Georgia Supreme Court ruling on Baker Co. case called win for victim rights
December 1, 2006
Baker County- The Georgia Supreme Court's ruling on a deadly Baker County shootout involving two police officers is being called a win for victim's rights. The ruling sets a precedent statewide on when a trial by judge, instead of a jury, might be granted.
One year ago, a grand jury indicted Newton Police Officer James Freeman and Captain David Zigan on involuntary manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Hershell Bullard. Now, the Supreme Court has denied their request for a bench trial, that is, a trial where a judge decides the verdict rather than a jury.
"It's a big issues that needed to be decided and the whole state I think will be impacted by it," said District Attorney Joe Mulholland.
On October 3rd, 2005 Freeman and Zigan responded to a call about gunshots at Bullard Trailer Park. Both claim the park's owner, Herschell Bullard, shot at them when they arrived. Both officers opened fire and Bullard was killed. Their attorneys requested a bench trial, but the request was denied. They appealed to the State Supreme Court and with the court's ruling a jury will hear the case.
"I think the people of Baker County need to decide this issues. It's a case that happened in Baker County and the citizen's of that county decide the morals and the perspective of that particular county and therefore they deserve to hear the issue," said Mulholland.
The entire state is impacted by the court's decision because it gives prosecutors a say in whether a defendant should face a jury and may prevent possible deals for guilty pleas by defendants in exchange for a lenient sentence.
"The state and therefore the victims, because that's really who the state represents, are getting more and more rights and getting on an equal footing and I think it's a good thing," said Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges.
Attorney Randy Hicks who represents James Freeman said, "I was somewhat disappointed in the ruling but regardless I believe strongly in my client's innocence and they will be exonerated." Zigan's attorney Pete Donaldson was unavailable for comment.
The Baker County Grand Jury indicted the officers in spite of the GBI's conclusion that both officers acted appropriately.