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Judge rules on motions for new trial for 2 defendants in Deputy Dixon slaying
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Defense attorney James Luttrell consults with his client Eric Velazquez Friday, Aug. 26, in Hall County Superior Court. Velazquez filed a motion for a new trial in the 2019 death of Hall County Sheriff's Office Deputy Blane Dixon. - photo by Nick Watson

A Hall County Superior Court judge denied motions for new trials Friday, Aug. 26, for two of the men convicted in the fatal shooting of Hall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Blane Dixon in 2019.

Superior Court Judge Jason Deal denied the motions for Eric Velazquez and London Clements, two of the four suspects in Dixon’s death. All four suspects were 17 at the time.

Though neither were the shooter, Clements was convicted of felony murder and Velazquez was found guilty of malice murder in July 2021.

The men were in a stolen car Dixon was trying to stop July 7, 2019. The car was believed to be tied to a crime spree involving more than 20 stolen guns.

After the car crashed, Dixon chased the suspects on foot and encountered Hector Garcia-Solis. Garcia-Solis shot Dixon as the two exchanged gunfire.

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Hall County Sheriff's Office deputies bring in London Clements Friday, Aug. 26, for a hearing in Superior Court Judge Jason Deal's courtroom. Clements and his co-defendants want a new trial after being convicted of felony murder in the 2019 fatal shooting of Sheriff's Office Deputy Blane Dixon. - photo by Nick Watson

Felony murder is charged when a suspect commits a felony that leads to another person’s death. In Clements’ case, the felony murder charge was predicated on conspiracy to commit robbery or burglary.

Clements’ attorney Ivars Lacis argued Clements’ involvement in the conspiracy ended after the car crashed and before Dixon was shot, which would not make Clements culpable for Dixon's death.

Lacis posited that Clements running in the opposite direction of his co-defendants further proved that Clements was not part of the conspiracy anymore.

Regarding the conspiracy element, Chief Assistant District Attorney Kelley Robertson brought up Garcia-Solis’ statement to a nurse that the suspects’ plan was for Garcia-Solis to shoot at the police while the others got away.

She also said there is conflicting evidence on whether Clements ran in the opposite direction of the other co-defendants.

Surveillance footage and law enforcement testimony showed that all four suspects ran through the backyards on Highland Avenue and hopped fences, Robertson said.

Deal ruled that Clements’ actions — hiding from police, changing his clothes and calling co-defendants — “all appear to be part of the concealment phase of the conspiracy.”

Lacis also argued that the charge should have gone to the jury as “conspiracy to commit burglary,” as there was no evidence of an intent to rob.

Robertson pointed to testimony from Cruz and others about the suspects’ intent to “hit a lick.”

“Many witnesses were asked what ‘hit a lick’ means, but specifically Brayan Cruz, who was one of the four co-conspirators, said … they were planning to rob or steal something or burglarize something or take it,” Robertson said.

Velazquez and his defense wrote in the motion for a new trial that the trial should have been transferred to another county. The defendants previously argued that pre-trial publicity would taint the jury.

Hall County court officials summoned 600 people for that trial week.

Assistant District Attorney Harold Buckler said while there were “numerous people excused for cause, there were very few that were excused because they could not be fair as a result of pre-trial publicity.”

“I think it was one or two,” he said. “Everyone else that was excused for cause had either a medical (issue) or it was a Fourth of July trip that they were going on.”

Deal said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support moving the trial’s venue.

Velazquez also argued that there was evidence introduced about Velazquez regarding prior break-ins, adding that there was no evidence that Velazquez was a part of these burglaries.

Buckler said the prosecution “pulled our punches” regarding evidence of prior similar criminal behavior.

Deal ruled that there wasn’t any prejudicial evidence admitted at trial.

Clements and Velazquez will have 30 days to file an appeal.