An Augusta man convicted of attempted rape and other crimes in a brutal attack in a hospital women’s restroom is entitled to a new trial, the Court of Appeals of Georgia has ruled.
In a July 10 opinion, the appellate court reversed Roger Bettis’ 2010 conviction and 95-year prison sentence because, it said, the trial judge didn’t follow the proper procedure to determine whether Bettis could represent himself at trial.
Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. presided over Bettis’ trial in Richmond County Superior Court. A jury found Bettis guilty of attempted rape, two counts of aggravated assault, kidnapping and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
On the night of June 3, 2009, a woman whose husband was a patient at Georgia Regents Medical Center entered a restroom on the fourth floor. She was in one of the stalls when a man climbed over it and attacked her.
The woman lost several teeth and sustained a dislocated jaw and heavy bruising in a rape attempt that was interrupted when another woman entered the restroom. The assailant, whose pants were down, threatened to kill the second woman with a knife and forced her into a stall to make his escape.
According to trial testimony, that woman was able to identify Bettis as the attacker. Sheriff’s investigators also collected the blood-stained shorts that Bettis had worn the night of attack. The beaten woman’s DNA was on the shorts.
Although the evidence at trial was sufficient for the jury to find Bettis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge’s summary denial of Bettis’ request to represent himself was a constitutional error, the Court of Appeals found.
Criminal defendants are entitled to competent representation by an attorney regardless of their ability to hire counsel, but they also are guaranteed the right to represent themselves.
In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the issue is whether a defendant knowingly and intelligently waives the constitutional right to an attorney. The trial judge is required to “apprise the defendant of the dangers and disadvantages inherent in representing himself ...”
The appellate courts in Georgia and throughout the country have struggled over what constitutes “knowingly and intelligently” waiving the right to counsel.
The district attorney’s office must begin the appeal process this week.