Criminal Procedure

Case of murder-kidnapping of 12-year-old tossed on speedy-trial grounds; state high court affirms

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld a trial judge’s decision to dismiss kidnapping, sexual assault and murder charges in the death of a 12-year-old girl because prosecutors violated the accused’s right to a speedy trial.

The unanimous supreme court today expressed its distaste for doing so, but detailed how badly the prosecution had handled the case against Bobby Lavon Buckner, the live-in boyfriend of victim’s mother. Already a convicted sex offender at the time of Ashleigh Moore’s death in 2003, Buckner violated probation by being around the girl and other children, as noted by the Savannah Morning News.  

Buckner was indicted in December 2007 in the death of Moore and the case was set for the tenth time to go to trial in April 2011, but was continued once again when prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty. Court rulings in Buckner’s speedy trial claim noted that the prosecution’s decision was not based on any new evidence or information.

Then nearly five months later the prosecution said it decided once again not to pursue capital punishment. Though it was not key in the trial court’s decision to dismiss the charges, the judge did point out that the prosecution “may have” been using the death penalty as leverage in plea negotiations and the supreme court reiterated it.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge Penny Haas Fressemann wrote in her 36-page opinion that she had “struggled with the issues in this motion, not because of the clarity of the law or the undisputed facts of this case, but because the remedy for a violation of (the right to a speedy trial) is so extreme.” The supreme court opinion (PDF) by Justice Keith Blackwell noted that “our role as a court of review is a limited one” and that the trial court had neither “clearly erred” nor “abused its discretion.”

Buckner remains imprisoned on a 20-year sentence stemming from an unrelated crime, according to the Morning News.

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