A Warner Robins man serving a life sentence for the 2007 armed robbery of a Robins Federal Credit Union teller has won the right for a new trial.
Anthony Scott Chairmont, 35, was convicted by a jury and sentenced as a recidivist in May 2009. He was convicted in Bibb County of cocaine possession in 2001 and the sale of Oxycodone in 2003.
But Chairmont claimed he did not know that state law required the maximum sentence for an armed robbery -- life in prison -- when he rejected a plea offer. The offer included only a 10-year prison term. Co-defendant John Wellborn Smith was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal attempt to commit armed robbery.
"There's no way I would have took the chance to put my life in a jury's hands knowing that I could receive a life sentence," Chairmont told Judge Edward D. Lukemire at his sentencing hearing, according to court records.
From behind bars in 2009, Chairmont fired his court-appointed attorney, Clarence Williams of Warner Robins, and filed a notice of appeal. Another attorney was appointed for him on appeal.
In his appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals, Chairmont argued that he received "ineffective assistance of counsel" because he claimed he was not told of the mandatory life sentence.
The life sentence did include the possibility of parole, but he would not be eligible for consideration until after serving 30 years.
Williams said Friday he explained the possibilities of sentencing not only for the Warner Robins armed robbery but also for others Chairmont was facing in other states at the time and gave Chairmont a copy of the armed robbery statute and the recidivist statute.
"I did everything I could for him," Williams said.
Williams said the problem he had with advising Chairmont was that Chairmont didn't think he could be convicted of an armed robbery because he did not have a weapon. Williams said he could not convince him otherwise.
In his appeal, Chairmont claimed there was no evidence that he actually had a weapon when he was accused of robbing a teller at the credit union at 502 S. Houston Lake Road in Warner Robins on Dec. 6, 2007. The appellate court affirmed the jury's verdict in October 2013, noting that state law provides for a conviction of armed robbery when there is an inference of a weapon and "reasonable apprehension on the part of the victim."
The clerk testified that when Chairmont handed her an envelope with a note inside, he pretended to have a gun in his pants. The note read, "no small bills; no dye pack."
She testified that he told her to "get busy" and that he was "serious."
The clerk also told jurors that Chairmont might as well as have waved the gun in her face. She gave him $1,900.
On the issue of ineffective counsel. the state appellate court sent the case back to the Houston County trial court for an evidentiary hearing.
At the hearing in May 2014, Williams testified that he told Chairmont he could possibly serve, if convicted, "no less than 10 years" but "no more than 20 years or life," according to court records.
Lukemire found no evidence of ineffective counsel, with Williams having explained the possible sentence, according to the judge's May 27, 2014, ruling.
Chairmont again appealed.
Last September, the Georgia Court of Appeals found the record documented extensive legal work that Williams did on Chairmont's behalf. However, the court ruled that the trial court did not address whether Williams failed to "fully inform" Chairmont of the consequences of rejecting the plea offer.
The appellate court again sent the issue back to back the Houston County trial court for review.
'POSSIBLE' OR 'MANDATORY'
Another hearing was held earlier this year in late January. According to Lukemire's Feb. 24 order for the new trial, Williams testified that he advised Chairmont that a life sentence was a "possibility" if he were convicted at trial. But Williams "could not say definitely that he advised Chairmont the life sentence would be mandatory because of his two prior felony convictions from Bibb County," Lukemire wrote.
Chairmont maintained that he did not know that a life sentence would be mandatory if he were convicted at trial. Had he known, he would have taken the plea offer, the ruling stated.
"Chairmont demonstrated both that his trial counsel's representation was deficient and that the outcome of the plea process would have been different with competent advice," Lukemire wrote.
Elizabeth Lane, Chairmont's court-appointed attorney on appeal, said she thought Williams did a good job of representing Chairmont but got trapped by the recidivist statute. At the time Williams was advising him, Chairmont had other charges pending in two other states.
"While (Williams) had told him generally he would end up with a life sentence with so many charges up and down the road .. he could not say that he specifically told him what would happen if he went to trial on the one and only Houston County case," Lane said.
Chairmont also struggles with diminished brain capacity from an auto accident and years of drug abuse, Lane said.
Williams said he respects the judge's ruling, but he thinks he gave Chairmont the best representation he could and does not know what else he could have done.
Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Dan Bibler said whether the case will move forward to trial or possibly be averted by the offering and acceptance of a new plea offer has not been determined.
Bibler said he does not know the state of the evidence from the eight-old-year case and which witnesses may still be available. Chairmont's current court-appointed attorney, Russell Walker of Perry, declined to comment.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9555, or find her on Twitter@becpurser.