Defense team member out in Bibb murder trial

A Bibb County judge settled a possible conflict of interest in the case of two men accused of killing a Bibb County deputy, opting to remove a defense team member instead of the entire team.

Prosecutors and attorneys for 24-year-old Antron Fair have argued that a conflict of interest existed in both Fair and 23-year-old Damon Jolly being represented by lawyers from the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office, the state entity that provides indigent defense in capital cases.

Fair and Jolly are accused of murder and face the death penalty if convicted of killing deputy Joseph Whitehead as Whitehead helped serve a no-knock search warrant at a house off Montpelier Avenue on March 23, 2006.

Prosecutors and Fair’s lawyers have asked that Jolly’s defense team be removed from the case because members of the team allegedly have been exposed to privileged information about Fair’s case.

Prosecutor Kim Schwartz argued the evidence shows potential for information sharing within the Capital Defender’s Office and urged the judge to find a remedy for the conflict.

“We need to do it right the first time around,” she said.

Doug Ramseur, a lawyer from the Capital Defender’s Office representing Fair, said Fair’s right to attorney-client privilege has been affected and as a result, he asked the judge to remove the death penalty from the punishment options if Fair is convicted. As another remedy, he argued Jolly’s defense team should be replaced.

Jolly’s lawyers argued there was no conflict of interest.

“We believe we should stay on the case,” said Jim Stokes, a lawyer from the Capital Defender’s Office representing Jolly.

For a while Monday morning, it seemed possible the judge might remove both of Jolly’s lawyers and both of Fair’s lawyers.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” said Judge Tripp Self as he announced his ruling Monday afternoon, citing the need for fairness to the defendants, family members and taxpayers who are footing the bill for the trials.

Self ruled that although he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest, there’s potential for it. He removed Renee Jolissaint, a mitigation specialist working with Jolly’s legal team, from the case and ordered the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council to appoint an outside mitigation specialist within 30 days.

Testimony at an April hearing showed Fair was appointed a lawyer from the Capital Defender’s Office after being charged with murder in 2006. Initially, Jolly was represented by two private-practice lawyers, Jeffrey Grube and Richard Hagler. But when Hagler left the case because he hadn’t been paid by the state, Stokes, a lawyer from the Capital Defender’s Office, was assigned to the case in August 2008.

Because Jolly initially was represented by lawyers outside the Capital Defender’s Office, employees were not barred from talking about Fair’s case within the office prior to Stokes’ being assigned to the case. But Jolissaint, who allegedly had been privy to confidential information about Fair’s case, was assigned to Jolly’s case over the objection of Capital Defender’s Office employees aware of her alleged knowledge, according to court records.

Jolissaint testified Monday morning that she didn’t have any memory of being exposed to confidential information about Fair’s case.

No trial date has been scheduled for Fair or Jolly.

Sarah Haskin, chief of staff for the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, testified Monday that the Council is opening a separate office this week for Capital Defender’s Office lawyers assigned in death penalty cases with two indigent defendants.

She said the office will be headed by Stokes.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.