The Georgia Supreme Court today upheld Andrew Solomons guilty verdict in one of the four Columbus homicides that made headlines in 2010 when they all occurred around the Labor Day weekend.
While upholding Solomons conviction and life sentence for fatally shooting 17-year-old Levy Lamont Daniel outside Columbus Booker T. Washington Apartments, the justices threw out his conviction and 20-year sentence for aggravated assault, ruling that count should have been merged with the murder charge.
A jury convicted Solomon, then 20 years old, on May 26, 2011. His conviction and life sentence provoked outbursts in the courtroom. One person in the audience shouted He didnt do it! while Solomon repeatedly yelled I didnt even do it!
His trial attorney was Susan Henderson, who afterward said: Im absolutely stunned. There was absolutely no evidence. Ive never seen anything so egregious as this in my career.
The shooting occurred the night of Sept. 3, 2010, the Friday before Labor Day. Investigators said Daniel was among friends roaming the apartment complex after a concert at the Columbus Civic Center.
Witnesses told police Solomon and Daniel had run-ins before, and that night they had two confrontations: First Daniel pulled a gun on Solomon, but Daniels friends persuaded him to put the gun away. Later Solomon, armed with a handgun, confronted Daniel, and shot Daniel in the back as Daniel fled, police said. Daniel ran to Veterans Parkway where he collapsed. He died later at the hospital.
Held in Georgias Ware State Prison in Waycross since June 28, 2011, Solomons now an indigent defendant whose appeal fell to the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuits public defenders office. Robert Wadkins Sr., the chief public defender, moved for a new trial on June 8, 2012, but Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters denied it that December. Wadkins appealed to the state Supreme Court this past Feb. 21.
In the appeal, Wadkins argued Peters erred in questioning a witness from the bench during Solomons trial. Wadkins claimed Peters threatened the witness, Jarvis Bell, who was refusing to answer questions or even confirm the statement he had given police after the shooting.
Peters told Bell that lying under oath could result in a perjury charge: You get up here and you lie under oath after being sworn in. You wont tell the truth. Thats perjury. All youve got to do is tell the truth, whatever happened, whatever the truth is, the judge told Bell.
Wadkins called that a conditional threat to make a witness alter his testimony. Peters countered he was using the pronoun you in a general sense, meaning anyone who lies under oath, not Bell in particular. Peters also specifically asked Bell whether the witness felt comfortable continuing to testify.
Bell responded that he was not threatened or coerced by any person and that he did feel comfortable in continuing to testify and was not intimidated, the judge wrote in December 2012, when he denied Wadkins motion for a new trial.
The Supreme Court justices did not address that issue, Wadkins said today: "They didn't even mention that in the opinion. They decided on the most narrow grounds that they possibly could."
The high court tossed out the assault conviction and sentence because Solomon's assaulting Daniel with a handgun, resulting in Daniel's death, was the basis of Solomon's murder charge, and those two counts should have been merged, or treated as a single crime, for sentencing, Wadkins said.