That will no longer be the case, Justice Nels Peterson wrote Monday.
“There is essentially no good reasoning for the current rule,” Peterson wrote. “… We hold that the proper approach instead is to consider the prejudicial effect, if any, of trial court errors, along with the prejudice caused by any deficient performance of counsel.”
Georgia Supreme Court Justice Nels Peterson. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
At the end of the opinion, Peterson listed more than 100 state appellate court decisions dating back to 1978 that said cumulative errors should not be considered when determining whether a defendant deserves a new trial. The state Supreme Court will now “disapprove” any decisions with language to that effect, Peterson said.
“I’m glad the court has abandoned an archaic, oddball rule,” said Don Samuel, who represented Lane on appeal. “The court needs to consider the effect of multiple errors, because the question is whether or not there was a fair trial.”
Atlanta defense attorney Don Samuel. (Garland, Samuel & Loeb)
One glaring error in Lane’s case involved false testimony by a DeKalb investigator. According to the prosecution, Lane, believing his wife was sleeping with another man, hired Kevin Stallworth to carry out the murder for $10,000. But Stallworth, who later pleaded guilty and became a prosecution witness, acknowledged he killed the wrong man.
During trial, a DeKalb investigator “confirmed” Stallworth’s claim that Lane initially tried to get Stallworth’s cousin, Eddie Davis, to carry out the hit. But Davis had expressly denied that to the investigator, and the investigator had made note of that in his report, the ruling said.
Lane’s trial lawyer should have confronted the detective with that evidence to show “one of the state’s primary witnesses testified falsely on a significant point,” the ruling said.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston. (AJC file/David Barnes)
Credit: Jim Galloway
Credit: Jim Galloway
On Monday, DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston said she respects the high court’s decision and has notified the victim’s family about it.
Even though the Supreme Court ruled Lane’s conviction should be reversed, it also found sufficient evidence presented at trial to support his conviction, Boston said. “Regardless of our next steps, we will proceed with integrity in pursuit of a resolution that is fair and just.”