Serving 13 years after Attorney misconduct leads to wrongful conviction

On November 11 and 21, 2008 in Muscogee county of Columbus, GA, two armed robberies took place. Police arrested several people, charging them all with armed robbery, assault, and a host of other charges. Although every witness said Ladarious Colbert was not one of the perpetrators of the robbery, the court would not allow his case to be separated from the others, Richard and Raimone Boynton. Victims of the November 11 robbery of Little Ceasers, Sade Williams and Anet Montgomery, both stated at trial that Colbert was not the perpetrator who comitted the robbery.

Colbert’s attorney failed to file a motion for the cases to be separated, interview the witnesses, prepare a defense, or ask for a continuance so he would have time to prepare. He later testified that he had failed to provide adequate assistance; it is highly unusual for an attorney to admit that his assistance was ineffective.

Colbert was convicted in October 2009 and sentenced to 25 years, to serve 13, without parole.

In a violation of professional ethics and the law, the then District Attorney who tried the case (now a defense attorney), David Helmick, spoke with witnesses ahead of time and got them to testify against Colbert, coaching them on what to say. Colbert’s co-defendant Jasmine Arrington and two voluntary state witnesses Demarco Jones and Nigel Towler each cooperated in exchange for a hope of benefit. Co-defendent Jasmine Arrington testified against Colbert, and denied under oath that there was any deal between her and the DA. But after Arrington’s testimony and Colbert’s 11-count conviction, her case was transferd to the juvenile jurisdiction and she was given probation, even though her crime was a “seven deadly felony” with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. Another co-defendent, Demarco Jones, testified that the DA had not offered to reduce his sentence in exchange for his testimony against Colbert, yet the attorney asked the court for leniency in his sentencing for his “cooperation and testimony”. Before Colbert’s trial Jones had been sentenced six years to serve four for an aggarvated battery conviction in Feburary 2009. After Colbert’s conviction in October 2009, Jones was released on a “supersedes appeal bond” and remained out until the complete termination of his 6-year sentence on March 14th, 2014. All proposals of lenincy were made by Helmick, who at trial had denied any consideration or agreement of a deal.

In a hearing in May 2013, Helmick could not sufficiently rebut the accusation that he had coached the witnesses. He and his entire office was removed from the case and replaced with the Griffin Judicial Circuit’s DA. Colbert argued that he should be given a new trial because deals made between the DA and witnesses had not been revealed to the defense as they are legally required to be.

In June 2014 Colbert’s motion for a new trial was given a hearing. The judge, Ron Mullins, was supposed to rule on the hearing within six weeks, but Colbert waited in prison for over two years before Mullins finally rejected the motion, denying a new trial. Colbert made an appeal to a superior court, which if it succeeds would allow him a new trial.

In the seven years Colbert has waited in prison, he has been active in efforts to improve prison conditions, protest mistreatment, and encourage an end to gang violence. He has networked with prisoners and published newsletters and articles urging unity among gangs and prisoners so that they can face their real enemy, the prison and justice system that aims to treat them as slaves.

Colbert took the judge’s rejection of his motion for a new trial in stride, saying, “I take the denial as motivation. The more injustice the courts of Muscogee County commits to keep me confined, the greater the reward of justice will be. In due time every criminal is punished by righteous fate, your oppression is the fuel to my drive and determination.”