COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Families are stuck in limbo as they wait for the justice system to catch up.
COVID-19 suspended jury trials for a year in Georgia and it created a huge backlog in metro Atlanta courts.
For Danielle Wallace and her family, they simply want closure and accountability.
“It has been over two years and our family has not received justice,” said Wallace. “It has been a nightmare.”
In January 2020, a suspected drunk driver killed her brother, Dr. Tyler Wallace, in Smyrna. He was 26 years old and had recently graduated from medical school.
More than two years later, Brent Davis, the man accused of driving drunk who is charged with vehicular homicide, is out of jail on bond.
“We are still waiting for the defendant to be sentenced now as he still sits in the comfort of his own home,” said Wallace.
Channel 2′s Chris Jose sat down with Cobb County’s chief superior court judge to talk about COVID-19′s impact on the justice system.
“It has been all related to space constraints in the courthouse and that period of time where we didn’t have jurors coming in,” said Leonard. “Increasing crime rates. The homicide rate went up by 115% during the pandemic.”
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In February, the Cobb Judicial Circuit received a $2 million federal grant. The American Rescue Plan money will tackle the backlog of violent felony cases.
“How big is this for Cobb County?” asked Jose.
“This is huge,” said Leonard.
Leonard took Jose to a new courtroom that’s still under construction paid for with CARES Act money. The new ARPA money will staff it up with a senior judge, prosecutors, circuit defenders and deputies.
Leonard said the courtroom is scheduled to open in June.
“In the old days we had 26 jury weeks in a year here. Right now, we’re in our 41st in the last year,” said Leonard. “The judges in this courthouse have been working hard, fast and furious to get it all done.”
Defense attorneys, including Lawrence Zimmerman, told Jose that their clients are ready to move forward, too.
“It’s constantly having to reassure them we’ll get there because of COVID, because of the back log, be lucky that you’re on bond. Because certainly there have been people in jail for a long period of time,” said Zimmerman.
Danielle Wallace is hoping her brother’s case will be called soon.
“It has definitely made it hard for us to heal,” said Wallace.
In the meantime, Wallace has directed her efforts to the Dr. Tyler Wallace Foundation, which is a scholarship in her brother’s name. A GoFundMe page has been set up for donations.
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