A security guard stood post at the gate of Baptist Towers in southwest Atlanta after a resident of the senior citizen high-rise allegedly stabbed two of his neighbors in June 2013, killing one of them, police said. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Ga. Supreme Court: Suspect can’t be retried for woman’s death

Shortly after making plans for her upcoming 76th birthday, Mary Oliver was fatally stabbed seven times by a man who has not been tried for the offense — and who very likely never will be.

On Tuesday, Oliver’s daughter, joined by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, condemned a Georgia Supreme Court opinion that said Geary Otis can no longer be prosecuted for Oliver’s murder.

The high court also said he cannot be tried for the same-day stabbing attack of Emmanuel Surry, a fellow resident of Baptist Towers, a high-rise independent living facility in Atlanta.

“This is a travesty of justice — I’m just so angry,” said Oliver’s daughter, Jan Jacobs, choking back sobs.

“He should not walk free,” said Jacobs, a state Department of Corrections employee who wore her work uniform to the news conference. “What kind of message does this send? That we let murderers walk free?”

The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued Monday, placed the blame of the outcome on a Fulton County trial judge, saying he mistakenly declared a mistrial — over the objection of Otis’ public defender — during the April 2014 trial.

Because a judge cannot incorrectly or arbitrarily grant a mistrial over a defendant’s objection, Otis can no longer be tried for Oliver’s murder or for the attack against Surry, said the court’s unanimous opinion, citing double jeopardy grounds.

Fulton prosecutors will ask the court to reconsider its opinion and, if nothing changes, Otis should walk free in about 30 days, Howard said. “Such an outcome is beyond belief.”

The district attorney noted that residents of the complex are already fearful that Otis will return and do them harm.

Among those residents is Surry. “I fear I’ll have to try to defend myself again,” said the 76-year-old former construction worker, who endured seven operations since he was stabbed in the chest. “I don’t see how anybody can ever consider releasing him.”

Added Reed, “We can’t let someone stab one of our seniors seven times … and walk away with no consequence.”

Insanity Defense An Issue

During opening statements at Otis’ trial, public defender Amanda Grantham told jurors that her client had “just snapped” that fateful day. She also announced she was going to ask the jury to find Otis not guilty by reason of insanity.

This drew an objection from the Fulton prosecutor, who said the state had not been given any notice before the trial about an insanity defense.

During a hearing the next morning, Howard said, a prosecutor asked Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville to delay the trial to give prosecutors time to interview Grantham’s witnesses. But Glanville instead declared a mistrial, saying he thought Grantham should have provided advance notice of her defense.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Glanville was in error because he failed to follow a precedent the state high court set two decades ago. In that decision, the court said the defense is only required to give pretrial notice of an insanity defense if it planned to use expert testimony. In Otis’ case, his public defender had said she was only going to rely on lay witnesses to try to prove her case.

In a concurring opinion, Justice David Nahmias said he agreed in full with the high court’s decision. But he urged the state’s judges to revise their rules so judges and lawyers fully understand what’s required — and not required — when insanity defenses are raised.

“It is apparent that the trial court in this case was striving to produce a fair trial, but the court erred in not abiding by our holding,” Nahmias wrote. “The result is that Otis cannot be retried for the murder and other crimes he is alleged to have committed.”

Lawyer: DA’s Office Negligent

Grantham’s husband, Bryan Grantham, a private Atlanta attorney, helped write the appeal and argued the case before the Georgia Supreme Court.

“We’re very excited for Mr. Otis,” Bryan Grantham said. “Mr. Otis is a guy who never had any criminal history. Basically, he just snapped one day. He did a terrible thing, but he’s a good guy.”

Grantham said he was “saddened that Mayor Reed has insinuated himself into the judicial process.”

As for Howard, Grantham added, “I hope he’s explained to the family that the negligence of his office is the cause of all this.”

If prosecutors had told Glanville he couldn’t grant a mistrial because of double-jeopardy concerns, this never would have happened, Grantham said.

Grantham said his wife will be working with social workers at the public defender’s office to get Otis the help he needs to get back on his feet.