COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — A prosecutor says he won’t retry a Georgia couple for their newborn daughter’s death more than a decade ago after the state’s highest court overturned their murder convictions.
Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Mark Jones has filed motions to drop all charges against Ashley and Albert Debelbot, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported. The two were convicted in October 2009 in their daughter McKenzy’s death, but the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously overturned their convictions in February 2020.
The high court found the Debelbots’ attorneys were ineffective so they didn’t get a fair trial and granted them a new trial. Jones’ motion to drop charges cites “insufficient evidence and the interests of justice.” A hearing is to be held Tuesday.
Jones told the newspaper that dismissing a case is a tough decision but, he said “mounting medical evidence” caused him to believe reasonable doubt about the couple’s guilt exists. The current evidence and other demands on his office led him to believe it wasn’t worth retrying the case.
“I don’t see how we have time to invest in it,” he said.
The Debelbots met in the Army and got married, moving to Columbus for Fort Benning. McKenzy was born May 29, 2008, and was released from the hospital the next afternoon.
Early on June 1, the Debelbots brought their baby back to the hospital after finding a lump on her forehead, and she was pronounced dead at 3:55 a.m. A medical examiner found that the infant died from trauma caused by a blow or multiple blows to the head.
Both parents were charged with murder and convicted in October 2009.
Attorneys for the Debelbots have since argued in appeals that McKenzy was born with a brain deformation and argued the couple’s trial attorneys failed them by not calling medical expert witnesses.
The state Supreme Court found that the prosecutor misstated the measure of proof required to overcome “reasonable doubt.”
“You don’t have to be 90 percent sure. You don’t have to be 80 percent sure. You don’t have to be 51 percent sure,” the prosecutor told the jury.
The Debelbots’ trial lawyers failed to object to that even though it was inaccurate. The high court found that was grounds for a new trial.
Albert Debelbot is now 35 and Ashley Debelbot is now 36. They each began serving sentences of life in prison in December 2009. They were released on bond in July.