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New trial denied for Columbia County teen

Thursday, March 6, 2014 5:52 PM
Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 9:50 AM
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not completely report the judge's decision.

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Judge Michael Annis listens to testimony during a motion for a new trial for Aaron Schmitt for the 2011 murder of Alana May Calahan.  Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Judge Michael Annis listens to testimony during a motion for a new trial for Aaron Schmitt for the 2011 murder of Alana May Calahan.

More than two years after Lacy Aaron Schmidt was convicted of murdering his 14-year-old friend, a Superior Court judge refused his request for a new trial.

Schmidt, 17, was 15 when authorities charged him with shooting 14-year-old Alana May Calahan inside her home nearHarlemon Jan. 31, 2011.

A year later, a jury convicted him of murder, theft and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Schmidt to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Annis denied the request for a new trial at a Thursday hearing in Evans.

His attorney, Mack Taylor, argued for a new trial. He said that Penelope Donkar, Schidmt’s trial attorney, was “ineffective.”

Taylor argued that Donkar should have more vehemently pursued voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charges and that she had “no real strategy to get a voluntary manslaughter verdict and no clear strategy to get an involuntary manslaughter verdict.”

He said that the judge should have allowed the jury to consider those charges based on a statement Schmidt gave investigators while in custody that he was trying to “uncock” the gun when it just went off. That statement should have led to the jury being able to consider involuntary manslaughter. Another possible theory suggesting Schmidt suddenly became violent in the heat of passion and excitement should have allowed the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter.

Taylorquoted case law that says if the grade of homicide is unclear that the jury should have been instructed on them all and allowed to decide for themselves.

“There has to be some evidence,” Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine argued in favor of upholding Schmidt’s conviction. “There was nothing said by Mr. Schmidt other than it was an accident.”

Donkar, who testified at the hearing, said Schmidt’s trial was her first murder trial. She said preparations for the trial “consumed” her.

Paine said that Donkar spent appropriate effort preparing for the trial and that she had evidentiary reasons not to seek a manslaughter charge.

“She was simply going where the evidence took her in this case,” Paine said.

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myfather15 03/07/14 - 06:26 am
"“She was simply going where

"“She was simply going where the evidence took her in this case,”

Exactly!! This is just another pathetic attempt by attorney's to confuse the situation and try to get a new trial. There was a LOT more to this case than he was just "trying to uncock" the gun!! There was a LOT to show this as a premeditated killing!!

The VAST majority of people convicted of murder or other major crimes, try to go with the "ineffective counsel" defense in a plea; It very, very rarely works!! You basically have to show they were a complete bafoon! For example, if they miss numerous defenses, where there is precedent case law.

So, simply saying she should have tried to get EITHER manslaughter, in ridiculous. Unless the evidence indicates, that's complete non-sense.

Also, doesn't matter whether the judge didn't allow them to hear those charges or not. What matters is, did he make an error in law? If not, they have ZERO ground to stand on!!

Marinerman1 03/07/14 - 09:25 am
Not Sure About the Sentence

Does Schmidt have a lengthy juvenile record ?? What I can't get my hands around is a 15 year-old being sentenced to life with NO Parole. Based upon other murder trials in the past, this seems a little extreme, unless there is a long criminal past. @ 15, I can't see how one kid could build up that much "bad".

I'm Back Again
I'm Back Again 03/07/14 - 10:34 am
Marine man...tell that to the

Marine man...tell that to the girls parents who's daughter was murdered. Who cares about his past? No ones criminal past has any bearing on what they're doing in the present! He decided at that very moment to pull the trigger. It didn't matter if he was a perfect angel prior to that, or a complete thug. Fact remains he killed an innocent girl at that very moment and he will have to deal with the consequences. Period.

Dixieman 03/07/14 - 10:54 am
Suck it up, son

You took a life. Do your time.

rmwhitley 03/07/14 - 12:00 pm
I believe

schmidt should be released to the custody of taylor, permanently. Wherever taylor goes, schmidt goes. Wherever taylor lives, schmidt lives till death do them part.

GiantsAllDay 03/07/14 - 12:29 pm
MyFather15, You post has a

You post has a lot of truth but if your name is Michael Skakel and you are related to the Kennedys, then your comments do not apply. Skakel was granted a new trial last year due to ineffective counsel and is now free on bond.

T.More 03/07/14 - 08:05 pm
So much for judicial neutrality...

The crux of the appeal is that the jury was entitled to hear all of the law and the Judge did not have a right to prevent the Defendant from presenting a defense of Voluntary Manslaughter and/or Involuntary Manslaughter no matter how far-fetched and/or implausible the Judge considered it. The Judge is supposed to be a neutral arbitrator sitting on the Bench and is supposed to make sure that all parties, particularly the Defendant, who is presumed innocent at the jury trial phase, receives a fair trial. If the Defense wanted to present more than one defense, accident, mistake, negligence, heat of passion, etc., and there is slight evidence (such as the Defendant’s statement about trying to uncock the gun), the Defendant is allowed to present that theory to jury. So the Judge abused his discretion and overstepped his charge by helping the prosecution secure a conviction when he said the jury could not even consider involuntary and/or voluntary manslaughter. Ultimately, the jury weighs the facts against the law and makes a decision, the judge does not make that decision. The State and the Defense both have a right to present their theory or theories of the case to the jury.

If I am reading the article correctly, it does not sound like the Defense attorney was ineffective for asking the Judge to charge the jury on Involuntary and/or Voluntary Manslaughter, the Judge simply decided to lend the Prosecution a helping hand by not allowing the jury to even consider those lesser charges to Murder. The Judge helped handcuff the Defense attorney by not even allowing them to present their theory via the evidence, and therefore, directly participated in the prosecution of a man who at the time was presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Now instead of undoing his clear bias in favor of the DA’s Office, he simply relies on the Supreme Court of Georgia to hold it to be harmless error based on the totality of all the evidence in the case, which is a dereliction of his duty and oath of office.

For the person who indicated most people try to claim “ineffective counsel defense in a plea,” this is not a plea. A plea is where you stand in front of the Court and indicate you are guilty or you take some sort of deal. This is an appeal, which reviews the errors committed at the original trial by the Judge, the Defense Attorney and the Prosecution. Huge difference.

jimmymac 03/07/14 - 03:53 pm

If losing a trial opens the door to an ineffective council appeal our courts would be rendered useless. The kid killed this girl and no matter the reason he should be held accountable for the crime. I doubt if the victim or her family care one iota if he had a different motive. Why did he have a gun illegally and why was it cocked if this was an accident? You don't cock a gun unless you intend to use it!

myfather15 03/07/14 - 04:57 pm

I won't argue with your point at all!! The rich and powerful have ALWAYS received treatment that you and I would NEVER be given!! That is a FACT!! I've personally seen it more times than I care to remember!! But that took, shall come to an end!! The meek, shall inherit the earth!!

InChristLove 03/08/14 - 09:17 am
I don't remember reading too

I don't remember reading too much about this case but I'm curious. Myfather15 stated "There was a LOT to show this as a premeditated killing!! "

Can you give us details where this show it was a premeditated killing?

I have to agree with Marinerman1, this seems a rather harsh sentence for a 15 year old who evidently has not been in any other trouble up until the shooting.

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