GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A judge has denied a teen defendant’s request to have a prosecutor removed from a high school rape case, based an argument between the prosecutor and teen’s mother.
The teen suspects in the case have been denied bond, and remain locked up nearly two years later.
The recusal request stems from a prolonged case involving in at least five former South Gwinnett High School students who allegedly met up for an afternoon in an area near the campus, known as “The Cut.” Investigators said one teen recorded an unconscious, drugged victim being raped.
Three of the four defendants have remained unidentified because they were juveniles when the incident took place in May 2016.
The case has faced many challenges, including the victim's statements about not wanting to "snitch" on people and her inability to remember exactly what happened due to drug consumption, according to case documents obtained by Channel 2 Action News.
Darriah Mitchell, one of the defendants, had never been identified because he was 15 years old at the time of the alleged incident. Mitchell, who turns 17 this month, will be tried as an adult, and could face a life sentence.
On Friday, Superior Court Judge Tom Davis heard a motion from Mitchell’s attorney that requested Assistant District Attorney Courtney Spicer be taken off the case.
It was based off a complaint filed by Mitchell’s mother, Hildiah Martin-Suggs.
“She details that the prosecutor was verbally assaulting and a loud nature and manner outside of Courtroom 2B,” said defense attorney, Nefertara Clark.” Down the hall to the elevator lobby, all the way down the elevator with her, going down the elevator and even into the lobby downstairs yelling at Mrs. Martin-Suggs.”
Clark asked for Spicer to be removed from the case based on potential juror tainting in the public courthouse, and the defense’s fear of bias once a trial date is set.
“Ms. Clark has basically accused Ms. Spicer of a crime,” argued John Warr, another Gwinnett County prosecutor. “She even used the term ‘disorderly conduct’ in her affidavit.”
Davis told the attorneys he’d never heard an argument like this, nor was a similar situation present in case law.
“I’m not sure Ms. Spicer used good judgement, but that’s not the standard,” said Davis.
Neither Spicer nor Mitchell’s mother were called to testify in the hearing. Davis determined Spicer had done nothing to be disqualified from the case or taint a jury pool.
Warr argued if anything media attention, not Spicer’s interaction with Martin-Suggs, could present a problem for the case.
“And as I was going to say, judge, the press is here today, at the invitation of affiant in this case,” Warr said. “Not at the state. Not out of some independent knowledge of the case.”
Channel 2 has covered several of the defendant’s cases since their 2016 arrests.
“I suspect it will get a lot more play from media coverage than however many people were out here in the courthouse that day (of the alleged argument),” Davis told the court, after expressing his support of media in his courtroom.
Warr later apologized for the perception of the media comments in court, according to Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter, who met with Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr after the hearing.
Porter explained that Warr said he was not suggesting the case shouldn’t play out in the press, rather he said he was countering the defense’s logic used in their motion argument.
After the hearing, Davis scheduled a bond hearing for Mitchell, his second since his arrest. Mitchell’s attorneys will request the teen be able to stay at the Rockdale Juvenile Detention facility past his 17th birthday this month in order to avoid being jailed with adults while he continues to await trial.
GROWING UP BEHIND BARS
In an exclusive interview that aired several weeks ago, Mitchell’s mother expressed frustration with the bond denials, trial dates being pushed back and information revealed in the case Discovery.
“Why did he have to grow up inside a facility?” asked Hildiah Martin Suggs.
Suggs began to cry when she said she was thankful for the treatment and education her son has received in the Rockdale County Juvenile Jail, where accolades show he’s been recognized for his behavior and leadership.
“They’re keeping him protected,” she cried. “They’re housing him and feeding him and clothing him. They’re doing everything that they’re supposed to."
Mitchell’s mother doesn’t deny her son was in the area where the incident occurred on a school day in May of 2016.
She says he was also drugged, and could not recall everything that happened when she wanted to know why police were questioning him in the days following the alleged incident. Mitchell has maintained he did not sexually assault the victim.
According to a case report, the victim said she’d gone to the wooded area with a friend, and met another girl and boy there. She’d taken half a Xanax pill and consumed a “Xanax-laced” drink and smoked marijuana before passing out. She was unconscious before waking up to an assault and identifying one teen involved, according to the report.
The remaining three defendants, including Mitchell, were identified by the victim’s brother and another teen when video of the alleged assault began circulating social media, according to the report.
Suggs said investigators presented her with a grainy, still image of a boy alleged to be her son, but changing stories in different incident reports don’t add to her.
“It’s never stated that Darriah Mitchell raped her,” said Suggs pointing to her son’s negative DNA results in the victim’s examination profile that’s included in case discovery. “All of the boys is saying this.”
Mitchell and his mother have rejected the idea of a plea deal.
“You can convict him of something he didn’t do and I can fight for him until he gets free, but if he takes a plea for something he didn’t do, I can never fight for my son,’ said Suggs.
Previous e-mail and phone messages seeking comment on the case status were not returned by the Gwinnett district attorney’s office earlier this month.
On Friday, Porter agreed to an interview next week with Carr. He is reviewing the case, and a new NAACP complaint about why it’s taken so long to try the case.
Cox Media Group