15:47, October 31 190 0 abajournal.com

2018-10-31 15:47:09
Judge sentences ex-magistrate to life in prison, then grants him a new trial as ‘13th juror’

A Georgia judge sentenced a former magistrate to life in prison for murder and aggravated assault of last Thursday, then granted him a new trial on his own motion.

Chief Judge David Motes of Jackson County was less than a week away from retirement when he used Georgia’s “13th juror” standard to acquit 78-year-old Paul Hamilton, a former Barrow County magistrate judge, report the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and 11Alive.

“I cannot end my career with what I believe to be an injustice,” Motes said.

Sheriff’s police said Hamilton suspected his nephew, Brandon Lay, had stolen from his unoccupied trailer, according to the Journal-Constitution account. According to Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith, Hamilton allegedly told deputies who were called to the property that he would be searching for Lay, and if he found Lay before deputies could find him, “You’ll have to call the coroner.”

Police were called about 30 minutes later to an intersection where Lay was found inside his truck with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

Hamilton had told police that Lay cut him off at an intersection, they had an altercation, and “that’s when I shot him deader than [expletive],” according to a police report cited by WSB-TV.

Motes cited several reasons for his decision to grant Hamilton a new trial. He said a witness with a history of drug use had told multiple versions of a story, and he had made errors during the trial. He also raised questions about his jury instructions regarding the definition of intent.

Sheriff Smith said he believed Motes’ ruling was a “gross misuse of power,” according to the Journal-Constitution. Hamilton’s lawyer described the decision to 11Alive as “an act of courage.”

Atlanta trial lawyer Andrew Fleischman told WSB-TV that Georgia’s 13th juror standard is “one of the most important and distinctive parts of our state law.”

“It allows a judge to grant a new trial out of conscience,” he said. “I’ve won two.”