Originally created 02/28/04

Judge sets court date; family forced to wait



AIKEN - The family of slain Aiken teenager Jessica Carpenter will have to wait another year to see the man accused of her killing go on trial.

Jessica's father, Charlie Carpenter, said Friday he can wait it out.

"Like any family member, like any father, I would like to have it sooner, but I want to have a good case and I want to see Mr. Atkins get what's coming to him," Mr. Carpenter said after a Friday hearing during which a trial date of Feb. 28, 2005, was set by General Sessions Judge Diane Goodstein.

Second Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan is seeking the death penalty against Robert F. Atkins, 31, in the Aug. 4, 2000, sexual assault, stabbing and strangulation of Jessica.

Authorities say Mr. Atkins talked his way into the teen's Crosland Park house while wearing the company uniform of Airborne Express, his employer at the time.

The Carpenter family has since filed a wrongful death civil suit against Airborne and its Augusta subcontractor.

Mr. Atkins was charged with the murder in January 2003 when authorities said DNA he submitted for a Georgia database of felons matched genetic evidence from the crime scene. He was indicted in September.

"Without the DNA, we might still be looking for my daughter's killer," Mr. Carpenter said.

The lengthy delay stems from a change in Mr. Atkins' defense team and from a slew of motions that are routine in capital murder cases.

Ms. Morgan told the judge she had been served with 73 defense motions before attorney Lawrence Brown was replaced by John Delgado. Mr. Brown, an assistant county attorney for Aiken County, withdrew from the case earlier this month, citing potential conflict of interest.

Mr. Delgado has two other pending death penalty trials and told the judge he hoped his calendar would be clear for Mr. Atkins' trial in February.

Attorneys on both sides could not comment outside the hearing because of a gag order imposed by Judge Goodstein. Three attorneys representing the Carpenters in the civil suit were also present for the hearing, but wouldn't comment afterward, citing the gag order.

Mr. Carpenter said that although he still had a lengthy wait before trial, he was glad Mr. Atkins was behind bars.

"There's a certain comfort level knowing he's not out on the street," Mr. Carpenter said.

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.