The case of a former state trooper accused in a fatal wreck came to an abrupt halt last month. Then the legal drama really began.
Carroll County Judge John Simpson declared a mistrial because he believed prosecutors withheld evidence in the case against Anthony Scott, accused in a 2015 crash that killed two teenagers. Now Simpson wants the prosecutors involved in the case removed — and to face charges themselves.
District Attorney Herb Cranford responded in a motion filed this week that it’s the judge who should be removed from the case.
It’s unclear what the legal skirmish could mean for Scott. For the families of the two teens who died when Scott’s car collided with the one they were riding in, it means more delay. Some in the legal community wonder if Simpson, who has called a hearing in the case, is overstepping his bounds.
“I have been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never known a judge to do that on his own motion,” Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan said.
Donovan, who is not involved in the case, said Georgia law allows for judges to decide themselves whether they should be removed from a case, rather than having another judge weigh in.
Longtime attorney Lester Tate, former chair of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, said the judge is within his rights.
“I applaud Judge Simpson for making inquiry into what happened here,” Tate said. “I do not believe that he can or should be recused because he’s held someone in contempt.”
Scott’s attorneys filed two motions for mistrials during last month’s trial. The first involved a video shown to jurors that had a speed-limit sign imposed in the corner. Simpson denied that motion.
Days later, the defense learned that investigators had a new theory about the incident, including where one of the crash victims was seated before the collision. While jurors reported they were deadlocked, defense attorney Mac Pilgrim filed another motion for a mistrial. This time, Simpson granted it. By failing to turn over all evidence in the case to the defense, the judge ruled, Scott’s right to a fair trial was violated.
But Simpson wasn’t done. On June 4, he filed a motion ordering prosecutors, along with two troopers, to appear at a July 10 contempt hearing.
“The purpose of this hearing will be to inform the Court whether criminal contempt proceedings will move forward,” Simpson wrote in the motion.
Prosecutors argued they didn’t believe the troopers’ new theory was relevant to the case and say they turned over all evidence. By holding his planned hearing, Simpson is stepping outside his role as a judge and would be acting as a prosecutor, Cranford wrote in his motion.
“Objectively, Judge Simpson is not impartial in this case and has a bent of mind that will prevent and impede the impartiality of justice,” he wrote.
Authorities say Scott was driving 90 mph in a 55-mph zone moments before crashing into a Nissan Sentra carrying four teenagers on on Sept. 26, 2015. Prosecutors argue his reckless driving that caused the crash, noting Scott was not responding to an emergency at the time.
Kylie Lindsey, 17, and Isabella Chinchilla, 16, died from their injuries. Both were students at South Paulding High School.
Two others — Dillon Lewis Wall, then 18, and Benjamin Alan Finken, then 17, both of Douglasville — were critically injured. Wall, the driver, was the only teen wearing a seat belt. Though alcohol bottles were found in the Nissan, Wall did not have alcohol in his system, according to testimony.
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