Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson (from left), and defense attorney, Tony Axam, held discussions, before Axam's client, Troy Dale West, Jr. took a plea deal in Clayton County Superior Court, on Friday.
By Curt Yeomans
In a surprise twist, the trial of Troy Dale West, Jr., ended abruptly Friday afternoon, when attorneys for both sides announced they had agreed to a plea deal. The deal resulted in West having to serve six months in jail, for beating a U.S. Army reservist, in a Morrow Cracker Barrel restaurant.
After two and a half hours of discussions, including a lengthy meeting, involving West, his family, and his supporters, Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green announced the plea deal in court.
West had agreed that felony charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment would be dropped, and another felony charge of cruelty to children, in the first degree, would be reduced to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to children, in the third degree, Green said.
West also pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges, including one count of battery, and two counts of disorderly conduct.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge, Geronda V. Carter, sentenced West to 12 months in jail, to run concurrently, for every count to which he pleaded guilty. However, she suspended all but six months of the sentence. She added stipulations that he had to stay out of trouble, and could not have any contact with Army reservist Tashawnea Hill, or her family.
West's attorney, Tony Axam, said his client will receive credit for 40 days he has already served in Clayton County jail, in connection with the Sept. 9, 2009 beating of Hill. That means West has just over four and a half months left to serve in jail.
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, who lead the prosecution of the case, said West could have been facing a maximum of 52 years in prison, if he had been convicted of all the charges he was indicted on, in the case.
"I'm entering a guilty plea, because it's in my best interest," West told Carter. "I don't feel like I've done anything wrong, but it's in my best interest," West said in court.
Lawson said she, and Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green, went with the plea deal after two independent witnesses, including one who testified on Wednesday for the prosecution, testified that they saw Hill spit on West before he attacked her.
Judge Carter said she thought "the state has made the correct decision" based on testimony she heard witnesses give over two and a half days.
"Where I'm from, it's not good for a man to hit a woman," Carter said. "However, also where I'm from, it's not good to spit on anyone, and I can only imagine how I would respond if I were to be spat on."
Following the trial, Lawson also said that testimony, given by two teenage males, on Friday, played a part in making the plea deal necessary. The youths testified that Hill threatened to shoot them, and then got into an expletive-laden verbal confrontation with their parents, earlier this year.
She added that she and Green interviewed the jurors once the trial was over. "The jurors felt this was a very, very fair resolution for everybody involved," Lawson said.
The last day of the trial took several twists and turns, including an announcement by Axam that he wanted Hill's attorney, Kip Jones, to testify -- for the defense -- that the Army reservist gave false testimony earlier in the trial.
Lawson told Carter that Jones came to her office during lunch on Wednesday, the day Hill testified, and said his client made an untrue statement, when she said that she and Jones did not meet with a Cracker Barrel employee, after the incident with West. Green later said Jones changed his tune on Friday, and claimed he never went to Lawson on Wednesday.
Jones could not be reached for comment, after the trial ended.
Another twist came when West, himself, took the stand to offer testimony. A day earlier, Axam said his client would not take the stand in his own defense.
On the stand, West said he had held the door open for Hill to enter the restaurant, and she threatened him after her daughter was nearly hit by the door, as he opened it.
"I never had any intention of doing anything to her," he said. "As I'm still holding the door, I'm up against the wall, and I'm holding the door, she said 'I'm a U.S. military soldier. I'll kill you' ... I didn't do anything. I tried to back off."
He added that as he turned to walk away from Hill, she spit on him, and it was only "a second" before he hit her the first time. "She came back, and I hit her a second time," he said. He added she came at him again, for a third time, prompting him to hit her again.
When West was asked, under cross examination, by Green, whether he thought it was OK to ever hit a woman, he said "there are occasions when it's OK."
Emotions ran high as West agreed to the plea deal. Hill, who was in the audience, jumped out of her seat at one point, and loudly announced to Judge Carter that she wanted a mistrial declared. As Jones tried to calm Hill down, she could be heard saying, "I've been falsely represented, and I want a mistrial." She then stormed out of the courtroom.
After Hill later came back, she took the witness stand, to offer one last statement to the court. As she cried on the stand, she railed at West.
"He needs to go to jail," Hill shouted through her tears. "I didn't ask you to hit me, but you beat me down." She then left the courtroom, again, as Carter sentenced West.
Other observers expressed dismay over the outcome of the trial. Community activist, and former Atlanta City Councilman, Derrick Boazman, called it a "violation of the community" and a "most unfortunate" ending to the trial.
"Looking at this, we have to ask 'Did we really get justice?' and the answer is 'No,'" Boazman said.