SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Georgia Supreme court has granted three former Fort Stewart soldiers a new trial in a 25-year-old murder case.
Mark Jones, Kenneth Gardiner and Dominic Lucci were all convicted of murdering Stanley Jackson in Downtown Savannah.
Jackson was shot with a semi-automatic assault-type weapon while standing on a street corner at 10 p.m. on January 31, 1992.
The three Fort Stewart soldiers were sentenced to life for what was described as a “racially motivated” killing.
But this week, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed the men deserved a new trial.
Judges agreed with claims that prosecutors withheld evidence in the case, including a witness statement about three other men threatening a similar racial attack.
Testimony at trial also indicated the men were in Savannah at Club Asia on Price Street following a wedding rehearsal dinner in Hinesville to celebrate a bachelor party for Jones, who was to have been married at the base chapel the next day.
From the Justices’ Opinion:
In today’s opinion, the high court concludes that “the Yamacraw Report clearly would have been helpful to the defense; it was evidence that others similar in appearance were threatening a racial attack similar to that alleged to have been suffered by Jackson, but three hours after his slaying, when the defendants were already in custody.”
The defendants’ trial attorneys testified that had they been provided the report, they would have sought other residents of the area who might have witnessed those making the threats. They also would have argued to the jury that the fact the defendants were in custody at the time meant they could not have been the ones who committed the acts reported and therefore, there were other potential assailants the police had not sought.
“Thus, the report would have also enabled the defense attorneys to further their attack on the thoroughness of the police investigation, and allowed them to present an alternative theory regarding the actors responsible for the shooting.”
“Jackson was killed shortly after 10:00 p.m. on January 31, 1992,” the opinion says. “There was trial testimony from several witnesses that, until 9:15 or 9:30 p.m., the petitioners were at the rehearsal of Jones’s wedding, which was to take place the next day, and a dinner afterward, which took place in a town that was over a 50-minute drive away from the relevant areas of Savannah. No murder weapon was ever recovered; no firearm was found in the defendants’ car, no casings from an automatic weapon were found there, and the forensic scientist who vacuumed the interior of the car looking for gunshot residue found none.”
“There were also significant racial overtones to the trial,” and “had the jury been presented with information that other persons, not the defendants, were in the area that same night, apparently ready to engage in racially motivated violence, the outcome of the trial might well have been different,” the opinion concludes.
“Thus, in light of the totality of the circumstances, confidence in the outcome of the trial was undermined by the State’s failure to provide the Yamacraw Report to the defense. Certainly, in the face of the Yamacraw Report, the jury ‘could have voted to convict the defendants we have no confidence that it would have done so.’ Accordingly, the habeas court’s denial of the petitions for writs of habeas corpus must be reversed.”