Originally created 11/14/97

Teen defendant wants judge recused

A 17-year-old defending himself on murder charges in Richmond County Superior Court wants the judges designated to preside over his trial recused.

Christopher Bargeron, 17, is scheduled to stand trial Monday along with three other young men accused of taking part in the May 11 slaying of Staff Sgt. Kevin Leroy Spann, 35. Attorneys involved in the case, however, expect the trial to be continued.

Tuesday, Mr. Bargeron filed a motion seeking the removal recusal of Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. and Judge Bernard Mulherin Sr., who are scheduled to preside over criminal court trials next week.

Mr. Bargeron wrote in his motion that the judges should be recused from the case because cases are not properly assigned in the Augusta Judicial Circuit and the judges have improper one-sided communications with the district attorney concerning the assignment of cases.

Mr. Bargeron also filed a petition this week asking to join William Lumpkin in a civil proceeding, which seeks to force Richmond County Superior Court to conduct business the way other Georgia courts do.

Mr. Lumpkin is facing capital murder charges in the Sept. 2, 1996, death of real estate agent Stan White. In a civil action filed last month in Richmond County Superior Court, Mr. Lumpkin's attorneys argued that the local judges are not following Georgia Supreme Court rules that require the clerk's office to assign cases to judges on an equal basis.

In the Augusta Judicial Circuit, cases aren't assigned to judges at all unless they are death penalty cases, and then the chief judge assigns them.

The civil trial had been scheduled to begin Monday, but it was postponed at the request of the attorney general's office. That office is representing the judges.

Also Monday, the seven local Superior Court judges signed off on written local rules for the assignment of cases and the internal operating procedures for the superior courts in Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties. The document outlines the current practice of having four judges handle criminal and civil cases on a rotating basis, and three judges handle domestic relations matters.

Mr. Bargeron's case is the first case for trial on Monday's court calendar. In August, Judge Mulherin granted Mr. Bargeron's request to represent himself. He is accused of murder in Staff Sgt. Spann's shooting death, along with Gerald Lewis Horne, 18, Larry Wayne Kelly, 18, and Matthew Clark Piazzi, 17.

A fifth person, the soldier's Staff Sgt. Spann's widow, 31-year-old Gina Lynn Spann, will be tried separately because she faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of murder.

Investigators contend the killing was Ms. Spann's idea and the motive was $300,000 in life insurance.


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