Judge-public defender affair may win new trial for carjacker
An affair between a now-resigned Fayette County Superior Court judge and a public defense attorney who routinely appeared in his courtroom may help win a new trial for a Riverdale man who was convicted in 2008 for a carjacking incident in Fayetteville.
A public defender attorney for Christopher Deangelo Wakefield has indicated in court papers that she needs to investigate whether one of Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English’s rulings in the case favored a co-defendant to the detriment of Wakefield.
The co-defendant in the case was represented by English’s paramour Kim Cornwell. It was revealed in May that Cornwell and English were caught in the middle of a sex act by a sheriff’s deputy who was investigating a suspicious vehicle in a subdivision on the outskirts of Fayetteville back in October 2008.
“A preliminary inquiry must be made into an issue which calls into question a ruling made by the trial judge, Honorable Paschal English, which may have shown favoritism to Mr. Wakefield’s co-defendant, Mr. Willis,” Carrollton area public defender Suellen Fleming wrote in a motion to continue a hearing for a new trial. “The appearance of impropriety of the relationship between Judge English and attorney Cornwell requires further inquiry” before Fleming can proceed with representing Wakefield, she wrote.
Fleming’s motion does not explain which ruling in the case is being called into question. It is possible that Fleming may be challenging Judge English’s decision to deny a motion to sever the cases and try each defendant separately.
Wakefield and the co-defendant, Travio Marquez Williams of College Park, were convicted of using a handgun to rob a 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe from an area man who was servicing a video poker machine at a gas station on north Glynn Street.
Wakefield pointed a semi-automatic handgun at the victim, according to warrants for Wakefield’s arrest.
Wakefield and Williams were convicted Nov. 14, 2008, almost a month after Cornwell and English’s affair was substantiated by the “parking” incident, which in itself remained a secret until May of this year after English suddenly resigned.
Wakefield and his co-defendant, Willis, were both sentenced by Judge English to life in prison plus a consecutive 20-year sentence after a jury returned a guilty verdict on all five counts: armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and theft by taking (motor vehicle).
In May, Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard said that his office reviewed cases involving English and Cornwell and could find no discernible bias exhibited. The investigation did determine, however, that English was “steering” Cornwell’s cases to his courtroom, said Ballard’s chief investigator Jeff Turner.
Ballard later admitted that the investigation only looked at cases which were handled after the date that English and Cornwell were discovered by the deputy. The investigation failed to probe any cases in the months leading up to the discovery of the affair, a time when English and Cornwell potentially would have believed their affair to be secret.
“I agree that the misconduct likely began before an eyewitness discovered it. But I felt that we had done enough,” Ballard wrote in a column published in the Fayette County News. “Any defendant who wishes to challenge a conviction is welcome to do so. We proved the misconduct. Now it’s their turn to try to prove that they were treated unfairly.”
The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council in August hired a Newnan attorney to conduct an independent investigation to determine if the rights of clients represented by Cornwell might have been adversely affected, but that investigation is not yet complete.
Local Chief Public Defender Joe Saia has been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack in early June and has been unavailable to provide a similar report to the council.