Originally created 07/23/98

Judge denies new trial motion



WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- Convicted murderer and death row inmate Willie Palmer lost his first round in the appeal process Wednesday when a judge denied his motion for a new trial.

The next move for Mr. Palmer, 45, is an appeal to the state Supreme Court, said his attorney, Rick Ward.

Mr. Palmer, 45, was convicted and sentenced to death for the Sept. 10, 1995, murders of his estranged wife and stepdaughter, Brenda Jenkins Palmer, 31, and Christine Jenkins, 15.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. denied Mr. Palmer's motion for a new trial. Judge Fleming presided over Mr. Palmer's first trial in Burke County Superior Court, which ended in a mistrial in April 1997 and led to a change of venue. Judge Fleming also presided over Mr. Palmer's second trial in Washington County where Mr. Palmer was convicted and sentenced to death in November.

Mr. Ward on Wednesday argued several things that happened in Mr. Palmer's cases were errors, necessitating a new trial. His complaints included one about how District Attorney Danny Craig used all his peremptory challenges on black potential jurors.

Both sides are allowed a certain number of peremptory challenges to strike people from a jury without stating any reason. Neither side, however, is allowed to strike a potential juror because of race or sex. If the opposing attorney challenges a peremptory strike as appearing biased, then the attorney has to give a nondiscriminatory reason for striking a potential juror.

During Mr. Palmer's jury selection, Mr. Craig gave neutral reasons for striking 10 potential jurors, but Wednesday Mr. Ward argued that the district attorney's reasons were only pretenses because the same concerns could have been made about several whites who became jurors. Mr. Palmer's jury was composed of eight blacks and four whites.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing, Judge Fleming asked Mr. Palmer whether he is satisfied with his attorney. Mr. Palmer said, "I'm not so sure. There's a whole lot of stuff going on, I really can't say."

Unless he wins a new trial, Mr. Palmer's case is now based on attacking the written record, but the defendant is angry at his attorney for not visiting him on death row in Jackson, Mr. Ward said after the hearing. Mr. Ward has written several letters but said he can't afford to take what would mean a day off work to travel to Jackson.

The local Indigent Defense Counsel -- which oversees the appointment and payment of defense attorneys for poor people in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties -- cut the bills Mr. Ward and co-counsel Clay Jolly submitted for representing Mr. Palmer in his two trials. Mr. Ward said his work for Mr. Palmer ended up costing him $8,000. Among the list of alleged errors Mr. Ward cited is an allegation that there wasn't adequate compensation for Mr. Palmer's legal defense.

Mr. Ward said he is still planning a lawsuit against the Indigent Defense Committee and Burke County.