Originally created 11/22/05

Dead witness gets Augustan a new trial



ATLANTA - An Augusta man got his wish for a new murder trial after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his conviction Monday because the original trial included statements from a witness who had died.

Derek Willingham was convicted of the March 2000 shooting death of Ritchard Lewis. According to the Supreme Court, Mr. Lewis had objected to Mr. Willingham and two other men robbing an unidentified drug buyer.

The chief witness in the trial of one of the other defendants died before he could be called to testify against Mr. Willingham. But during Mr. Willingham's trial, an investigator read the witness' statements from the other defendant's trial that implicated Mr. Willingham.

In Monday's ruling, the state's high court ruled unanimously that the statements were improper because Mr. Willingham and his attorney had no way of cross-examining a dead witness.

Mr. Willingham was given a life sentence in his initial trial and is serving time in Macon State Prison.