Murder conviction thrown out over form error

ATLANTA,None — A man's murder conviction was thrown out over a mistake on a verdict form. The state Supreme Court gave him another chance at a trial, even though justices agreed he was guilty.

Five years ago, robbers burst into an apartment on Godby Road in College Park and shot two men, killing one. A jury convicted Soniel Cheddersingh of murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery to the relief of residents in a high-crime area.

"He got to deal with his punishment," resident Ivan Johnson told Channel 2's Jeff Dore.

But the state Supreme Court said the Fulton County trial court's pre-printed verdict form ruined the verdict. It said the jury could find him guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is not the standard for not guilty.
The court wrote the presumption of innocence is fundamental in a criminal trial and with that form, the court misinformed the jury. Its unanimous ruling said that not only affects the fairness of that proceeding itself, but public confidence in the judicial process as a whole.

So, Cheddersingh will get a new trial to the dismay of area residents.

"Oh, that's messed up. That's real messed up," Matthew Mccoy told Dore.

The trial judge, Craig Schwall, did not respond to Dore's request for an interview, so it is unclear how many verdicts were potentially contaminated by the form.

Fulton's District Attorney Paul Howard emailed Channel 2 a statement that said the judge gave jurors clear instructions.

"To reach the conclusion decided upon by the high court in this matter, one would have to assume this Fulton County jury lacked any modicum of reasonable intelligence," Howard said.