Attorney: O'Connell coin case 'unusual'

Andrew O'Connell is accused of stealing coins from Joe and Tammy Barnes and is scheduled for trial in November. The Barnes, however, owe O'Connell and his father close to $200,000 for slandering them by saying they stole their rare coins, a civil jury found last week.

All this begs the question -- what's going on?

"Our contention is the civil case and criminal case are independent of each other," said Assistant District Attorney Shelly Faulk. "It's our intention to proceed."

The whole thing started in August 2006, when O'Connell appraised some of the Barnes' rare coins, said attorney Michael Garner, who represents O'Connell in the civil and criminal cases. O'Connell had the coins for a few days, returning them with an appraisal of about $3-4,000.

The Barnes, however, claimed that O'Connell had substituted less valued coins for theirs, and he went to the Public Safety Building in late September 2006 for an interview. After taking a polygraph test and talking to Tammy Barnes, O'Connell was arrested and charged with theft by taking, police report.

Garner filed a civil suit on behalf of Andrew and Joseph O'Connell in October 2006, claiming the Barnes slandered his clients in the media. He asked for $2,500,000 in total damages.

Instead, a Muscogee County jury decided Friday that Andrew O'Connell was entitled to $6,000 from Tammy Barnes and his father to $175,000 from both the Barnes.

"We think the case is full of error," said Matt Pope, who represents the Barnes.

Pope intends to appeal the case on behalf of the Barnes to the Georgia Court of Appeals. They have 30 days after the verdict to submit notice of appeal. Pope said he's confident of a reversal.

Garner said it's unusual for a civil case to reach trial before a criminal one. Faulk said Garner requested the civil case to go first.

"We wanted to get one of them tried," Garner said. "It had been over two years."

The prosecutor added she will review the civil case and its issues.

"One verdict doesn't necessarily mean a certain verdict will be found in another case," Faulk said.