By Daniel Silliman
Attempting to defend itself against a judge's charges of negligence, the Clayton County District Attorney's Office called its own chief assistant and investigator to testify before the judge.
Going date-by-date and detail-by-detail through its handling of a murder case, at the Friday hearing in Judge Deborah Benefield's courtroom, though, the office showed it left the case untouched for months, and the district attorney's investigator did not know about key laws.
Jeffrey Winslow, Jr., is accused of murdering 17-year-old Edward Bernard Mills last October, allegedly shooting him in the back after an argument over marijuana and money. Winslow was a juvenile at the time of the slaying, but was sent to Superior Court to be tried as an adult because he was charged with murder.
A state law enacted in 2006 says that juveniles have to be indicted within 180 days, or the case has to be sent to juvenile court.
Winslow has now been sitting in prison, un-indicted, for more than 250 days.
At a hearing earlier this month, Assistant District Attorney Anece Baxter White asked for more time to indict the case, because the office had misunderstood when the time line started, and because the police department detective had not finished his case file.
Benefield rejected the motion, ruling the district attorney's office did not show "good cause," for the delay. She ruled the delay was "negligence" and wrote that the prosecutors made no attempt to demonstrate they had even attempted to comply with the law.
On Friday, the district attorney's office attempted to prove they had done "due diligence" in the case, during the hearing on a "Motion for Reconsideration."
"This is not a situation in which the District Attorney's office was sitting on its hands," White said. "Within the Clayton County District Attorney's Office there was a concerted effort to track the cases of juveniles through the office."
That "concerted effort," according to the evidence presented Friday, basically consisted of Chief Assistant Todd Naugle reading a computer print-out on a monthly basis.
Naugle testified he told supervisors about the 180-day deadline law last fall, about 15 months after it was enacted. He said juvenile cases in the office had been tracked by the investigator, until recently, when he started checking a list of the juveniles being held in prison pending indictment.
In April, he said, he saw Winslow's name on the list and sent out an e-mail notifying a number of people in the office that the 180-day deadline was approaching. The deadline had, in fact, already passed, but Naugle was looking at an incorrect starting date.
In May, Naugle noticed the discrepancy in starting dates, according to his testimony.
"At this point, I believe someone pulled out a calendar and started counting days," the chief assistant said.
By the most lenient reading of the law, the prosecutors were at the deadline. That day, they filed a motion asking for an extension, saying they had "good cause," for their delay.
When the case first went to the district attorney's office, according to evidence presented at the hearing, it went to Tony Robinson, a major case investigator.
Robinson testified he received notice the case was bound over after a probable cause hearing in December. He testified he did three things: Looked at the name on the case, made a note he had received it, and sent a letter to the police department detective to ask for the investigation file.
According to Robinson's testimony, he was the person in the district attorney's office responsible for shepherding the case until indictment, but he did nothing on it between January and April, and in April he just had a passing conversation with the detective.
"I was not aware of the 180 days [time limit] until I got that e-mail in May," Robinson said.
Arguing the office should be given more time, so the juvenile can be tried as an adult, White admitted prosecutors had made a mistake.
"That's a mistake, your honor," White said. "That's not negligence. That's a mistake."
Questioned about the difference, White told Benefield that "negligence" means not doing something, but the judge disagreed, saying "negligence" means doing something carelessly.
Benefield grew frustrated at the hearing, and at one time, snapped at White and said, "because it's 'the law.'"
The murdered boy's mother, Tammy Mills, sat quietly through the whole hearing.
She was not acknowledged during the proceedings, and she said she has still not heard from District Attorney Jewel Scott, despite asking to meet with her personally, instead of her staff.
While waiting for the hearing to start, Mills was contacted by Herbert Adams, who is running against Scott in the upcoming primary election.
Mills said if the case is sent to juvenile court, then Winslow should just be set free and the county's criminal justice system should just come out and say there isn't any justice here.
In juvenile court, if Winslow is convicted of murdering Mills, he will face a maximum possible sentence of four years. In Superior Court, he would face a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.
Benefield is expected to rule on the "Motion for Reconsideration" on Monday.