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Judge: Prosecutors can't have another delay

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Juvenile Court can't allow an indefinite delay in a juvenile murder case, in an order passed down Wednesday.

Judge Steve Teske ruled against the Clayton County District Attorney's request to put prosecution on hold, saying prosecutors had already missed the legal deadline for indicting the 17-year-old defendant as an adult, and another delay wouldn't be legal.

"To grant the state's motion," Teske wrote, would, practically, cause a "delay greater than the delay ... that gave rise to this case being transferred to juvenile court."

Jeffrey Winslow, Jr., of Jonesboro, is facing charges of murder in juvenile court. He allegedly shot 17-year-old Edward Bernard Mills in the back, killing him during a marijuana deal on a Sunday afternoon. Winslow, who has a record with juvenile court, was 16 at the time, but was automatically charged as an adult.

Because his case was not brought before a grand jury for indictment by the legal, 180-day deadline, and because the district attorney's office couldn't prove it had good reasons for letting the case languish for more than six months, Winslow's charges were transferred to juvenile court.

With that move, the maximum possible sentence for Winslow, if convicted, was reduced from life in prison to four years in a youth detention center. If Winslow's case goes to trial in juvenile court, he will be the first juvenile tried as a juvenile on a murder charge in the history of the county.

The district attorney's office has made moves to get the case returned to superior court, but, so far, has failed. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield said prosecutors were negligent and didn't follow the law. She repeated that ruling when asked to reconsider.

The district attorney's office has appealed Benefield's decision and argued with Teske that juvenile court can't have jurisdiction over a juvenile charged with one of the so-called "seven deadly sins," because the law says those are the "exclusive jurisdiction" of superior court.

Teske's order points out that "exclusive jurisdiction" only counts in indicted cases, and the district attorney's office wasn't able to indict Winslow in the six months legally allowed.

"It was transferred because the case was not indicted, a statute promulgated to expedite the handling of juveniles in superior court to prevent their languishing in jail for unnecessary lengthy periods of time," Teske wrote.

The district attorney's office also filed an appeal saying the law contradicts itself. In a non-binding review of the arguments for appeal, Teske noted that the prosecutors seem to be missing the meaning of the law -- "A statute is to be construed in accordance with its real intent and meaning and not so strictly as to defeat the legislative purpose."

Teske wrote that the district attorney's office didn't even file the appeal correctly. Prosecutors filed the appeal before the first hearing in juvenile court, at a time when, according to them, the court didn't even have jurisdiction.

According to Teske, an appeal can only be filed after the juvenile case is concluded.

"The state's request for a stay is without merit because the notice of appeal filed in juvenile court is premature," Teske wrote.

The judge also denied bond for Winslow, meaning the 17-year-old will remain in detention as the court moves forward to hear the unprecedented juvenile murder case.

Trial is normally scheduled for 10 days after a probable cause hearing, which would be the middle of July, but the attorney's are expected to need more time to prepare.