Fulton County DA says murder suspects will remain jailed but other defendants could be released

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Just two weeks ago, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis described the backlog of unindicted violent criminals as a crisis for the county.

The deadline to indict them passed on Tuesday. In a Wednesday morning news conference, Willis said she and her staff worked around the clock to keep many of them behind bars, despite a shortage of money and manpower.

“I’m tired ha, tired and a little bit relieved,” Willis said. “There’s now a 90-day rule that a defendant would be guaranteed a bond no matter what their crime is.

Willis said she and her staff have worked overtime to keep 193 murder defendants in jail. For perspective, she said in 2019 under the previous administration, there were 156 murder indictments the entire year.

“Today I am happy to announce not one individual in Fulton County will be released charged with the crime of homicide because of a lawyer or investigator failed to work up the case and failed to get it indicted,” Willis said.

Willis said she’s “very proud” of the hard work her office has done to indict dozens of other suspects, including those charged with sexual violence and other serious crimes.

“They have made sure the most vile sexual offenders were indicted and charged,” Willis said. “People have put their personal lives on hold they have worked weekends, nights and they have gotten it done.”

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Two weeks ago, Willis told county commissioners she needed help to indict a back log of murder suspects sitting in jail.

“It’s just math. I need help. I’m here begging you for help,” Willis said.

Commissioners gave Willis $5 million to hire more staff, attorneys and investigators to help tackle 11,000 unindicted cases. She plans to hire 75 more employees by the end of the year.

“[It’s] a crisis based on historical mismanagement and a crisis based on the undeniable rise in crime,” Willis said.

Willis inherited the back-log after taking office in January. Under normal circumstances, prosecutors have 90 days after an arrest to seek an indictment.

“When I inherited this office, we faced an historic back-log,” Willis said.

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The deadline was extended during the pandemic through a declared state of emergency in the courts.

“It is not just Covid. To 2016, cases that are sitting in my office uncharged that has to be investigated and cases aren’t like wine they don’t get better with time,” Willis said.

Willis said realistically, she needed closer to $75 million to hire enough help to clear the backlog.

Today, she took a deep sigh of relief that her team made their deadline.

“I met a mom last week who’s son was killed a week before graduation and she buried him in cap and gown,” Willis said. “I thought like this is not make believe, this is reality and people are losing their most precious commodity, their children.”

Willis did add that the county still has a backlog of nearly 11,000 cases. Those include more than 40 murder suspects who’s 90-day window is coming up.

“Make no mistake about, it our work is just beginning,” Willis said.

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