by: Richard Elliot Updated:
ATLANTA - After three long weeks, testimony finally ended in the witness-influencing trial
of a former Atlanta Public Schools administrator implicated in the cheating scandal, but only after the case came perilously close to being declared a mistrial.
Former APS Area Director Tamara Cotman is on trial for
witness-influencing during the GBI's investigation into the CRCT cheating scandal. She will go on trial for cheating-related charges next summer.
But when prosecutors questioned one of the state investigators about whether he thought she had committed a crime not related to this trial, and he answered "yes," Cotman's attorney demanded a mistrial.
"He guided the witness into stating Ms. Cotman had another crime which she is not on trial for," said attorney Benjamin Davis. "That's highly prejudicial to the jury. It's grounds for a mistrial."
Prosecutor Clint Rucker defended the question, stating he needed to show there was an original crime from which the witness-influencing charge grew.
"There is no statute that says cheating is a crime," said Rucker. "But things that flow from cheating
that are criminal acts, and she knows it. And what if she was trying to suppress these principals from coming forward and telling the GBI what was really going on in their schools. There is some criminal action that flows from that."
Judge Jerry Baxter denied the mistrial request, but only after jurors agreed they could disregard the witness' statement. Baxter, however, did issue a stern warning to prosecutors.
"I'm just warning y'all," said Baxter. "I've about had enough of
gray-area stuff, and maybe it's totally innocent, it probably is, but it's not real smart."
Both sides are expected to make their closing arguments beginning Thursday.
In other news, one of the 35 former APS employees indicted in the cheating scandal passed away overnight. Former D.H. Stanton Principal Willie Davenport died from complications relating to cancer.