ELLIJAY, Ga. — Defense attorneys in the Calhoun High School rape case say prosecutors mixed up which student is accused of which crime.
On July 7, a Gilmer County grand jury indicted 18-year-old Andrew Isaac Haynes on a count of sodomy, apparently based on evidence that Haynes performed oral sex against the will of a female student during a post-prom party. The grand jury also indicted 18-year-olds Fields Benjamin Chapman and Damon Avery Johnson on other charges in the case.
Problem is, lawyers say the sheriff's investigation doesn't accuse Haynes of sodomy. Chapman's attorney, George Weaver, filed an objection to several of the indictments for several reasons, including the fact that the count of sodomy against Haynes "charges the wrong defendant."
Haynes' attorney, Steve Williams, said that Johnson was the one who has been accused of that crime, not Haynes. Williams said members of Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee's office mixed up the names while reading the evidence.
Williams said prosecutors tried to bring the case to a grand jury too quickly, given the intense national attention the accusation has generated.
"If everybody would slow down here we could talk reasonably, but they insist on going fast while the investigators are still talking to people," Williams said. "That just doesn't make any sense to me. But I guess my advocacy skills are not as good as I thought they were. I can't get them to slow down long enough to think this through."
In addition to the sodomy charge, all three defense attorneys have protested indictments charging their clients with aggravated sexual battery and sexual battery. In one count, the indictment says that Chapman, Haynes and Johnson committed sexual battery by penetrating the victim with a finger. But the indictment does not specifically say whether one of them, two of them or all three of them committed the crime.
Sosebee and Assistant District Attorney Steve Spencer did not return calls seeking comment Monday. On Friday, Sosebee told the Dalton Daily Citizen that the Calhoun High School defendants would be reindicted by a grand jury this week.
However, it is unclear whether prosecutors will address the lawyers' objections to the charge against Haynes. Sosebee told the Daily Citizen that the Calhoun High School case and about 50 other cases were going back to the grand jury because of a "specific irregularity."
Sosebee did not elaborate on the "specific irregularity." But Johnson's attorney, Jesse Vaughn, said the issue is mundane. When a grand jury indicts a defendant, according to Georgia law, a bailiff must deliver a paper copy of that indictment directly to a Superior Court judge.
But when the grand jury met in July, Vaughn said, no such judge was in the courthouse. Instead, the bailiff gave the indictments to a clerk. Then, when a judge was back in court, the clerk gave the indictments back to the bailiff, who finally gave them to the judge.
Vaughn said this is why the grand jury is going to re-indict Chapman, Haynes, Johnson and defendants in about 50 other cases. Neither Vaughn nor Williams knew Monday if any other changes would be made in the new indictments.
Vaughn said he has not told Sosebee that his client is actually the one facing sodomy charges because that is not his job as a defense attorney. He added that the mix-up between Haynes and Johnson shows how confusing the evidence can be when investigators are relying on statements of about 25 high school students who were at the party.
"There are a lot of different versions of events," Vaughn said. "I don't think the sheriff's office and the detectives believe beyond a reasonable doubt. Logically, they just couldn't. There are too many versions."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.