A state judge on Monday recused himself from the murder case of a DeKalb County police officer, a move that could delay the start of a high-profile trial involving the death of an unarmed Afghanistan war veteran.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee — who has been nominated for a federal judgeship — announced his decision in a court order.
The family of Anthony Hill, who was gunned down in March 2015, was “understandably devastated” by the news, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said in a statement.
The trial of DeKalb Officer Robert Olsen had been set to start in just two weeks.
Once the case has been reassigned to a new judge, Boston said she would ask for the trial to start on Feb. 25, as had been previously scheduled.
In January 2016, Olsen became just the second Georgia police officer in at least five years to be indicted for murder in the shooting death of a civilian. (The other case that was indicted was quickly dismissed.)
It’s unclear now when Olsen’s will be tried.
Boulee’s recusal came after questions arose this week regarding his sponsorship of a road race hosted by Boston.
In October, Boulee donated $1,000 to the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence for its 4th annual Love Run 5k.
The Feb. 23 event lists Boston as its presenter, and Boulee’s donation made him a sponsor. A flier recently sent out by the DA’s office includes an icon from Boulee’s campaign website listing the judge as a sponsor, and it appears just below Boston’s photo.
Boston’s office is prosecuting the Olsen case in Boulee’s courtroom.
In his order, Boulee said judges must disqualify themselves from a case in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. He added that “judges should not only avoid impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety.”
Hill, 27, was naked and and unarmed when he approached Olsen outside the Heights of Chamblee Apartment Complex.
Hill, an aspiring musician, had stopped taking medications he took for PTSD and bipolar disorder.
Don Samuel, who is representing Olsen, declined on Monday to comment on the new development.
The case will be randomly reassigned to another judge, Boulee’s order said.
Last year, Boulee declined to grant Olsen immunity from prosecution, allowing the trial to move forward. Olsen’s legal team had argued he was acting in self-defense when he fired at Hill and therefore should not face criminal charges.
Conflicts in testimony and questions about credibility played a pivotal role in the decision to reject immunity for a former DeKalb County officer charged with murdering an unarmed veteran, Boulee wrote in his ruling.
Boulee said Olsen failed to show that he reasonably believed deadly force was necessary in order to avoid death or serious bodily harm to himself or anyone else. “No evidence exists that defendant ever believed that Hill was about to kill him, and no witness testified that they thought Hill was capable of killing (Olsen),” Boulee wrote.
Olsen’s inconsistent account of what happened that night could not be ignored, according to the judge.
Boulee has been nominated by President Donald Trump to fill a U.S. District Court vacancy. On Thursday Boulee’s nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote.
A vote by the full Senate has not yet been scheduled.
If confirmed, he would replace Bill Duffey, who retired last summer.
-Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Christian Boone contributed to this report
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