Death-row defenders must prove effectiveness

Tony O. Grubbs: Man has been held in the deaths of a couple since June 2010, but his lawyers still have asked for more time to prepare.

The director of the state group responsible for defending people facing possible death sentences has been ordered by a Superior Court judge to appear in Waynesboro, Ga., on Wednesday to convince him that the organization is capable of doing its job.

In an order signed July 1, Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig demands an explanation from the Georgia Capital Defender system about the seeming lack of any defense work by its lawyers who have been representing Tony O. Grubbs for 10 months.

Grubbs, 42, has been held on capital murder charges in the Burke County jail since June 22, 2010. He is accused of stabbing to death Ralph Gordon, 82, and his wife, Trudy Gordon, 83, in their Waynesboro home last June.

If convicted, Grubbs faces death or life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole.

Craig, who was assigned to preside over the trial in Burke County Superior Court, wrote that he must determine whether the failure of the public defender system in the case is unique or common in the agency's work.

If there is a systemwide breakdown, the problem can be blamed on the state. If the state is to blame for delays in a trial, the charges against the accused can be dismissed.

At what was supposed to be the final pretrial hearing June 24, Grubbs' attorneys asked Craig to postpone the July 11 trial date because they were not prepared. Craig granted the motion but told the lawyers he wanted some answers about the state of capital defense in Georgia.

Craig noted that at least one other judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit was faced with the same motion accompanied by the same legal defense "to-do" list. Kelvin Johnson's case in Richmond County has been pending since Aug. 26, 2009.