Residency error taints 50 Thomas Co. indictments

Residency error taints 50 Thomas Co. indictments
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)

THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) - "I don't know exactly how this happened but the court did inquire whether or not everyone is a resident of Thomas County and no one indicated that they were not a resident," said Brad Shealey, District Attorney.

One simple mistake is causing a backlash of problems in Thomas County.

Essentially, 50 indictments heard by the grand jury over the past few months are now invalid.

Grand Jurors in Thomas County were just hours away from releasing a decision on whether to move forward with a controversial deputy-involved shooting case that happened in August when the decision was halted.

That's because a problem surrounding the current residence of a single grand juror up.

Later in the day, District Attorney Brad Shealey said he was made aware that one of those jurors is not a Thomas County resident.

"We had it checked out and verified yesterday evening, that he did indeed live in Grady County and had been living there for over a year," said Shealey.

It's likely that 50 cases now have to be heard once again by a new grand jury in April.

"Any person who is on the grand jury and is not a resident of Thomas county invalidates the action of the grand jury," said Shealey.

WALB requested documents for the cases "true billed" by this current grand jury, the cases range from drug possession, theft and burglaries, child molestation, aggravated assault and armed robbery.

According to investigators at the Thomas County Sheriff's Office, 13 people have already entered pleas based on those indictments.

"It doesn't change the facts of the case, they could enter a guilty plea on the accusation. We would just re-sentence them and have it date back to the original date of sentencing. Obviously, if they don't choose to do that then we will just re-present it to a new grand trial," said Shealey.

As for the case of deputy Josh Smith, who GBI agents said shot and killed Herbert Gilbert while serving a search warrant, that case could be postponed until May when a new grand jury can look at it.

"We'll be getting close on a year and not making a decision on the case. I'm going to be looking at that because individuals that are charged or could be charged need to have a fairly speedy determination so they can get on with their life," said Shealey.

Shealey said he doesn't believe it will cost the county much if anything for a grand jury to rehear these cases.

He said it will just be a lot of work for the staff in his office, and the new grand jury that comes along in April.

Gilbert's family frustrated by delay

A family seeking answers as to whether the death of their loved one, who the GBI says was killed by a Thomas County deputy, was justified, will now have to possibly wait for that answer.

The case was one of 50 that will have to be reheard by a grand jury because of one simple mistake.

What's so puzzling to the district attorneys office is that every time when presenting an indictment the jurors are asked if they understand the qualifications, living in Thomas County is one of them.

This issue came up when the grand juror asked why he had not been paid. The checks were going to a Thomasville address, which turned out to be not where he lived.

"Every day I wake up and I look over there and think about what happened and it brings me to tears cause I thought that day when it happened I was going to get off the bus and see my brother and talk to him and play around like we used to," said Miracle McCoy, sister of Gilbert.

On Tuesday, family members of Herbert Gilbert found out that they will have to possibly wait four more months until a grand jury hears this case again.

"Sometimes you know it just bothers me, I cry a lot because I never thought something like this would happen," said Miracle McCoy, Gilbert's sister.

McCoy said she had no idea her brother's case was even going to a grand jury.

"I was kinda mad because they didn't let us know or the family know, they could have came out and let us know but we had to find out for ourselves," said McCoy.

This case sparked an outcry from the community and several days of marches, she said the reaction was shocking.

"Out of state people even see it on the news and they were shocked because something like this happened," said McCoy.

McCoy said she just wants answers as to what actually happened that day, and whether or not jurors will find the officer's actions justifiable or not.

"I hope we get justice, that's what I really hope, and for this killing to stop," said McCoy.

According to Shealey, this case will most likely be heard by the next grand jury that takes over in April, so sometime possibly in May.

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