Judge to allow autopsy photos in Whitehead slaying trial

lfabian@macon.comNovember 5, 2012 

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Tripp Self will allow autopsy photographs to be admitted for the first trial in the slaying of Bibb County sheriff’s deputy Joseph Whitehead.

Damon Jolly, 27, one of two men accused of opening fire during a drug raid more than six years ago, was in Bibb County Superior Court for a hearing Monday morning.

In the last pretrial hearing in Bibb County before the trial begins later this month in Savannah, attorneys for Jolly argued that the photos were too gruesome to show jurors.

“It’s prejudicial and inflammatory,” defense attorney Jeff Grube said. “We’re trying to figure out what the forensic pathologist will be able to tell from these pictures.”

Prosecutor Gary Wood said the photographs will help Dr. Melissa Sims explain to the jury exactly what killed Whitehead, who was serving a “no-knock” search warrant at a house on Atherton Street on March 23, 2006.

“These pictures depict the trajectory of the projectile that caused the death of deputy Whitehead,” Wood told the judge.

Self decided to allow the photographs over the objection of the defense.

In the hourlong hearing, District Attorney Greg Winters also declared that he has not received campaign contributions from anyone in Chatham County, where potential jurors will be from.

“If I know someone on the panel, I’ll let you know,” said Winters, who admitted he has friends who have moved to the Savannah area.

Attorneys and the judge have been going over the list of hundreds of jury prospects and found more than 90 duplicates.

Defense attorneys already filed a challenge to the state’s new method for selecting jurors.

Before July 1, lists of potential jurors were created on the county level by jury commissioners. Now, the state creates a master list of potential jurors using driver’s license and voter registration records.

Jolly’s lawyers have argued that the jury selection method is improper and discriminatory because they claim it under-represents black residents, women, young adults ages 18 to 30, Latinos and Asian-Americans, according to a motion filed in the case.

The next pretrial hearing is set for Nov. 19, with jury selection scheduled to begin Nov. 26.

Winters predicted the entire proceedings could take four to five weeks.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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