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Effingham Trial Delayed After State Unsuccessfully Attempts to Exclude Most Defense Witnesses

The full name of the defendant is displayed as initials in an effort to protect the identity of the accuser, who is a minor, as well as the accused, who has yet to face a jury of his peers.

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The 2020 case against JJS was slated to unfold in court this week before a jury and Judge Gates Peed in Effingham County, but it all came to a screeching halt after Peed ruled in the favor of the defense on a series of pretrial motions. 

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Case Background

According to court documents, Effingham County resident JJS found himself in the cross hairs of an investigation during a separation with his wife at the time. He had his then-wife of six years served with divorce papers in January 2020. Three days later, JJS’s stepdaughter disclosed to a school counselor that she had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather five years prior. 

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At the end of February, the Springfield Police Department sought warrants for JJS for acts that allegedly occurred sometime between 2015 and 2019. He was arrested shortly thereafter and remanded to the Effingham County Jail. 

A grand jury indicted JJS in December 2020 on seven counts, including:

  • Aggravated Sexual Battery
  • Child Molestation (x2)
  • Cruelty to Children 1st Degree (x2)
  • Terroristic Threats (x2)
Court Case

JJS has been in custody for 30 months awaiting the adjudication of his case. He is represented by Savannah defense attorney Bobby Phillips.

The 2020 case, initially handled by Brian Deal, once the Chief ADA for the Effingham office of the District Attorney’s Office, was recently passed off to the eldest ADA, Christy Barker. Barker spent decades in Chatham County and only recently moved to the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. 

Some Criminal History

The district attorney’s office announced its intention to introduce prior acts and to seek recidivist punishment in the sentencing phase, which means that in the event of guilty convictions on some or all of the charges, JJS’s prior acts would be introduced to ensure the maximum sentencing without the possibility of parole. In 1994, JJS entered a guilty plea for Statutory Rape. At the time of the plea, JJS was 19 and the female victim in the case was 14. Court records indicate there was an ongoing relationship between the parties. JJS was sentenced to a probation-only sentence with 90-120 days in a boot camp. 

JJS has also had a handful of other charges over the years, most of which were dismissed or conditionally discharged after completion of pre-trial diversion programs. None have included any offense that is sexual in nature, however. Even still, the State announced over a year ago that it intended to suggest the 1994 case and the 2020 case were similar.

Judge Peed did not buy into the State’s argument and subsequently issued an Order denying any mention by the State of the Statutory Rape plea from  27 years ago. 

“Based on the nature of the plea, it appears that this sexual contact between the Defendant and the victim did not involve force*. The Court further notes that this conviction is from 27 years ago and 21 years before the earliest crime alleged in the indictment. As such, the Court finds that the 1994 conviction is dissimilar to the allegations in the current case.” 
*Author’s note [to the extent that it is comparable to what is alleged in the current indictment. No one under he age of 16 can consent under Georgia law]

Peed also wrote that the State’s need for the evidence at trial was low since the accuser from the 2020 case is expected to testify at trial. He said the standard of probative value substantially outweighing the danger of unfair prejudice had not been met.

Witness Exclusion

In June 2022, Barker filed a motion to exclude nineteen of the defense team’s twenty-five possible witnesses on the basis of her preliminary interviews with each of them. In her motion, Barker noted that she contacted eighteen of them to ask them what they intended to testify. She subsequently filed the motion on the grounds that their supposed testimony would be irrelevant. 

Defense attorney Bobby Phillips filed a Brief in Response, in which he lambasted the state’s attempt to preemptively exclude witnesses. He said the list was ‘prospective’ and, in some instances, for rebuttal purposes, particularly in response to evidence introduced by the state. 

“Defense counsel has been admitted to the State Bar of Georgia since 1971, and has tried hundreds of jury trials in the intervening years. He has never personally seen a case in which the Trial Court has excluded (16) witnesses five weeks before a trial date; nor has he even heard of such proceedings in any Court…Since defense counsel has not divulged the exact nature of his defense, there is no way the prosecutor could know the reason any witness might be called on Defendant’s behalf. Her recitations are based primarily on speculation.”

Peed again agreed with the defense. 

In his Order, Peed was direct in rejecting the State’s argument, writing, “The Court notes that criminal trials can often be unpredictable, and that the relevance and admissibility of particular evidence often changes over the course of the trial and testimony opens and closes various doors. The Court believes it would be improper to limit the Defendant’s ability to attack the State’s presentation at this juncture.” He then noted that the State is free to object during the trial on a witness by witness basis, should the issue arise. 

The day after Peed’s Orders were filed, Barker filed a notice of intent to appeal the decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the case is on hold indefinitely, pending review by the Georgia Court of Appeals. JJS remains in the Effingham County Jail in the interim.

Read more about the tenure of District Attorney Daphne Totten here.

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bex

    September 23, 2022 at 11:02 pm

    This man has sat long enough for a case that clearly cannot be prosecuted. Time to drop it and let him go.

    • Avatar

      grace sapp

      September 27, 2022 at 4:42 pm

      coming from his daughter that means a lot

  2. Avatar

    Teresa James

    September 24, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    What happened to innocent until proven guilty he has been in jail for 30 months. He is a good person and this whole case is ridiculous. His ex-wife set out to ruin his life and that is what she did and all on false accusations. This whole case needs to be investigated.

  3. Avatar

    Jason Griffin

    September 25, 2022 at 8:22 am

    I personally know JJS and was one of the witnesses they called to ask how I was responding to the case, I told them he us not guilty and I could prove that the allegations against JJS are a made up lie that the mother and father made the child lie about and I can prove it. At that time they didn’t want to hear anything else from me. No one is perfect in this word and just cause they made mistakes at a earlier age in life and payed their dues for those mistakes doesn’t give you the right to try and use that against them especially when they have been locked up and accused of something they never done. Effingham County is corrupt and wrong for violating this man’s rites and now their trying to hide the fact of what they have done with no remorse. Their wanting to put a man in prison for the rest of his life to cover up their corrupt system knowing without a doubt THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO PROVE JJS DID THIS AND TONS OF EVIDENCE THAT HE IS NOT GUILTY. 30 MONTHS THEY HAVE HELD THUS MAN FOR NOTHING BUT A LIE. FREE JJS NOW OR LETS MAKE HEADLINE NEWS TO EXPOSE THE CORRUPTION IN EFFINGHAM COUNTY AND TO EXPOSE THE TRUTH ON WHY THIS CHILD WAS MADE TO LIE ABOUT JJS, CAUSE WHEN THAT LIE IS REVEALED THE MOTHER AND FATHER OF THE CHILD WILL GO TO PRISON FOR WHAT THEY ARE HIDING AND FOR MAKING THE CHILD LIE ON A MAN THAT BENT OVER BACKWARDS TO TAKE CARE OF AND TREAT THEM KIDS AS IF THEY WERE HIS OWN THE INTIRE TIME HE WAS MARRIED TO THE MOTHER AND THE INTIRE TIME THE REAL FATHER WAS IN PRISON FOR THINGS THAT HE STILL DOES. THIS IS WHY EFFINGHAM DOESN’T WANT JJS WITNESSES TO SPEAK CAUSE IT WILL REVEAL A LOT OF TRUTH AND SHOW THAT EFFINGHAM NEVER DID THEIR JOB TO ENVESTIGATE BEFORE LOCKING JJS UP. IT’S NEVER ENICENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY AND ALWAYS GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN ENICENT IN THE OGEECHEE JUDITUAL SYSTEM. FREE JJS NOW THIS IS BS. STOP WAISTING TAX PAYERS MONEY TO KEEP A INICENT MAN LOCKED UP AND USE IT TO LOCK UP THE REAL CRIMINALS.

  4. Avatar

    Jason Griffin

    September 25, 2022 at 10:46 am

    And just to be honest the DA in this case never reached out to JESUS witnesses cause I am one of them and I was called by the detective she has on the case. They didn’t want to hear me tell them what they are doing is wrong and against the law and that JJS is not guilty. They have no evidence and can’t produce any.

  5. Avatar

    grace sapp

    September 27, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    this entire case has been corrupt since the get go . they have taken mine and my siblings dad away for almost three years over charges they cannot and HAVE NOT proved . as his daughter me and my family witnessed how much he did for those people for ten years . this entire case started over a messy ex wife who could no longer get what she wanted from him and could no longer drain him of anything he had left to give . anyone who knows JJS knows how much he did for those people before he ever did for himself . his family has waited court date after court date and it has continuously gotten pushed back . this is a case that cannot be proven and he deserves justice . both from them and this county . JJS deserves to come home . we all love him entirely and are waiting on the day .

  6. Avatar

    K

    September 29, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    The fact that he has been held and not let out on bail or given his right to a speedy trial is the equivalent to investigators holding someone for questioning for days until they give up and just say what they want. An innocent man sitting for 30+ months in jail, unable to defend himself, unable to be with his children during their prime years where they NEED Their father, unable to feel human; all because of a disgraced sick ex wife’s daughters ACCUSATION is a pathetic display of our justice system . At this point it just looks like the prosecution wants him to give up his fight, so they can take a win and what an injustice that is… it’s disgusting and shows the poor morals of a DA and it’s office. Let the man out and then let him have his day in court or just drop this mess altogether.

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