On November 6, 2023, the Honorable Lawton E. Stephens conducted a hearing in the case of State v. Luke Harrison Waldrop. After a daylong hearing, the Court ruled that Susan Wilson was in fact the common-law wife of James V. Jones after their relationship of 37 years. In fact, the District Attorney’s office always recognized Ms. Wilson as the “victim” representative until such time as the Marcy’s Law violation was alleged. Then, Ms. Gonzalez tried to create assert that Ms. Wilson was never entitled to notice of the plea hearing or pending trial date as she was not the “victim” under the law.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 17-17-3(11), a victim for purposes of Marcy Law is defined as follows:
(11) “Victim” means:
- (A) A person against whom a crime has been perpetrated or has allegedly been perpetrated; or
- (B)In the event of the death of the crime victim, the following relations if the relation is not either in custody for an offense or the defendant:
- (i) The spouse;
- (ii) An adult child if division (i) of this subparagraph does not apply;
- (iii) A parent if divisions (i) and (ii) of this subparagraph do not apply;
- (iv) A sibling if divisions (i) through (iii) of this subparagraph do not apply; or
- (v) A grandparent if divisions (i) through (iv) of this subparagraph do not apply; or
- (C) A parent, guardian, or custodian of a crime victim who is a minor or a legally incapacitated person except if such parent, guardian, or custodian is in custody for an offense or is the defendant.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 17-17-1, et. seq., the District Attorney was obligated to provide the victim reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any scheduled court proceedings or any changes to such proceedings. Additionally, the victim was entitled to the right to be heard at any scheduled court proceedings involving the sentencing of the accused.
Despite having significant advance notice of an upcoming trial date based on the trial calendar issued on August 29, 2023, DA Gonzalez and her team failed to provide updates to Ms. Wilson or the sister of the deceased for months. On the morning of the scheduled plea conference held on September 21, 2023, the DA’s office contacted Ms. Wilson and left a message regarding an updated plea offer. The DA’s office also contacted the sister of the deceased to provide the update.
Interestingly, the plea offer was originally made by Tab Hunter who then promptly resigned and did not conduct the court proceedings. Instead, DA Gonzalez had a recent law graduate, who has not yet passed the bar and is working as an Apprentice Attorney (pending bar results) handle the plea colloquy. That intern had limited factual background on the case and was no familiar with the evidence implicating Luke Harrison Waldrop in this crime. Accordingly, the interim allowed the defense attorney to provide the factual basis to the Court. Despite the contradictory information in the police report, the defense attorney appears to have misrepresented the facts of the underlying crime to Judge Stephens. It was alleged that the bicyclist, James V. Jones, was not wearing bright clothes and his bicycle light might not have been fully functional. This was in stark contrast to the police report which provided evidence of James wearing a bright yellow bicycle uniform and having a working headline and red LED flasher on the back of his bike. Evidence of the intoxication by Luke Harrison Waldrop was also overlooked and inaccurately reported by the defense attorney. Despite a court-ordered subpoena for a blood test, Luke Harrison Waldrop refused to submit to a blood test after failing the field sobriety tests.
Luke Harrison Waldrop was originally charged with (1) first-degree homicide by vehicle, (2) DUI, and (3) failure to provide clearance while passing a bicycle. Shortly before the scheduled trial, the District Attorney’s Office filed additional charges of (1) second-degree homicide by vehicle and (2) improper passing.
Shockingly, the District Attorney’s Office dropped felony first-degree homicide by vehicle and driving under the influence to allow the accused to plea to two misdemeanors: second-degree homicide by vehicle and (2) improper passing. For killing James V. Jones, the punishment received by Luke Harrison Waldrop was 24 months probation, $1,500 fine plus surcharges, + defensive driving school.
At the hearing on the Marcy’s Law violation, Deborah Gonzalez testified at length regarding her involvement in the situation. She wrongfully contended that Ms. Wilson was not entitled to notice under Marsy’s law because she was not the lawful spouse. It was further alleged that her office felt that notice on the morning of a scheduled plea was reasonable and timely notice of the court proceeding.
At the hearing, Ms. Gonzalez was represented Chief Assistant District Attorney, Robert Wilson. In his argument, Mr. Wilson reaffirmed the position of his boss, Ms. Gonzalez. He contended their office had complied with Marsy’s law and that Ms. Wilson was not the spouse pursuant to Georgia law. Mr. Wilson even had the personal audacity to argue to the Court, in the presence of Ms. Wilson herself, that the alleged common law marriage was not valid because Ms. Wilson and Mr. Jones did not hold themselves out as husband and wife, despite the uncontradicted testimony and evidence.
In his argument, Mr. Wilson failed to acknowledge any problem with the handling of the case by their office. In fact, he failed to even comment on the substantial factual inaccuracies communicated to the Court regarding the underlying accident. It was abundantly clear that Mr. Robert Wilson is more interested in trying to protect his boss from the consequences of her repeated failures than honoring his oath and obligation to speak the truth.
Not only was Ms. Wilson forced to pursue a hearing to demonstrate the failure of the District Attorney’s Office to provide timely notice of the plea so she could be heard, but had to prove she was his common-law spouse. Interestingly, it was undisputed that the victim advocate for the District Attorney’s Office always thought Ms. Wilson was the spouse of the deceased and her name was listed as such in their case tracking software. After the hearing, the Court ruled that Ms. Wilson met the requirements of a common law marriage pursuant to Georgia law. Accordingly, Deborah Gonzalez and her office violated Marsy’s Law and Ms. Wilson’s right of reasonable notice and the opportunity to participate at the plea.
As our chief prosecutor, when is Deborah Gonzalez and her team going to be held accountable for FAILING to discharge the duties of the District Attorney’s office?
On November 21, 2023, Judge Stephens issued an Order finding DA Gonzalez violated the rights of Ms. Wilson, the spouse of Mr. Jones pursuant to the Georgia Crime Victims Bill of Rights (Marsy’s Law) and the Georgia Constitution.