Russell County Circuit Court Judge George Greene was ordered to take a medical leave of absence Tuesday morning after the court discovered that Greene has been hospitalized for unspecified medical complications since mid-July.
The order issued by Judge Albert Johnson, also a Circuit Court judge, comes almost a year after Greene abruptly declared a mistrial in the case of Lisa Graham, who is accused of hiring a family friend to murder her daughter in 2007. The re-trial was scheduled to begin July 22.
According to Johnson’s order, Greene’s judicial assistant came to Johnson’s office on July 22 and told Johnson that Greene had been hospitalized on July 16. Greene has since had an unspecified surgery and was scheduled for additional surgery on July 22. The order states that he is expected to need rehabilitation from those surgeries for an additional six weeks or more. His case load will be handled by outside judicial help, which has not been assigned yet.
Johnson declined comment on the order Tuesday morning.
Graham was arrested in July 2007 and charged with the capital murder of her daughter, Shea Graham. Graham is accused of hiring Kenneth Walton, an employee in the family business, to shoot her daughter. Her daughter’s body was found with multiple gunshot wounds off a rural road off Alabama Highway 165 in July 2007. Walton pleaded guilty to the murder in June 2012. In September 2012, the court moved forward with Graham’s trial. On the third day of testimony, Greene declared a mistrial, citing personal health issues.
In May, the mistrial became the foundation for Graham’s attorneys, Robert Poole and Margaret Brown, to argue that retrying the case would constitute double jeopardy. Poole and Brown argued in the dismissal document that the September trial and their client’s lack of adequate information about the reasons for the mistrial constituted a breach of Graham’s constitutional rights.
“Jeopardy attached in this case when the jury was empanelled and sworn,” the attorneys wrote in their May 3 motion to dismiss. “With this case again being set for trial, the State is attempting to, for a second time, subject (Graham) to prosecution for the same offense in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
That motion to dismiss due to double jeopardy was denied in a July 13 order.
During a two-hour hearing on July 3, Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker ruled that the mistrial was necessary due to Greene’s health complications. The hearing led Poole and Brown to file a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to question double jeopardy and whether Graham should be retried.
Greene testified during the hearing that he had several health issues — including blurred vision, high blood pressure, gout, high cholesterol and diabetes — which complicated his ability to perform during the trial. He said he thought he could get through the trial, which he expected to last another week. However, on Sept. 25, 2012, Greene was ordered by Johnson to declare a mistrial after Johnson approached him about reports that Greene had been sleeping during the trial.
Walker wrote in his order that Greene was dealing with a significant medical ailment and that more errors could have been caused if the trial continued.
“It appears that the mistrial was not declared to protect the interests of any one individual; it was declared out of a need to protect the rights or all parties, including the immediate health concerns of Judge Greene, and to promote the substantial ends of public justice,” Walker wrote.
During a phone interview Tuesday, Poole said that Greene’s latest medical leave of absence would have no affect on the defense’s plans to question double jeopardy through the writ of mandamus, which was filed last Thursday.
A retrial of Graham’s case has been postponed until a higher court ruling has been issued. Because Graham may be retried, she has requested that the court appoint her an attorney. She has been unemployed since her release from the jail and claims that she is without sufficient funds to pay court costs for a retrial. Brown said during an earlier hearing that Graham’s attorneys were only retained for the ongoing case, not for a retrial or collateral matters.
Graham has been free on a $250,000 bond since she was released in January from the Russell County Jail. Under the terms of her release, she must submit to random drug testing, live with her mother in Ladonia and wear an ankle-monitoring bracelet. She is prohibited from leaving Russell County.