LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - The Gwinnett County district attorney defended his office’s argument against bond release for juveniles who face life in prison and remain locked up in a two-year-old rape case. He noted defense attorneys did not file the proper motions for him to consider conditional release.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr found out the state has not located the accuser in the case, which will now lead to the suspects’ potential bond release.
The case involves an incident that took place at South Gwinnett High School in 2016. It has been riddled with challenges since the group was indicted weeks later. Those challenges include a revolving door of prosecutors, defense attorneys and conflicting statements offered to investigators by the accuser. There have also been failed plea negotiations.
“It’s been snakebite,” Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told Carr on Friday. “Everything that could go wrong has.”
Carr asked to speak with Porter after profiling one of the suspects, Darriah Mitchell, who was accused of rape when he was 14, indicted when he turned 15, and locked up ever since. Mitchell turns 17 in June.
This week, a judge mirrored his decision in another suspect’s case and agreed that Mitchell can remain in juvenile detention instead of being transferred to an adult facility on his birthday.
Porter said his office argued against bond for the teen suspects, including as recently as this week for Mitchell, for fear of witness tampering in the case. Videos and chatter on social media early on in the case led to that concern, he said.
“If they had access to that, they could reach out and try to influence witnesses. That’s our primary concern,” Porter said.
But Porter said his main reason for not considering conditional bond release is because he was not asked.
“In fact, his mother asked me today, ‘Well why haven’t you agreed to an ankle monitor?'" Porter told Carr. “I said, ‘I’ve never been asked about an ankle monitor."
“It’s never even been a suggestion,” he said. “If they want an alternative to confinement, then they have to give me something to consider.”
Porter came out of a meeting with Mitchell’s mother and local NAACP representatives before the interview with Carr. Hildiah Martin-Suggs has a private attorney to represent her son.
“I’m disappointed with representation from both sides,” Martin-Suggs said. “Of course, I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know all the laws or everything or all of the motions that could have been put in with my son.”
But conditional bond hearings will likely take place in 30 to 60 days if the state does not resolve its biggest problem — finding the accuser.
State can't find accuser
“She is a necessary witness in the case,” Porter said.
“You don’t know where she is?” Carr asked.
“We know roughly where she is,” Porter said, noting the state has recently been in contact with the girl’s family members, who have information on her whereabouts. “But we do not have direct contact information right now.”
That admission was revealed earlier this month during a motion hearing to dismiss an assistant district attorney from the case after the attorney’s alleged spat with Mitchell’s mother.
In a discussion over whether the parties involved had been notified of the media’s presence in the courtroom, the prosecutor told Judge Tom Davis that she did not have a working number for the accuser to alert her.
Porter said, if his office’s attempts to contact the victim are not successful in the next 30 to 60 days, a conditional bond to include ankle monitoring and social media monitoring will likely be considered, pending proper defense motions.
“If the situation with victim remains in limbo, then I’m going to be in contact with the defense attorneys about some kind of bond that will get them out of custody,” Porter said.
While Porter told Carr he doesn’t need the accuser to physically step foot in the courtroom, a statement from her will be needed.
Without it, he cannot try the case.
“I want this case tried or disposed of in some way certainly by the first of the year,” Porter said.
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