The Georgia Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Oct. 16 on whether jurors will one day hear wiretap evidence in the trial of two men charged with a woman’s slaying at her east Macon home.
Benjamin Finney, 38, and Marlon S. Jackson, 36, are each charged with murder in the Feb. 4, 2008, shooting of Gwendolyn Cole, 55.
Authorities have said a man knocked on the door of Cole’s Bradstone Circle home, off Millerfriend Road, and asked for her son. Moments later, as many as 70 shots were fired from an assault rifle, fatally injuring Cole.
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In early 2008, a Jones County sheriff’s investigator approached the Bibb County District Attorney’s Office about conducting a wiretap investigation on Finney’s phone. Authorities believed he was involved in drug dealing in Bibb and Jones counties, according to a case summary prepared by Supreme Court.
According to the summary:
A prosecutor applied for a 30-day wiretap warrant to monitor Finney’s text messages, emails and phone calls. Finney was a suspect in Cole’s killing at the time.
A judge granted the warrant application, and another judge later extended the warrant for another 30 days.
The law requires prosecutors to seal wiretap evidence immediately under expiration of the surveillance if they want to use the recordings at trial to prevent evidence tampering.
The evidence in Finney’s case wasn’t sealed until 16 days after the warrant’s expiration.
Later, after Finney was indicted in Cole’s killing, his lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence and a judge denied the motion, saying prosecutors provided a “satisfactory explanation” for the delay.
The prosecutor who applied for the wiretap warrant had been preoccupied by a high-profile death penalty appeal, and the judge who issued the warrant wasn’t available for several days because he was attending training.
Finney’s lawyers argue that the motion to suppress the evidence should have been granted, and that neither of the reasons cited are relevant. Other prosecutors were involved in the wiretap operation, and any Bibb County judge could have sealed the evidence.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office and prosecutors argue that the explanation for the delay should be accepted.
They also contend that records in the case show there was little chance of the recordings being tampered with. An officer who oversaw the technical aspects of the wiretap has testified that the disc containing the recordings can’t be altered.
Finney and Jackson were each indicted on federal charges in 2008.
Finney was sentenced to 70 months in prison after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Jackson was sentenced to 28 months after he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Both men were charged with murder in Cole’s death in 2012 and indicted in 2013.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.