Winters, Cooke spar over poll phone calls

pramati@macon.comOctober 8, 2012 

The race for the Bibb County District Attorney’s seat heated up Monday as the two candidates lobbed accusations at each other about a series of telephone poll questions from challenger David Cooke campaign.

During a news conference, District Attorney Greg Winters, a Republican, criticized the phone calls for spreading “falsehoods” designed to plant doubt about his ability on the job.

Cooke, a Democrat reached later in the day, said the poll questions asked were legitimate and designed to find out what Bibb County voters are thinking. He said one voter contacted him because he said the questions were so balanced that he didn’t know which candidate put out the poll.

“I’ve not made any kind of ad phone calls,” Cooke said. “I’ve run the poll only. I’ve asked specific, factual questions about him.”

Winters has served as district attorney for the Macon Judicial Circuit for the past 21 months after defeating Cooke and two others in a special election to replace former DA Howard Simms,

Louis Elrod, who serves as Cooke’s campaign manager, said he wouldn’t release the entire list of questions from the poll because it was designed to be an internal poll. But Elrod sent a few of the questions and the format that was used to The Telegraph.

“For each statement, please tell me whether this description, if accurate, raises very serious doubts, serious doubts, minor doubts or no real doubts in your own mind about Republican Greg Winters,” according to the phone poll.

Among the statements asked of potential voters:

• “Winters has dismissed every rape case he’s handled.”

• “Winters’ incompetence in drafting the warrant and indictment against a man being held for murdering his former fiancee by dousing her in gasoline and setting her on fire, may lead to the dismissal of those charges.”

• “Winters allegedly let a friend who was accused of stealing half a million dollars from his clients off the hook, sentencing him to probation rather than jail time.”

In response, Winters said he has only assisted in the prosecution of one rape case while he was an assistant DA, involving multiple rapes at the former Rio Bravo restaurant on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, in which the suspects were successfully prosecuted by members of the DA’s office.

Cooke said he was referring to eight rape cases that Winters allegedly dismissed while serving as district attorney. He didn’t say specifically which cases those were.

According to the district attorney’s office website, Winters worked on cases of eight individuals accused of rape since 2002. However, three of the individuals were part of one case, and two more were part of a second case.

Winters said his office has worked on 3,989 criminal cases in the Macon Judicial Circuit since he took over as DA, and said late Monday he would have to look up the cases to see which ones Cooke referenced.

Winters said he was more upset about another question, which referred to the murder of LaTosha Taylor in 2005.

“Let me just say, first of all, that I find the phrase ‘fiancee burning case’ offensive,” Winters said. “The deceased victim in that case, LaTosha Taylor, was a human being, a real person, a daughter and a mother, who deserves more dignity than to be referred to in a trite political sound bite as a ‘burned fiancee.’ ”

Winters went on to say that another prosecutor handled the initial indictment on that case, which was dismissed by the trial judge. However, Winters said he successfully argued the case in front of the state Supreme Court to get that decision overturned, and the case is set for trial.

Cooke said a number of county residents contacted him about the Billy Ramsbottom case, in which Ramsbottom was charged with embezzlement from his company. He said Winters was a friend of Ramsbottom, which is why the latter received probation on a 15-year sentence.

Winters said both at the time of the verdict and again Monday that it was ultimately a letter by Ramsbottom’s former partners sent to the judge asking for Ramsbottom not to be sent to prison that led to the sentence.

Cooke said the poll was conducted to see where he stood in the race.

“(It’s to learn) what issues are the most important, and the issues brought to me about the DA,” he said. “I learned that people are very upset at how he’s run the office. I found we’re in a position to win in November.”

Winters said he is standing by his record and that he doesn’t deal with false rumors and half-truths.

“I’ve heard a lot of concerns about (Cooke) as a prosecutor, but unless I know specifics, I’m not going to talk about it,” Winters said. “That wouldn’t be fair to him and his family.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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