By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — A Clayton County judge urged prosecutors to appeal the sentence he handed down Monday in a brutal 2011 killing, saying his hands were legally tied from giving the man what he deserved.
Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons sentenced Latoris Grovner to 30 years in prison for the beating death of Alena Marble. Charged with malice murder, a Clayton County jury instead found Grovner guilty of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter.
"This was one of the most brutal crimes I believe I've ever heard," said Simmons. "It's unfortunate that the jury found him not guilty of malice murder. I say 'unfortunate' because it ties my hands from giving Mr. Grovner the sentence he deserves."
Grovner beat Marble first with his fists, then with a vodka bottle and a metal saucepan. While she was still alive, he wrapped her in three blankets and put her in the trunk of her car. She died in the June heat and was found the next day.
Prosecutors said Grovner killed Marble out of greed because he tried to access her bank accounts within minutes of the beating.
However, public defender David White said Grovner killed her out of "irresistible passion" because he was angry that she convinced her daughter to abort his child two years prior to the beating. The daughter, Kajul Harvey, was pregnant with his second child at the time of Marble's death. Harvey is set to go to trial on similar charges in February.
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson argued for life without parole plus 30 years.
"We ask for this sentence based on the heinous nature of this crime and the lack of remorse on the part of the defendant," said Lawson. "Look at how much this poor woman suffered."
Lawson argued unsuccessfully that the voluntary manslaughter charge should merge into a felony murder charge, which would make Grovner eligible for life without parole. White disagreed.
"The felony murder wouldn't apply, once he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter," he said. "I would ask for 20 years plus three for tampering with evidence."
Simmons disagreed with them both.
"I realize the state disagrees with me and an appeal can be taken," he said. "I will abide by the decision of the appellate court."
Simmons said Grovner could be sentenced up to 10 years for tampering with evidence because he was helping Harvey hide her involvement in the case and not himself.
"A total of 30 years is what I find is the maximum allowed by law," said Simmons. "If the board ever considers parole, I hope they read this transcript and he will be denied parole or not even be considered."
Lawson said the sentence will be appealed “as soon as a transcript is prepared.”
“And I’ll win,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers prosecuted the case and said she was pleased with the sentence.
"Obviously, we disagree with the merger issues but the law is evolving in this area and we are appealing," she said. "It is the first time I've ever heard those words from a judge but I think it reflects the brutal nature of this crime and the lengths he took to plan and carry it out."
Marble's brother, Eugene Donaldson, was disappointed but said the outcome is in God's hands.
"We'd like for him to have the max but there's nothing we can do," he said. "I hope he doesn't get parole and he serves his full time. You just can't predict with the courts will do. We have to put it in God's hands and hope for the best."
Marble's granddaughter, Pamela Davis, said the family just wants justice.
"Nobody should be able to get out of jail and be that heartless," said Davis.
Grovner said nothing and was taken back to his cell to await transfer to state prison.