Crime

Police interview of convicted killer was inappropriately edited for the jury, defense says

Nicholas Brooks
Nicholas Brooks Georgia Department of Corrections

The life of Jason Blount ended when the 31-year-old was shot during a Centerville home invasion in April 2010. One of the men put away for Blount’s death wants a new trial, arguing errors were made the first time.

Most of a nearly 40-minute hearing before the Georgia Supreme Court focused on a video interview of Nicholas Brooks by Houston County sheriff’s investigators — and how it was edited before being presented to a jury that found him guilty in 2011 of charges including felony murder. Brooks was sentenced to life in prison, plus an additional five years.

“There were material alterations made to the tape,” said attorney Francis Dixson, representing Brooks. Dixson argued that video effects like fading, blacking out and redactions affected how jurors perceived Brooks’s statements and emotional conduct.

Dixson told the justices that his client was coerced by a co-defendant into participating in an armed robbery that ended in Blount’s death from a gunshot wound at the hands of that co-defendant, Michael Cossette. Brooks seeks a reversal of his conviction and of the trial court’s denial of a motion for a new trial.

But the state argued the edited version of the tape was not prejudicial to Brooks, and cuts included things like periods of silence when Brooks was alone in the room, comments about his drug use and repetitive statements.

“There was no contemporaneous objection when the redacted video was introduced,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Crowder, speaking for the state. That is, Brooks’ own attorney didn’t complain about it at trial in 2011.

The video that jurors saw did include in at least one section Brooks’ allegation that he was forced to join the robbery.

According to prosecutors’ case, Brooks, then 30, was one of three people who planned to rob the inhabitant of a Centerville trailer, believing there to be drugs and cash inside.

But the defense said Brooks was coerced at gunpoint by Cossette. Cossette pleaded guilty to felony murder and burglary in the case and is serving a life sentence for it.

The third person involved in the night’s events, Kelly Williamson, who is serving time for charges including aggravated assault in the case, testified in 2011 that she didn’t see Cossette threaten Brooks.

While discussion at the Supreme Court hearing mostly centered on the video edits, there are other aspects of the case that came up, such as whether Brooks received effective assistance from counsel back in 2011 and whether coercion is an allowable defense in a case like this.

The Georgia Supreme Court decides most cases within six months of oral argument.

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