Judge refuses to dismiss APS indictment

A Fulton County judge on Friday refused to dismiss the Atlanta Public Schools racketeering indictment based on claims the prosecution’s case was infected with coerced statements given by the 35 defendants to special investigators and GBI agents.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter said he will allow his decision, a victory for Fulton prosecutors, to be appealed before trial. It is a surprising development given that Baxter, at the conclusion of hearings last week, expressed concerns with the prosecution’s case and indicated he would find that the statements by APS employees had been coerced.

In his ruling, Baxter found that at the time of each defendant’s interviews “there were no expressed threats to the defendant that she or he would lose their jobs unless they provided statements to investigators’ questions.”

Whether the defendants subjectively believed they would be fired, however, “remains an open question,” Baxter said.

For this reason, the judge said, he will examine the circumstances surrounding the statements “on an individual defendant-by-defendant basis” to determine, at a later date, whether any statements should be suppressed.

The 65-count indictment charged the 35 defendants of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy by cheating on federally mandated tests. It accused former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall of leading a corrupt school system that used students’ inflated test scores to earn bonuses. Other charges include false statement, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

Baxter had scheduled the trial for May 2014 in the massive case, but that date now appears uncertain because of pretrial appeals.

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