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Friday, June 29, 2012
Georgia Judge Tosses Murder Case, Says Suspect's Right to Speedy Trial Violated
Obtained by ABC News
By ALYSSA NEWCOMB
A judge threw out charges against an accused child murderer and molester, leaving prosecutors scrambling to determine their next move.
The Chatham County District Attorney's office is seeking input from the family of Ashleigh Moore. The 12-year-old was found strangled in 2003.
The district attorney's office will have 30 days to file an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court to reinstate charges against Bobby Lavon Buckner, 36.
Chatham County Superior Court Judge Penny Haas Freesemann threw out murder and molestation charges against Buckner on Wednesday, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated.
The convicted child molester was indicted in the murder of Ashleigh Moore in 2007. The indictment came while he was in prison, more than four years after the 12-year-old's strangled body was found by a fisherman near the Savannah River.
Buckner's trial had been rescheduled 10 times. His latest trial date was June 11.
"The court simply cannot ignore that this considerable delay, which occurred late in an already significantly delayed case, was apparently altogether unnecessary," Freesemann said in her ruling.
In her ruling, Freesemann also addressed the misplacement of physical evidence, a defense allegation that it was not given proper access to evidence and delays caused by prosecution deliberations on whether to seek the death penalty.
The district attorney's office said in a statement that physical evidence is maintained by the law enforcement agencies investigating the case. Therefore, it was unable to address the whereabouts of the evidence.
"Nor can the current office address issues of delay in the period between 2003 and 2007, when the case was first indicted. Defense counsel, however, was afforded every opportunity and did physically review all materials relating to the case in possession of the district attorney's office on several occasions," the statement said.
Michael Schiavone, who represented Buckner until last year, heralded the dismissal of the charges and said he felt the prosecution had made continual, purposeful efforts to delay the case because of a lack of evidence.
"The case is totally circumstantial. I think the investigators believe he must have done it because he was on probation for molestation," Schiavone told ABCNews.com. "But there was no confession, no physical evidence linking him to the crime and no eyewitnesses."
Buckner, who was the live-in boyfriend of Ashleigh's mother, was taken into custody for a parole violation on April 19, 2003, one day after the girl's disappearance. The convicted sex offender had been banned from being in the presence of anyone under the age of 16 and was ultimately sent to prison for the offense.
New sexual abuse charges were filed in 2004. Buckner pleaded guilty and was given a 13-year prison sentence and was credited for time served. He is scheduled to be released in April 2016, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Schiavone said he believed the judge's ruling will be appealed, despite it being "factually and legally correct."
"It takes an awful lot of courage to make that kind of decision, because she is an elected judge," he said. "She is certainly going to feel a backlash of public opinion."
ABCNews.com was unable to reach Ashleigh Moore's parents for comment.