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Judge declares mistrial in trespassing case after defense attorney has COVID-19 symptoms
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A courtroom in Hall County Superior Court, pictured in September 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

A criminal trespassing case ended in a mistrial earlier this week after the defense attorney began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Court Administrator Jason Stephenson said it was the first case in Hall that has been declared a mistrial since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

Hall County State Court Judge John Breakfield presided over the case for Charlie Putnam, who was accused of trespassing on the property of Lakewood Baptist Church in February 2020 after being told he was not allowed to do so, according to court documents.

A jury had already been sworn, and both sides had given their opening statements, according to court documents. 

“The court was made aware that defense counsel had started to experience COVID symptoms and that they had been potentially exposed to COVID a few days prior,” according to Breakfield’s order.

Defense attorney William Hollingsworth declined to comment, citing the pending nature of the case.

A virtual hearing was held Tuesday, Jan. 11, with the prosecution, defense, defendant and court administration.

“After hearing input from all parties, the court determined that the best course of action in regards to the health and safety of all parties involved was to declare a mistrial without prejudice,” according to Breakfield’s order.

Attempts to reach Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard for comment were unsuccessful.

Breakfield said the case would be continued to a future date yet to be determined.

Stephenson stressed that all COVID protocols — including screening, masking and distancing — have been followed. Jurors have been socially distant by sitting out in the gallery instead of the jury box.

“All jurors in the pool were notified of the potential exposure, and the court has heard of no additional illnesses since they were here,” Stephenson said.

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