ATLANTA — Georgia's top court today threw out the murder conviction of a man who has spent seven years behind bars for killing his brother in a hunting accident in a unanimous decision that immediately cut short the man's life prison sentence.
The Georgia Supreme Court's decision exonerates Joshua Hames, who was convicted of the 2002 murder of his brother Sam while on a hunting trip on the family's farm in Walton County. The decision found that the indictment against Hames failed to prove he had the criminal intent or recklessness necessary for conviction.
Hames had argued for years that he thought he was shooting a bobcat or other large animal through the scope of his rifle during that ill-fated hunting trip. He said neighbors had reported they'd recently seen a large cat roaming the area, and his brother wasn't wearing the bright orange safety clothing that hunters customarily wear.
But prosecutors said Hames violated the state law that said a hunter commits a felony if he seriously injures another while using a firearm "by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk." A jury agreed, convicting him of felony misuse of a firearm while hunting and felony murder.
Hames tried repeatedly to appeal the conviction, which was upheld in 2004 by the Georgia Supreme Court. But in 2009 a Baldwin County judge found the indictment "fatally defective" and set aside the convictions. State prosecutors then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The court's ruling, written by Justice David Nahmias, found the state "failed to produce sufficient evidence at trial to authorize a rational jury to find Hames guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." It also said that the indictment failed to prove that Hames made a conscious decision to endanger the safety of another person.
Defense attorney Holly Pierson said Hames is "thrilled" with the decision and that attorneys are working out the logistics for his release.