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Marsy’s Law – State v. Luke Harrison Waldrop

Violation of Victim’s Rights

Background of Incident

In the late hours of March 3, 2022, Luke Harrison Waldrop of Campobello, South Carolina collided with a bicyclist causing the death of James v. Jones. Mr. Jones was on a work-related commute wearing a bright yellow bicycle clothing, a helmet and his bicycle had working headlight and red flashing LED on the rear of his bicycle.

The following is the relevant portions from the police report concerning the primary victim, Mr. Jones, who died on March 3, 2022.

From Pg. 2 of Motor Vehicle Crash Report
From Pg. 3 of Supplement to Motor Vehicle Crash Report

Here is a diagram of the accident scene.

The following is the relevant portions from the police report concerning Mr. Waldrop.

From Pg. 2 of Motor Vehicle Crash Report
From Pg. 2 of Supplement to Motor Vehicle Crash Report
From Pg. 3 of Supplement to Motor Vehicle Crash Report
From Pg. 4 of Supplement to Motor Vehicle Crash Report
From Pg. 5 of Supplement to Motor Vehicle Crash Report

As noted above, the police report indicates Mr. Waldrop was intoxicated at the time of the accident and refused to comply with requested blood test.

Reduction of Felony Charges

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. However, the District Attorney’s Office filed amended charges of (1) second-degree homicide by vehicle and (2) improper passing to facilitate a negotiate plea arranged with the criminal defense attorney. Not unsurprisingly, the last-minute accusation to add the new charges to allow for a misdemeanor plea had multiple errors which required correction in the midst of the plea colloquy.

On August 29, 2023, the Court published a trial calendar stating that the case against Mr. Waldrop for causing the death of Mr. Jones would be conducted on the week starting September 25, 2023. A plea conference was scheduled for September 21, 2023. Despite several weeks of advance notice, the District Attorney’s Office did not provide notice to the family of Mr. Jones prior to the morning of September 21, 2023.

After having already provided notice of his intention to resign, a prior Assistant District Attorney, Tab Hunter, arranged for a plea deal with the criminal defense attorney for Mr. Waldrop. He sent notice of same to DA Gonzalez in the early morning hours of September 21, 2023. Minutes later, Mr. Hunter sent another e-mail to DA Gonzalez submitting his formal resignation to be effective at 8:00 a.m. that morning. .

As a result of Tab Hunter resigning, he was not present for 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 the death of Mr. Jones.

When asked about contact with the victim’s family, the District Attorney’s Office had the following response:

From Page 10 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 11 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 11 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)

The intern attorney allowed the defense attorney to provide the factual basis to the Court regarding the underlying crime. Although present, DA Gonzalez did nothing to correct the facts shared with the Court regarding Mr. Waldop’s intoxication at the time of the accident or the incorrect information regarding Mr. Jones’ yellow vest and bicycle lights. The version of the facts outlined by the defense attorney.

From Page 13 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 13 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 14 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 14 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 14 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)
From Page 15 of Plea Hearing Transcript (09/21/23)

The Court later inquired about restitution and the District Attorney’s office misrepresented their contact with the victim’s family.

As noted above, the Judge tasked with considering whether or not to accept a plea to the reduced charges was not informed of the following:

  • Mr. Waldrop refusing to comply with the requested blood test
  • Mr. Waldop having had a strong odor of alcohol at the time of the accident
  • Mr. Waldrop having slurred speech and swaying back and forth
  • Mr. Waldrop admitting he had three beers “not too long ago”
  • Mr. Waldrop failing the field sobriety tests

Similarly, the facts regarding the yellow bicycle vest and working bicycle lights were, at a minimum, misrepresented to the Court based on the information in the police report.

Neither the intern attorney handling the plea or DA Gonzalez who was tasked with supervising him did anything to bring to the Court’s attention these significant discrepancies.

Violation of Marsy’s Law

The wife of Mr. Jones is Susan Wilson. Although she did not have a formal wedding ceremony with Mr. Jones, she had been his common-law wife for many years. In fact, they had been together for over 37 years before the tragic death caused by Mr. Waldrop. Interestingly, the District Attorney’s Office never disputed her status as the wife of Mr. Jones UNTIL she filed notice of her Marsy’s Law violation.

DA Gonzalez then doubled-down and claimed Ms. Wilson was not the “victim” according to Marsy’s Law and not entitled to notice.

Page 1 of State’s Response to Motion for Hearing on Marcy’s Law Violation and Request to Dismiss

At the hearing on this matter on November 6, 2023, the Court considered significant testimony and evidence regarding the preliminary issue of whether or not Ms. Wilson was the common-law wife of Mr. Jones and therefore considered the “victim” under Marsy’s law. At the hearing, DA Gonzalez was represented Chief Assistant District Attorney, Robert Wilson. In his argument, Mr. Wilson reaffirmed the position of his boss, DA 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?

This post will be updated after the Court issues a written order and the transcript is provided.

Relevant Evidence and Court Pleadings

Order Finding District Attorney Gonzales Violated Marsy’s Law

Motor Vehicle Crash Report – March 3, 2022

Transcript of Guilty Plea – September 21, 2023

E-mail from DA Gonzalez to Ms. Wilson – September 26, 2023

Motion for Hearing on Marsy’s Law Violation – October 1, 2023

Response from DA Gonzalez – November 3, 2023