Originally created 12/29/00

Evidence sets back trial date



SAVANNAH - The trial of a man charged in the beating death of a 3-year-old has been put on hold while forensic experts try to deal with DNA and bite-mark evidence.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Johnny Hugh Simmons, 42, who is charged with murder, cruelty to a child, aggravated child molestation, aggravated oral sodomy and reckless conduct by an HIV-infected person in Kenneth Thompson's death.

Kenneth was found dead in bed by his mother, Jacqueline Brown, on Jan. 2, 1998, in west Savannah. Bite marks were found on the dead child.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge James Bass Jr. scratched a scheduled trial for Tuesday after both defense lawyers and prosecutors asked for more time to prepare.

Jury selection is now scheduled to begin March 19, with the first witness to begin testifying March 26.

"I know the court is frustrated," Assistant District Attorney Greg McConnell told Judge Bass during arguments this week.

The problem is not lawyers trying to delay, but getting the forensic evidence and experts together. In addition, because the state is seeking the death penalty, each step in the pre-trial process takes on added importance, lawyers said.

Mr. Simmons, who is from the Greenville area of South Carolina, also is accused of molesting Kenneth's brothers Robert, 5, and 11-month-old Christopher.

Police said Mr. Simmons had been staying with Ms. Brown since leaving Georgia Regional Hospital a few weeks earlier.

She had left him to baby-sit the children New Year's Eve while she traveled to Florida to visit her brother. She returned to find Robert standing on a broken leg, her baby silent and motionless.

Robert has a history of biting and is autistic, Mr. McConnell said. The child had to be hospitalized so that a bite sample could be taken, the prosecutor said.

Prosecutors received 35 pages of worksheets Dec. 21 involving DNA testing. Defense lawyers say they need more time to have the material analyzed.

Both defense lawyers, Robert E. Falligant Jr. and Mark Edwards, and prosecutor Mr. McConnell have experts in forensic dental to review the bite marks on the dead child and the DNA evidence.

"The experts are diametrically opposed in their opinions," Mr. Edwards told Judge Bass.