of the witnesses. “And that’s the jury’s job — to judge the credibility of the witnesses.” Mull says the jury’s demeanor during deliberation and courtroom breaks “was repugnant.” Says Mull, “Those people never stopped laughing. … It was hilarity that was unbecoming to a courtroom.” Daniels says that her juror interviews revealed that none of the jury’s seven men and five women — nine of them college-educated — ever suggested during deliberations that Jamerson wasn’t guilty. When they took their first vote, seven voted guilty, and five were undecided, she says. Four hours later, the verdict was unanimous. Mull says she assumed the meeting was a response to her request, through Fuller’s clerk, for an expedited sentencing hearing in January. “What concerns me greatly is that the judge would show them what he was thinking and give them an opportunity to change his mind,” Mull says. “To take his gesture of good faith and turn around and go to the press — it’s sour grapes, it’s bad form, it’s not done. Not to Judge Fuller. … This man cares. He’s the type of man who doesn’t sleep at night. He worries and worries and worries.” When the jury announced the verdict, Mull began to cry. Mull says she composed herself in an empty office that belongs to Fuller’s law clerk. “Then I went home and opened a five-pound bag of pistachios.” “It was total, utter shock,” Mull says. “I show my emotions more than I should.” On Jan. 22, when Fuller summoned Daniels and Mull to his chambers, Fuller did more than simply raise concerns about the jury’s guilty verdict. He opened the door for the new trial motion by rescheduling Jamerson’s February sentencing date for the following day, Daniels says. New trial motions cannot be filed until after a defendant is sentenced. Fuller also said he was considering granting a new trial on general grounds, a ruling which, in essence, determines there is insufficient evidence for conviction. “The practical effect is vacating the verdict,” Daniels says. “He [Jamerson] just walks scot-free.” In that meeting, Fuller also delayed Mull’s request for an appeals bond, saying he wanted to consider the motion for a new trial first. Daniels says Fuller also asked her whether she believed justice had truly been done, adding, “Ms. Mull, I know how you feel about this.” Daniels says when she protested that she needed to give her victim a reason why a new trial might be granted, Fuller responded: “As a Superior Court judge, I have to judge these trials both subjectively and objectively. That’s my job.” A prosecutor for seven years, Daniels says, “I have never had this happen. … Typically, a new trial is granted when something went amiss, something ugly happened. “Nothing happened.”

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