Originally created 03/02/00

Letters sought to serve justice, not pressure board



(Editor's note: The author is Augusta attorney Thomas F. Allgood Sr.)

LOUIS BENNIE Phipps is not a "child murderer" as you state in your newspaper. That accusation was rejected by 12 impartial jurors in the verdict they returned in the trial of this case on March 30, 1990.

Mr. Phipps has never been a violent person. Those who know him best, even an ex-wife, described him as a loving and caring person and father who never hurt anyone. He has several children, none of whom have ever been abused. Surely he did not suddenly turn into a monster capable of inflicting such terrible injuries to a 2-year-old child. So, what happened?

The only answers to that question must come from the trial evidence and jury verdict, and not from the biased and self-serving statements you rely upon in your articles. The jury heard and considered evidence from numerous witnesses including the accused, Mr. Phipps. The case was aggressively prosecuted by a capable district attorney who insisted the jury convict the defendant of murder. The jury refused, and instead returned verdicts for "involuntary manslaughter" and one count of "cruelty to children."

These verdicts were appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals and the appeal eventually denied. The appellate court's findings are not particularly relevant and I will not go into detail. The appeals court ruled that evidence favorable to the accused (other than the favorable evidence that was admitted) was properly excluded by Judge Albert Pickett, and although I respectfully differ with this ruling, it is the law of the case. The appeals court further ruled there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdicts, and for that reason rejected any further consideration of the evidence in the record favorable to the defendant, Mr. Phipps. The Supreme Court of Georgia declined to hear the case at all.

Following appellate review, what little of it there was, Mr Phipps was entitled to full and impartial consideration by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. At the beginning of this process we believed the Board would do its duty, but after months of delay we could never prevail upon the Board to reconsider the merits of this case although abundant new evidence had been put before the Board.

Again, without going into detail, we presented to the Board our case showing that different criteria was being followed by the Board in this instance. In most cases involving convictions for violent offenses, the inmate would have been paroled after 47 to 68 months. The statistics bear out this fact. And these statistics are for all violent offenses, including murder, rape, armed robbery, etc.

Mr. Phipps was convicted of the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter. He has served more than 85 months, longer than a lot of inmates convicted of first degree murder. And, his time has been served as a model prisoner, which is often not the case with truly violent offenders.

We were then confronted with a totally new concept -- the Board would only reconsider the case if we produced letters from Judge Pickett, Sheriff Charles Webster and District Attorney Danny Craig. Not until later did I come to realize that input from these public officials was probably in conflict with the Board's own policies. Frankly, I was perplexed, and perhaps you can appreciate my dilemma.

After much thought and with considerable reservation, I concluded it was my obligation to do the best I could for a client who had no voice other than his attorney. I wrote letters to Messrs. Pickett, Webster and Craig, and later talked to each of them, outlining the situation and requesting their letters solely for the purpose of securing a hearing which Mr. Phipps was entitled to receive as a matter of justice but would not get without their letters. A recommendation of parole was never requested of, offered or given by any of the judicial officials. All I wanted was an opportunity to be heard by the Board.

One final note -- if the idea of parole is offensive to you or others, your focus and attention should be directed to the legislature. Until the Board of Pardons and Paroles is abolished by legislative enactment, inmates and their attorneys will continue to seek favorable consideration by the Board. It is their absolute legal right and professional obligation to do so.