Prosecutor won’t retry Georgia couple in newborn’s death

Albert and Ashley Debelbot
Albert and Ashley Debelbot

Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections

Credit: Georgia Department of Corrections

Parents’ murder convictions were overturned by Georgia Supreme Court last year

A Columbus Army couple sentenced to life in prison for the 2008 death of their newborn daughter will not be retried following the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to overturn their convictions.

District Attorney Mark Jones has filed motions to drop all charges against Ashley and Albert Debelbot after the pair spent nearly 12 years in prison, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.

The two were convicted of murder in 2009 following the death of their daughter, McKenzy, who died three days after her parents brought her home from the Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning. A medical examiner determined the infant died from trauma caused by a blow or multiple blows to the head, though prosecutors never said which parent allegedly killed her.

Following their joint trial, the Debelbots tried for years to appeal their convictions without any luck.

That changed in February 2020 when the state’s highest court determined the couple had ineffective legal counsel at their initial trial and unanimously agreed to reverse their convictions.

ExploreGeorgia Supreme Court overturns convictions of Army couple accused of killing baby

The court’s decision hinged on remarks made during the prosecution’s closing arguments, former Justice Keith Blackwell wrote.

”... Reasonable doubt does not mean beyond all doubt. It does not mean to a mathematical certainty,” a prosecutor told the jury while explaining the burden of proof required to return a guilty verdict. “You don’t have to be 90% sure. You don’t have to be 80% sure. You don’t have to be 51% sure.”

Nobody objected to the comments at the time, and the jury was left with an inaccurate definition of the standard of proof necessary to convict the couple, the court determined.

“In doing so, ... the prosecuting attorney set the bar far too low, going so far as to argue that something less than a preponderance of the evidence would be enough to authorize the jury to find the Debelbots guilty,” Blackwell wrote in the opinion. “There is no good reason that any reasonably competent lawyer would fail to object to such an egregious misstatement of the law.”

Jones told the Ledger-Enquirer that dismissing the case is a tough decision, but said “mounting medical evidence” caused him to believe reasonable doubt about the couple’s guilt exists. The current evidence and other demands on his office led him to believe it wasn’t worth retrying the case, he told the newspaper.

“I don’t see how we have time to invest in it,” Jones said, noting that the husband and wife combined already spent nearly 24 years in prison. “Twenty-four years, that’s a long time.”

Albert Debelbot is now 35 and Ashley Debelbot is 36. Both were released on bond last July and are awaiting a final decision in the case. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Muscogee County Superior Court.

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