Judge clears Harris trial to start

Judge clears Harris trial to start

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The murder trial for two men accused of robbing and shooting an Albany business owner and former Lee County commissioner is expected to begin Monday.

Walter Phelps died two months after he was shot at his Albany hardware store in July 2010.

A hearing Friday worked to iron out details of the trial for co-defendants Jordan Harris and Ezekial James.

Jordan Harris and Ezekial James go on trial for murder next week.

The judge doesn't want people to see Harris in a jail uniform. He fears it will influence jurors.

"All cases are public and certainly we try to make sure the jury that is going to hear the case has not formed any prior impressions," said Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards.

Harris is a former employee of Walter Phelps, who was gunned down inside his hardware store in July 2010.

Harris is charged with killing him, while wearing an electronic monitoring device from previous arrests.

Surveillance video shows Harris and others using Phelps' credit card later that day at a Valdosta store still wearing that electronic monitor.

It's ironic during the hearing preparations were being made for the 3rd Annual Walter Phelps Phun Run...a memorial run to honor Phelps and raise money for a kids camp.

"[We want] a memorial day camp experience that's not only going to commemorate Walter Phelps and hisfamilyy, but also give these kids an experience," said Albany Area YMCA President Dan Gillan.

The Phelps family has filed a lawsuit against the electronic monitoring company involving Harris, and their attorney says that civil case still awaits this criminal conclusion.

"We're just hoping it can go forward and that issue can be closed and the family can get closure on that particular issue," said Attorney Joe Durham.

As he approaches the murder trial, Harris is already serving life plus 20 years for armed robbery convictions in Dougherty and Lee Counties.

Jamon Carter and Ryan Richardson, also charged originally, have entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit armed robbery charges, and could testify in the trial.

100 prospective jurors have been summoned to court in the case.

Lee County has changed the company that handles their electronic monitoring since the Walter Phelps murder.

Leaders say the program works much better.

A company called Start GPS handles the work and had monitors for 19 criminal defendants on August 1st.

Judge Jim Thurman said electronic monitoring is working because the company is reliable.

"It has worked fine," said Thurman. "But we tried three companies that were total failures before we found someone who actually monitored the individuals."

Officials in Dougherty County use Judicial Electronic Monitoring, despite the murder of Jamey Spurlock in December.

Two suspects in that crime were wearing monitors from that company at the time.

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