ATLANTA — Terry Tolbert, who was convicted in Richmond County of murder at age 19 alongside his two uncles, appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday for his conviction to be reversed.
Attorney Tanya Jeffords argued that Tolbert did not receive a fair trial.
On Jan. 26, 1996, Tolbert and Leroy Sims were present when Dewey Sims shot Shelley Griffin Jr. in the head during a confrontation in the 1400 block of Mauge Street in Augusta. All three men were convicted of murder and are serving life sentences.
“(Tolbert) was there at the scene because his uncles asked him to be there,” Jeffords said, adding that her client never brandished a gun.
Jeffords said Tolbert’s trial attorney, Jack Boone, had a conflict of interest because he also represented Leroy Sims, who paid the legal fees.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Smith said Tolbert chose to go all in with his uncles, both on the day of the shooting and at trial.
“It’s obvious that Mr. Tolbert really takes seriously this idea of family loyalty,” Smith said. “It was obvious that this was a consideration that he was concerned with in his decision not to go against his uncles at trial.”
He said Boone, along with Dewey Sims’ lawyer, presented a united argument that the men were acting in self-defense.
Justice David Nahmias asked why, in that case, Dewey Sims hired his own lawyer.
“If it was a family, joint, completely-holding-hands defense, why would you have two lawyers?” Nahmias asked.
Nahmias said that seemed to negate the prosecutors’ original argument that the three men were presenting a single defense.
Nahmias also echoed Jeffords’ argument that there were different levels of guilt in the case since Tolbert never pointed his gun and even said there would be no shooting.
Tolbert never met alone with his lawyer, not even to discuss a plea deal, Jeffords said. He also never stood up to testify, which she said was crucial to his case.
“He was slow,” Jeffords said. “If he would have testified just like he did at the (hearing for) the motion for new trial, the jury would have understood that perhaps, given his age and his mental ability, he was just doing what his uncles told him to do.”