ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's highest court on Monday declined to reconsider its ruling that says a judge can't set a new trial for a murder suspect, meaning the suspect will likely be allowed to go free without a jury ever weighing his guilt or innocence.
Geary Otis ran up the stairs of a high-rise apartment building for seniors and wounded 71-year-old Emmanuel Surry with a knife and then kicked down a door and fatally stabbed 75-year-old Mary Oliver on June 17, 2013, prosecutors have said. Police had to use a stun gun to subdue him, according to court records.
Otis, who was 64 at the time, was a resident of the building, but didn't know Oliver or Surry. He was arrested and jailed.
When his murder trial began on April 7, 2014, public defender Amanda Grantham asked the jury in her opening statement to find her client not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing that he had "just snapped."
Prosecutors objected, saying they hadn't been notified of an insanity defense and needed more time to prepare. Grantham said she wasn't required to give them advance notice because she didn't plan to call any experts.
The judge overseeing the trial, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville, said he believed prior notice was required by law. He didn't want to keep jurors long enough for the trial to be rescheduled, so he declared a mistrial. He said he'd put the case back on his trial calendar later.
Grantham objected to the mistrial, arguing that since a jury had been seated and the trial had begun, re-trying Otis would amount to double jeopardy, or her client improperly being tried twice for the same crime.
The judge rejected that argument, and Grantham appealed to the state Supreme Court, which last month said the judge had erred. The high court said no new trial could be set.
The justices said a 1995 ruling makes clear that the defense doesn't need to provide notice of an insanity defense if no expert witnesses are to be called. That opinion came during the sentencing phase of a death penalty case, and Glanville interpreted it as only applying in that context. The Supreme Court disagreed.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. Oliver's daughter tearfully pleaded with the justices to reconsider at a news conference organized by Howard and attended by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
"This is a sad day for the Oliver family ... it is a sad day for justice," Howard said in an emailed statement Monday. "It is difficult to accept the release of this defendant who brutally stabbed an unarmed senior citizen simply because of a technical error committed by a judge who the court admits was seeking a fair trial."
Otis will likely be released from prison in the next two weeks, Howard said.
A lawyer for Otis did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.