Originally created 05/26/06

Appeals Court opinion voids sentence change



The Georgia Court of Appeals announced an opinion Thursday stating that a change to a December sentencing involving a statutory rape conviction should not have occurred.

A Columbia County jury convicted William Archer Stulb, of Martinez, of statutory rape in September. The original rape charge stems from a 2003 incident in which Mr. Stulb had sexual conduct with a 14-year-old girl. The jury convicted Mr. Stulb of the lesser crime of statutory rape.

At a Dec. 19 hearing, Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale sentenced Mr. Stulb to a year in a detention center followed by nine years of probation, a $10,000 fine and 300 hours of community service.

The next morning, after deciding he'd made a mistake and refusing to sign Mr. Stulb's sentence order, Judge Wheale asked for a second hearing to change or remold the sentence.

Judge Wheale said Thursday that state law prevents him from discussing pending cases.

District Attorney Danny Craig, however, offered an insight, saying case law blocks a judge from remolding a sentence once the defendant has begun paying on his fine.

According to the Appeals Court opinion, Mr. Stulb went to his probation office Dec. 23 - three days after the judge publicly expressed an intent to toughen the sentence and a day after the Dec. 29 remold hearing was set - and paid the first $225 payment on his fine.

On Dec. 29 - nine days after he met a probation officer and six days after Mr. Stulb began paying on his fine - Judge Wheale resentenced Mr. Stulb to four years in prison.

The appeal was filed with the Appeals Court on Jan. 12. The opinion made public on the court's Web site said because Mr. Stulb technically had begun serving his sentence by making the first fine payment, the remolded sentenced must be voided.

"He probably did so (made the first fine payment) because he was aware of the fact the judge was not finished with this and intended to take the matter back up, and in an effort to subvert the authority of the court," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Stulb's attorney, Richard E. Allen, said there was no way for Mr. Stulb to know about the remold hearing at the time he paid his fine.

"He wasn't trying to subvert anything," Mr. Allen said. "He was trying to do what he was supposed to do, what judge wanted him to do, cooperate with the probation people."

Mr. Craig said he had not yet received a copy of the state court's opinion, which is not actionable. He said a court order will be mailed roughly 15 days after the opinion and will be actionable by requiring Mr. Stulb to be resentenced to the original one-year punishment.

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222, ext. 110, or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.