The court hearing for a couple seeking a new trial after being convicted in 2009 of murdering their newborn daughter took an odd turn Friday as their defense attorneys turned a prosecutor into a witness.
Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey was called to testify and questioned as to how she handled the discovery of evidence Ashley Debelbot’s lawyer sought before the mother of McKenzy Debelbot went on trial in 2009 along with father Albert Debelbot.
Representing Ashley Debelbot in 2009 was William “Sandy” Callahan, who earlier this year testified he was hampered in his defense by being rushed to trial with no time to secure an expert to refute the state medical examiner’s conclusions about McKenzy’s cause of death.
Defense attorneys Friday were trying to determine whether prosecutors in 2009 cooperated in the discovery process of exchanging evidence by giving Callahan copies of brain scans produced by Martin Army Hospital, where the Debelbots’ child was born May 29, 2008, and died the following June 1.
On Oct. 29, 2009, the parents were convicted of crushing the infant’s skull and sentenced to life in prison. The attorneys are now seeking a new trial, contending the newborn did not die because she was abused, but because her brain was not fully developed and was damaged during a difficult delivery.
The defense claims the jury in 2009 likely would have reached a different verdict had the Debelbots’ attorneys summoned medical experts to refute the state medical examiner’s testimony that McKenzy died from abusive head trauma.
Dailey testified Friday that she gave Callahan access to her evidence file and let him copy whatever he wanted. She also issued a Sept. 3, 2009, subpoena for all of Martin Army’s medical files on McKenzy, to include the brain scans, she said.
Friday’s court session was the second day of a third round of testimony in the Debelbots’ effort to get a new trial. Two previous two-day court hearings were held in mid-July and mid-October.
In mid-July, Callahan testified he was on reserve duty in 2009 when informed the Debelbots’ trial would begin in a week, though he’d filed a leave of absence for the time he’d be away. He learned then that Bill Mason, who represented Albert Debelbot, had filed a speedy trial demand.
Callahan said he tried to get the trial delayed, but when the case was called on then-Judge Doug Pullen’s calendar on Oct. 2, 2009, the judge told him, “We’re going to try this case. I don’t care where you decide to go.” The trial was set to start the following Oct. 26.
Callahan had planned to call an expert witness from Minnesota, Dr. John Plunkett, to counter the testimony of Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner Dr. Lora Darrisaw, who conducted Mckenzy’s autopsy and concluded the death was a homicide.
But Plunkett was not available until November 2009, Callahan said, so he was compelled to go to trial without a defense expert. Mason chose not to call an expert in Albert Debelbot’s defense.
Having no expert witness to refute Darrisaw’s testimony crippled the defense, Callahan said in July: “Without that, I had nothing.”
On Friday, the Debelbots’ new defense team tried to call another witness after Dailey, but prosecutors objected that they’d been given no notice the witness had been summoned, so the witness didn’t testify.
Absent any additional testimony, attorneys now will file a series of court briefs arguing their side of the case, after which Judge Art Smith III may hear oral arguments or base his decision on the evidence and filings.
Either side may appeal an unfavorable decision.