Crime

Flawed grand jury indicted man charged in deputies’ shooting deaths, attorney argues

Flawed grand jury indicted Elrod in Peach deputies' deaths, attorney argues

A lawyer representing Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. In the 2016 fatal shooting of Peach County Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron argued Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, challenging the master list that led to the grand jury that voted to indict El
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A lawyer representing Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. In the 2016 fatal shooting of Peach County Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron argued Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, challenging the master list that led to the grand jury that voted to indict El

A lawyer representing the man charged with fatally shooting two Peach County deputies challenged the composition of the grand jury that indicted him during a hearing Thursday.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. in the deaths of deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron last November.

Elrod sat quietly with his lawyers during the hearing. His mother, Joy, sat a couple rows behind him and blew him a kiss during a brief recess.

The 58-year-old electrician was indicted in January by grand jurors chosen from a master list compiled by the state.

Statistics expert Jeffrey Martin testified that the list included 425 people who were registered to vote in other counties, but it excluded a number of eligible 18-year-olds, 259 residents of an apartment complex and convicted felons who’ve had their rights restored.

The list must reflect a county’s demographics and meet an “inclusiveness percentage” of 85 percent set by the Georgia Supreme Court, he said.

Peach County’s 2016 list exceeded the threshold, as most Georgia counties do, Martin said.

Questioned by the defense, he said the 259 residents of a Watson Boulevard apartment complex were included on a Houston County list, although the complex is located in Peach County.

Teens who turned 18 between the March 2016 driver’s license data cut-off date and when the list went into use July 1, 2016, also were excluded.

Due to a “computer glitch,” the list also included 171 people who were listed twice, giving them a higher chance of being called to serve on a jury than someone else, Martin testified.

When questioned by the prosecution, Martin said the alleged errors noted by the defense amounted to 4 percent of the nearly 22,000 people on the list, still leaving the list well above the required inclusiveness percentage.

The judge likely won’t rule on the challenge until sometime next month.

Challenges such as the one argued by Elrod’s lawyers are common.

“Filing a challenge to the array of the grand and traverse juries is fairly routine,” said Fred Bright, a former district attorney who has prosecuted more than a dozen death penalty trials. “It happens in nearly every death penalty case.”

The judge set a Feb. 12 trial date at a July hearing in the case.

Smallwood and Sondron had gone to Elrod’s house to talk with him about a complaint that he’d threatened a neighbor’s nephews who’d been riding a four-wheeler and motorcycle in front of Elrod’s Hardison Road home just west of Byron.

A few seconds into a conversation, Sondron reached out as if he was going to arrest Elrod, and Elrod shot the deputies before going back inside his house, authorities have said.

When more officers arrived, Elrod came out of his garage carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest. He was wounded in a shootout with police.

Sondron died soon after the shooting. Smallwood died two days later.

Elrod is being held at the Bibb County jail.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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