Family members of a slain North Georgia 17-year-old have appealed to hundreds in the community to bring the case of the boy's killer before a grand jury.
In the weeks after Dalton McConathy died on Nov. 11, his mother, father and siblings have asked local residents to sign a petition directed at Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin. The petition asks Franklin to present the evidence of McConathy's death before a grand jury.
As of Tuesday night, the family had collected at least 797 signatures.
McConathy died after 69-year-old Fred Steven Youngblood shot him in the neck in Youngblood's backyard.
Youngblood claims self-defense and told investigators McConathy was stealing his scrap metal. McConathy's family disputes this. A 16-year-old boy was with McConathy and has been charged with burglary. He has not spoken publicly about the incident.
On Tuesday, Franklin said he respects the effort of McConathy's family, but he does not believe a petition should affect a prosecutor's action in a criminal case.
"Public debate is always a good thing about issues like these," he said. "But the system really works outside of that. We have our laws in place. If our laws need to be changed for whatever reasons, we have the folks in the Legislature. ... Somebody trying to push a decision is a difficult thing. We try to gather all the facts and see how those apply to the law. Public sentiment falls somewhat outside of that."
The McConathy family's attorney, McCracken Poston, said he never has presented a petition to a prosecutor. He said he encouraged the family to collect names as a way to deal with the grief of Dalton McConathy's death.
Poston said Franklin should weigh the opinions of those on the petition in this case because he is a public official. In 2012, residents in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit re-elected Franklin by 42 votes, according to Times Free Press archives.
"They're telling a prosecutor to be a prosecutor," Poston said of the petitioners. "We don't know what a jury would do. I think a grand jury, looking at it, I think they should probably get it to the next jury. ... From that point, it is totally up to the lawyers who present the case."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.