A local judge declined this week to grant a new trial to a Columbus man condemned to death in 1994, turning down an initial appeal that had been pending for nearly 18 years.
The case of Ward Anthony Brockman is 1 of 3 local death penalty cases that have been stalled at the earliest appellate stage more than a decade after conviction. Brockman’s appeal now will be sent to the Georgia Supreme Court for an automatic review, a step often completed within the first few years of a capital conviction.
A 47-page order signed Monday by Superior Court Judge Gil McBride attributed the sluggish pace of Brockman’s appeal to the death of a court reporter, a change in appellate counsel and a dormancy of some eight years in which “no hearings were held until its subsequent resurrection in 2009.”
The inordinate delay was among dozens of issues Brockman’s defense raised in an amended motion for a new trial. The defense claimed Brockman’s right to due process and a meaningful appeal was violated due to the state’s failure to have the transcript completed in a timely fashion.
But McBride’s order, which was prepared by Assistant District Attorney David R. Helmick, rejected that assertion and many others.
“Defendant’s argument that he should be granted a new trial because his appeal was delayed is disingenuous as a very large part of the delay was caused by defendant’s own inaction,” the order says.
Brockman’s defense attorney, Richard C. Hagler, said he wasn’t “tremendously surprised” by McBride’s order, adding he expected the case to end up before the state Supreme Court.
Brockman, 40, admitted to fatally shooting gas station attendant Billy Lynn in June 1990 during a botched armed robbery. A co-defendant who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter said Brockman killed the man “to keep him from bragging to his friends that he stood up to armed robbers.”
Brockman, meanwhile, claimed the gun discharged accidentally after Lynn failed to hand over his cash. McBride held, however, that jurors were free to “disbelieve” Brockman’s testimony, adding the evidence at trial was enough to support the felony murder and attempted armed robbery convictions.
The motion for new trial also argued that Brockman’s death sentence was invalid because he wasn’t convicted of the underlying capital felony of armed robbery. Testimony at trial showed Brockman fled the scene of the shooting without getting any money.
But McBride sided with prosecutors, who said the law only requires a defendant to be “engaged in the commission” of a capital felony for it to qualify as an aggravating circumstance in a death penalty case.
(source: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)