Man jailed for 7 years to go free

  • Follow Metro

An Augusta man jailed nearly seven years should be free soon because the prosecutor put his murder case into inactive status.

Derek L. Willingham, 25, has been waiting more than a year for a retrial in Richmond County Superior Court.

On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Ashley Wright said there is not enough evidence to take Mr. Willingham to trial.

Mr. Willingham was arrested with two other men in the March 4, 2000, shooting death of 36-year-old Ritchard Lewis.

Mr. Willingham was found guilty later that year, but in November 2005 the Georgia Supreme Court ruled he was unfairly convicted and entitled to a new trial.

"I think an innocent man goes home today," said attorney Randolph Frails, who successfully appealed Mr. Willingham's case and stood ready to defend him at the retrial.

Since his case was reversed, Mr. Willingham's retrial has been scheduled several times - including this week.

Ms. Wright said she requested Tuesday morning that Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. place Mr. Willingham's case on the dead docket. He should be released when the paperwork is completed, she said, although such a case can be reactivated if more evidence is found.

The Supreme Court found fault with Mr. Willingham's December 2000 conviction because another prosecutor was allowed to introduce testimony given by a man who died before the trial took place. That violated laws concerning hearsay, the Supreme Court ruled.

James O'Bryant had testified in the trial of Haskell Johnson, another suspect in the shooting, telling the court that Mr. Willingham participated in the robbery that led to Mr. Lewis' shooting death.

Although Mr. Johnson was indicted with Mr. Willingham, he stood trial first and was convicted of Mr. Lewis' murder. A few days later, however, the witness, Mr. O'Bryant, died.

Mr. Willingham's attorney maintained Mr. O'Bryant should not have been allowed to testify because his mental competency was questionable.

Mr. O'Bryant was suffering the final stages of a deadly disease, the attorney said.

Mr. Johnson has yet to have an appeal of his conviction. A third man arrested in Mr. Lewis' death, Eugene Frails, was acquitted at trial.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (8) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
CKB
0
Points
CKB 02/07/07 - 08:30 am
0
0
Seems that we have heard this

Seems that we have heard this story before- a murderer goes free because of things being "lost". The lawyers or office workers should be held accountable for this. It ia a sad day when these people walk free, after all of the police work, legal work and the taxpayers footing the bill for the trial. Time to clean house with these less than responsible individuals! I feel for the victim's family here.

woeisyou
0
Points
woeisyou 02/07/07 - 09:43 am
0
0
in columbia co (grovetown)you

in columbia co (grovetown)you can be jailed for refusing medical treatment and held in jail over 30 days ..justice??

budstan
0
Points
budstan 02/07/07 - 10:12 am
0
0
Hey CKB! You must really

Hey CKB!
You must really be smart! Smarter than Supreme Court Justices! Become a judge! Oh,yea, you already are!

georgiadawg1
1
Points
georgiadawg1 02/07/07 - 11:01 am
0
0
n/a

NicoleKelly
7
Points
NicoleKelly 02/07/07 - 11:18 am
0
0
A black criminal!!!!!!!

A black criminal!!!!!!! Mjmurphy you have alot of nerve. You act like people don't beat the system everyday. You're so ignorant!!!!

sadye
0
Points
sadye 02/07/07 - 11:39 am
0
0
ckb, the evidence wasn't

ckb, the evidence wasn't lost, it said they didn't have enough evidence.

butterbrown
0
Points
butterbrown 02/07/07 - 11:40 am
0
0
how do you know he was black

how do you know he was black and does that really matter?

woeisyou
0
Points
woeisyou 02/07/07 - 01:40 pm
0
0
n/a

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs