Judge Neal W. Dickert ruled Tuesday that David Walker, 43, was denied a fair trial because of ineffective assistance of counsel. His trial lawyer was disbarred, and the attorney first appointed to represent him was convicted of tax fraud.
In November, attorney John R. Taylor volunteered to take over Mr. Walker's appellate case.
Judge Dickert inherited the case last year from Senior Judge Albert M. Pickett, who presided over the trial and sentenced Mr. Walker to 20 years.
Mr. Walker was charged with first-degree arson. He is accused of setting fire to an ex-girlfriend's property Sept. 18, 1999.
Mr. Walker filed numerous motions on his own after his conviction in Richmond County Superior Court. He asked for an attorney's help, but his pleas went unanswered until last year.
"Unfortunately, some of these cases fell through the gaps before the public-defender system was created," Mr. Taylor said.
He was able to prove to Judge Dickert that Mr. Walker's trial attorney failed to investigate the case or follow through on Mr. Walker's alibi claim.
The district attorney has 30 days to decide whether he will appeal Judge Dickert's decision or proceed with another trial against Mr. Walker.
Mr. Walker's case is one of those examined by The Augusta Chronicle in an investigation of the legal system's failure to ensure that poor people can appeal their trial convictions - a constitutional right in the United States.
The Chronicle looked at 339 cases in its investigation of trial convictions over a 10-year period. Almost half of those people, who were sentenced to five or more years in prison, have never had an appeal.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.