It’s a moment in the murder trial of Jamie Hood that illustrates how bizarre the proceedings have become.
Acting as his own attorney in the death penalty case, Hood warmly greeted a childhood friend called by prosecutors to testify against him. But, as he launched into his cross examination, Hood’s dual role as attorney and defendant quickly became confused.
A trained lawyer might have challenged Judon Brooks’ testimony that Hood kidnapped him, setting off a chain of events that led the shooting of two Athens police officers, one of whom died. Instead Hood — less than two years out of prison and trying to break into the drug business — chided Brooks for involving the law in their conflict after he managed to escape, still bound, from the trunk of a car.
“When you were growing up as a kid, did you tell your mama you wanted to be a snitch?” asked Hood, who broke decorum by earlier referring to Brooks as “Bro.”
“You said you were going to kill my mama,” Brooks shot back.
And so it has gone through nearly three weeks of testimony during which Hood has called witnesses liars, repeatedly insulted the district attorney and tried to shout down the judge.
Hood is the first capital defendant in Georgia to represent himself in a jury trial.
Before jury selection began June 1, Hood fired two teams of lawyers. The attorneys — all experienced with death penalty cases — wanted to have his mental health evaluated and to look into his childhood. But Hood made clear he didn’t want his mental health challenged or his mother’s parenting criticized. He demanded that he be allowed to represent himself on the 70 charges filed against him, including murdering Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian and friend Omar Wray. He is also accused of shooting Officer Tony Howard, who survived the attack.
Many times, Judge Patrick Haggard has had to warn Hood about crossing the line, reminding him that the rules still apply, even if he is representing himself.
Hood clearly became agitated with Brooks. At one point, the two debated whether Hood was a “coward.”
Hood wanted examples of things that showed he was weak.
Brooks recalled text messages Hood had sent to another man. “You was begging him to be your friend. We thought it was kind of gayish.”
At times, Hood’s comments after a witness answers have brought rebukes from the judge, who was a Winterville Municipal Court judge for 20 years when the governor appointed him to the Superior Court in 2011.
Haggard also warned Hood several times when he shouted over people and insulted them. “We’re not going to have these shouting matches with me or anybody else,” Haggard said, adding, “asking successive times in hopes of getting a different answer is not something we’re going to do.”
Court watchers have followed the case with interest.
“What kind of Alice in Wonderland trial is this?” said Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights and an expert on the death penalty.
Even before he was taken to jail, authorities said, Hood admitted he killed 34-year-old Christian on March 22, 2011 and apologized. He did not back down from that when he testified on his own behalf.
In a move many attorneys might have opposed, Hood took the stand Friday to tell jurors he did almost everything the prosecutors said he did – the kidnapping of Brooks, killing Christian, shooting Howard, taking hostages before giving himself up. But, he said, he did not kill 30-year-old Wray. “If I killed Mr. Wray, I’d tell you.”
“I’m not here to make excuses,” Hood said. “I’m mad. Sad. Feel like I’ve been cheated out of my life.”
Hood told jurors he turned to drug dealing because he couldn’t find a job after he got out of prison.
Though he said he killed Christian, he refused to call himself a “cop killer,” saying he had plenty of opportunities while he was on the run to kill police, if that was his aim. Though he kidnapped Brooks, he testified, it was because Brooks had threatened his life.
During the trial, Hood has insisted that it was Officer Howard’s fault that Christian was killed. Christian, he said, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The officers spotted Hood after Brooks reported the kidnapping and his escape. Hood said he started shooting right away because he was certain Howard would end a years-long grudge by killing him, just as his brother had been killed by a police officer. It’s a grudge that was all in his head, Howard said earlier in the week, adding that he had only a vague memory of Hood from his armed robbery arrest 20 years earlier.
Through 45 minutes of testimony Friday, Hood spoke rapidly, sometimes using racial epithets or crude language. He stood frequently and used his hands and arms to help make his points.
While he was being questioned by District Attorney Ken Mauldin, he swiveled in his chair constantly, until the judge asked a deputy to replace it with one that wouldn’t move.
Earlier Friday, Hood became enraged when Haggard said the district attorney could ask a defense gun expert about his troubled work history.
“You might as well send the jury home and me to Death Row,” Hood shouted.
Two questions later, Hood stood up and shouted again.
“I want to object to your bias and prejudice and violation of canon codes,” Hood said. “If I had known this, I wouldn’t have let you be my judge.”