Eurie Martin’s family pursuing new trial, civil lawsuit


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) — Helen Martin Gilbert sat in a Washington County courtroom for more than a week as the men accused of murdering her brother, Eurie Martin, stood trial. She watched as attorneys played videos of her brother being tased by sheriff’s deputies before he died. She was there when a judge declared a mistrial after a jury could not reach a verdict.

“My heart is heavy,” Martin Gilbert said. “No one knows the pain of my family as well as myself. I literally cried myself to sleep last night.”

Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott, the three former deputies, walked out of court and went home with their families Tuesday. They still face 24 counts, including felony murder, in connection with Martin’s death. Their futures are unclear.

“There was some celebration,” Francys Johnson, a partner at Davis Bozeman Johnson Law, said. “They [former deputies] should know that it is short lived because the indictments of the grand jury of Washington County are still in place.”

Lawyers representing Martin’s family have spoken with Tripp Fitzner, the district attorney of the Middle Judiciial Circuit of Georgia, since the mistrial was declared. They say they hope he pursues a new trial.

“The public wants an answer as to whether this was a crime or not,” Johnson said. “The public wants a resolution. Sandersville will never be the same until there is one.”

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A new trial would be a “blank slate,” according to Madalyn Wasilczuk, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina. Both sides could bring in new witnesses to testify before a brand new jury.

“It’s going to be up to the prosecutor in this case whether they continue to go forward with charges and schedule a new trial date,” Wasilczuk explained. “If they were to do that, there would be a brand new jury, and they would do a whole new trial again. They could make the decision not to go forward again, or both sides might decide to negotiate and, perhaps, come to a plea bargain.”

The jury had been deadlocked since the first day of deliberations. The Martin family’s legal team suggests the makeup of the jury was not fair.

“There was a juror who was allowed to remain on the jury, who was a relative of one of the defendants,” Mawuli Davis, a partner at Davis Bozeman Johnson Law, said. “That was disturbing.”

If the case is retried, Johnson and Davis say they would like it to take place in Washington County again.

“We really want the citizens of Washington County to address a crime that the district attorney believes a charge was committed in Washington County,” Davis explained. Can we have fair-minded jurors from Washington County do that? Our hope is that there are Washington County citizens who are courageous enough to do the right thing.”

“Changes of venue are not up to the prosecutor,” Wasilczuk added. “They would have to move for a change of venue if they thought that was a possibility. The judge would either grant or deny that change in venue. When we talk about a change in venue, we’re talking about a different judicial circuit or different county that they would move it to.”

Johnson says he is committed to pursuing “justice in every way. His team plans to file a civil lawsuit.

“We ultimately believed that Sandersville would teach America something about police accountability. It still very well may do that.”

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