A panel of Georgia Court of Appeals judges overturned a Columbus assault case last week, setting the stage for another trial for a man convicted in a shooting and sentenced to 15 years in prison, attorneys said.
Anthony Callaham, 22, was found guilty in August 2008 of shooting a man in the abdomen at a Bowie Avenue home. Callaham appealed, arguing that Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters erred when he gave his opinion about a witness’ credibility.
On Aug. 19, the three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed and ordered a new trial.
"After the state’s attorney finished cross-examining Callaham, the trial court asked, 'Mr. Callaham, do you know why the neighbor that lives across the street would come in here and say you’re the one that shot? He’s not related to anybody.'"
The decision continues: "Here, the trial court’s question and comment about the neighbor’s testimony clearly intimated the court’s opinion that the testimony was believable because the neighbor was an independent witness, unrelated to any of the parties involved in the case."
Columbus Public Defender Bob Wadkins, whose office represents Callaham, said judges must be careful in their comments and questions.
"The very basis of a fair trial is that the judge not show any partiality, because jurors are very sensitive to how they think the judge is leaning," Wadkins added.
Peters said the appeals court decision is the first time he’s been overturned.
"I have no objection to the opinion," the judge said. "I understand their point."
Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey said Callaham will be transferred from a state prison to Columbus, where he’ll have another trial. State prosecutors currently have no plans to appeal the panel’s decision, she said.
The appeals court and Georgia Supreme Court recently have examined two other cases from Columbus. In the case of George Anderson, convicted of charges including armed robbery and kidnapping, the appeals court and Supreme Court ruled that Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Doug Pullen erred when commenting on the case’s venue.
In the case of Marquez Gardner, the appeals court tossed out his armed robbery conviction for similar reasons, though the high court ruled that Pullen didn’t express an opinion about what had been proved in the case and reinstated the conviction.