ATLANTA - A man convicted of the 1997 murder of an Augusta school police officer lost his appeal today when the Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction and life sentence.
Bryan T. Williams was convicted in 1999 for the shooting of Officer Michael Stephenson who was responding to a burglar alarm at Jamestown Elementary School. Stephenson had arrested Williams, frisked him, and placed him in his patrol car and was talking to the school's custodian when Williams shot him through the car's window. The custodian, and his son who was also a witness, identified Williams, who turned himself in that night.
In the unanimous decision written by Justice Hugh Thompson, the court found it reasonable for a jury to conclude Williams was guilty. It also found there was no reason to move the trial to a different city as Williams had requested, despite 38 articles and six letters published in The Augusta Chronicle in the 16 months between his arrest and trial.
Thompson noted that the judge observed when the 65 jurors were questioned "that it was 'startling' how few prospective jurors indicated that they had formed a fixed opinion about the case; and defense counsel conceded that all jurors stated they could set aside whatever they may have read or heard about the case and any opinions they may have formed. Our review of the (jury-questioning) proceedings confirms those conclusions."
Thompson said Williams didn't prove that the newspaper coverage mislead jurors.
"It was not shown that the newspaper articles were inflammatory or stated inaccurate facts of the crime," Thompson wrote.