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Georgia Detainee's False Imprisonment Conviction Reversed Due to Lack of Evidence

The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the false imprisonment conviction of three detainees because the evidence presented at their trial was insufficient to support their convictions.

On November 5, 2006, Reheim Jaahad Shearin, Tyrone Caruthers, Jason Tyrone Dellemar and Johntavis Jermaine Kellom were all being housed at the Wilcox County Jail, in Abbeville, Georgia. Richard Knight, a guard at the jail was on duty by himself the night these detainees escaped. Knight testified that Kellom, and two other detainees that he could not identify, attacked him and took his keys, escaping while he was incapacitated.
After doing a roll call of the detainees immediately after the incident, it was found the four had escaped: Kellom and the three appellants. All of the escapees were recovered in less than 24 hours and they were jointly charged with the offenses of kidnapping with bodily injury (OCGA § 16-5-40), riot in a penal institution (OCGA § 1610-56), robbery (OCGA § 16-8-40), and escape (OCGA § 16-10-52). Kellom pled guilty as charged and was sentenced prior to the trial of the appellants. After the jury was selected and sworn, but before the opening statements of counsel, the appellants plead guilty to the charge of escape. The jury found each of the appellants guilty of false imprisonment (as a lesser included offense of kidnapping with bodily injury) and of robbery. The jury acquitted them of kidnapping with bodily injury and of riot in a penal institution.

Each of the three appellants challenged the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence against them, as well as enumerating other errors. The state's only evidence was Knight's testimony. He could only identify one of his attackers and that was Kellom. He testified that two other detainees helped in the attack, yet three others escaped making it impossible for a jury to convict all three of the appellants. The state could not provide evidence to show that any of the appellants were parties to the crime who "intentionally advised, encouraged, hired, counseled, or procured anyone to commit the crimes."

Therefore, the Court reversed, ruling that "the state has failed to present evidence which excludes every other reasonable hypothesis save that of appellants' guilt," the standard when all evidence is entirely circumstantial. See: Shearin v. State, 293 Ga. App. 794; 668 S.E.2d 300 (Ga. App. 2008).

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Related legal case

Shearin v. State