by: Richard Elliot Updated:
ATHENS, Ga. - The capital murder case of Jamie Hood, who is charged in an Athens officer's slaying, will have a different judge after a court ruled the original presiding judge would have to step down because he visited the slain officer's wounded partner in the hospital.
Judge David Sweat decided that Judge Lawton Stephens would have to be excused because he visited Officer Tony Howard in the emergency room barely an hour after the shooting.
Hood has admitted in court to shooting both Howard and Officer Elmer "Buddy" Christian, who died in the attack.
Howard took the stand, but said he had no memory of Stephens visiting him in the ER. He did say that Stephens came by his father's body shop several times years ago to get his car repaired.
But Howard's wife testified that Stephens came into the ER room where doctors had worked on the wounded officer. Hood's attorney asked her to describe what Stephens saw.
"You would have seen him laying on the stretcher," said Shirlisa Howard. "They had him in the emergency room, a sheet was draped over him. There was a neck brace on his neck, and there was blood flowing on the floor. I don't know if it was disturbing or if it was more unreal to me."
In his decision, Sweat said the fact that Stephens saw that graphic scene, he felt it was best to remove him from the case.
"Judge Stephens is a judge of high character," said Sweat. "I don't think that anyone has suggested that he is less than honorable or honest. The court is more concerned with how this case will be perceived by the public. The record is complete enough that Judge Stephens should be excused from hearing this case."
No word when the clerk will pick the next judge or when the next hearing will be scheduled.