The scheduled February trial of a man charged with the 2016 shooting deaths of two Peach County deputies is expected to be pushed back.
Also, prosecutors agree with a defense motion for a change of venue in the trial of Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. based on the level of pretrial publicity. A change of venue could mean that the case is heard elsewhere, or that jurors are brought into Peach County from another circuit.
That’s based on discussions among prosecution and defense attorneys with presiding Judge Ed Ennis at a court hearing Friday on motions from the defense seeking more time to prepare for trial.
Attorneys were instructed to talk among themselves to determine which motions can be heard at the next hearing Dec. 13.
Each side is also expected to prepare a “reasonable schedule” for pretrial and trial dates for Ennis’ consideration.
The hearing included a closed segment in which defense attorneys alone spoke with the judge about some of the issues related to preparation of the defense. The hearing then resumed in open court.
One of the challenges facing the defense team was discussed in open court. An investigator for the defense is expected to be on 12 weeks of maternity leave at the end of January into March.
Additionally, in seeking more time to prepare, defense attorneys noted that the average length of a death penalty case in Georgia is about four years from time of the announcement to seek the death sentence to trial conclusion. Meanwhile, murder cases that are not death penalty cases average about two years in the Macon Judicial Circuit from date of incident to conclusion of trial.
The Elrod case was set for trial Feb. 12, about 15 months from the date of the incident, noted Franklin J. Hogue, one of Elrod’s defense attorneys. Elrod is also represented by two attorneys from the state’s Office of the Capital Defender.
While Ennis is expected to hear suggestions for a revised trial schedule, the judge made it clear that he wanted to keep the case on track. Ennis also noted that his schedule would allow him to be more available for the case.
Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron were looking into a complaint that Elrod had threatened a neighbor’s nephews who had been riding in front of Elrod’s home on a four-wheeler and a motorcycle.
When Sondron reached out to apparently take Elrod into custody, Elrod pulled out a gun and opened fire on the deputies, authorities have said. When more law enforcement officers responded, Elrod came out of his garage with a rifle, wearing a bullet-proof vest. He was wounded in the shootout.
Sondron died soon after the shooting. Smallwood died two days later.
Elrod’s mother and two aunts of Smallwood attended the hearing.