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Defendants could seek indictments dismissal

Attorneys: Others charged may follow Akins' lead

Attorneys for at least two other defendants may follow the example of former Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Sherri Akins' attorney in filing motions to quash indictments.

However, Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Gregory McConnell said a grand jury could be called to reconvene and indictments could be handed down again if the matter is revisited.

The Eastern Judicial Circuit has handled the case since its beginning because Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard and his office recused themselves from the case, citing a close working relationship with the Bulloch County Clerk's Office and its employees. The Ogeechee Judicial Circuit DA's Office has had no involvement in the case.

Akins and four others — Clerk of Courts Teresa Tucker (who was voluntarily suspended from office until the case is resolved), current deputy clerk Leatha Deloach and former deputy clerks Marion Puckett Williams and Amanda Kay Smith — were each indicted by a Bulloch County grand jury July 8 on charges of felony theft by conversion and violation of oath by public officer.

Williams and Smith also are charged with public records fraud. The charges came about after a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe that lasted almost three years.

Bulloch County Superior Court Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. granted a motion last week to quash an indictment filed by Akins' attorney Simms Lanier, who stated in the motion that Akins' indictment was "tainted" because Tucker and her attorney, Daniel B. Snipes, were allowed in the courtroom during grand jury proceedings and Tucker was allowed to present evidence.

He also claimed in the motion that a recording device was used illegally to record witness statements during the grand jury proceedings. He said Friday that McConnell took the device into the courtroom. McConnell declined to comment on the matter Friday.

In his order, filed Aug. 28, Woodrum agreed that Tucker and Snipes were present throughout the grand jury proceedings, except deliberations, and that Tucker was allowed to make a statement on her own behalf. Woodrum said the state permitted this, but that the presence of Tucker and Snipes during the proceedings "was not authorized by law."

Their presence, Woodrum ruled, "violated the precepts of secrecy which should have attended the instant proceedings of the grand jury."

McConnell declined to comment Friday on why Tucker and her attorney were allowed in the courtroom.

Akins is the only one to whom the order Woodrum signed Aug. 28 applies, meaning the cases against the other four defendants could continue unless their attorneys file similar motions that are granted by the judge. In Tucker's case, such a motion would not apply.

Woodrum also upheld Lanier's statement that using the recording device during the grand jury proceedings was not legal.

Lanier said Friday that "McConnell admitted recording testimony of witnesses" during the grand jury proceedings, which is "illegal unless you get the court's permission to do it."

When asked about this matter Friday, McConnell responded with "no comment."

Georgia law allows use of a recording device if a county is has a population of at least 200,000 recorded in the most recent decennial census. Bulloch County's population, according to the 2010 census, was 70,217.

Chatham County's population, according to the 2010 census, was 265,128. The Eastern Judicial Circuit serves Chatham County.

Attorneys for two defendants, Deloach and Williams, said Friday they are looking into whether they will follow Lanier's lead and file motions to quash indictments against their clients.

John B. Manley, with the Savannah office of Bouhan and Falligant, represents Williams. He said Friday his offices are reviewing the situation, but "We haven't decided on our course of action at this time."

Deloach's attorney, Donald Sheppard, with Sylvania law firm Reddick and Sheppard, said Friday, "At this point, we are still exploring our options."

Matt Hube, of Statesboro law office Hube and Tucker, was out of the office Friday and did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Snipes, representing Tucker, declined to comment Friday.

Herald Editor Jason Wermers contributed to this report.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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