The man accused of hacking his wife and children to death with a bush ax in 1985 has been denied neither his constitutional right to a speedy trial nor to due process, Muscogee Superior Court Judge John Allen has ruled.
Accused of killing his pregnant wife Ann, 24, daughter Erika, 4, and son Ryan, 20 months, Michael Curry’s attorneys argued that his constitutional rights have been violated because in the 25 years since the slayings occurred, crucial witnesses have died or disappeared and evidence has been lost.
The slayings occurred on the afternoon of Aug. 29, 1985, in the family’s Rockhurst Drive home off Macon Road in east Columbus. Indicted by a grand jury, Curry was arrested May 20, 2009, in Dalton, Ga., where he was living and working at the time.
His lead attorney is public defender Robert Wadkins, who says District Attorney Julia Slater is prosecuting Curry in reckless disregard for the damage caused his defense by the passage of time. Slater counters that court precedents say a mere delay in prosecution is not enough to sustain Wadkins’ claims.
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Allen sided with Slater, who in response to Wadkins cited the 1971 Supreme Court precedent United States v. Marion, in which the justices ruled a defendant “must show the delay caused 1) actual and substantial prejudice; and 2) that said delay was deliberately undertaken by the state to gain a tactical advantage.”
Wadkins failed to prove that, Allen ruled.
Of Curry, Allen wrote: “No actual prejudice or purposeful delay on the part of the state which impacted his ability to defend himself has been shown.”
The judge also noted that some of the evidence thought to have been lost has been found, including a palm print investigators found on a magazine in the Curry residence. Police discovered they still had the magazine, having preserved it with the print on it, so the print was never lifted and separately stored.
Wadkins also claimed the defense was damaged by the loss of two witnesses who in court could have estimated Ann Curry’s time of death: former medical examiner Joe Webber, who died in May 1989, and former coroner Don Kilgore, who died in July 2000.
Allen noted a police report substantiates their estimating Ann Curry’s time of death as between 2:30 and 3 p.m., and the officer who wrote the report is available to testify.
That timing is crucial in the Curry case because Ann Curry’s mother, Bernice Johnson, has told police she thought Ann Curry and the children left her Fairview Drive home around 12:30 or 12:45 p.m.
Michael Curry told police he spent much of the day shopping for a fan for The Bradley Center, where he was working at the time, and he supplied a receipt showing he bought one at Columbus’ Macon Road Kmart at 12:55 p.m. Other witnesses have said Michael Curry was back at work around 1:10 p.m., and they saw him there again at various times that afternoon.
Another piece of missing evidence was a police report on a mental patient who had escaped from West Central Georgia Regional Hospital the day of the killings and later confessed to them. That witness, Jeffrey Blacker, was thought to be missing.
Apparently he has been found: “The missing witness, Blacker, has been located by defense counsel and is in the process of being interviewed,” Allen wrote.