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When jury trials might resume after latest COVID-19 delay
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Hall County court officials do not expect to hold a jury trial for the rest of 2020 and intend to try again Jan. 4.

This week would have likely seen a competency hearing for Talon Lowery, who was charged in a Nov. 6, 2017, murder indictment of shooting Bryan Ramirez, 18, four days earlier at the Texaco station on Cleveland Highway. 

Court officials, however, issued a cancellation notice Wednesday, Nov. 23, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Hall County.

“The mechanism for us is the judges cooperatively and collaboratively speaking to what they feel is appropriate, getting input from the public health department and then we have that jury trial committee that has looked at our plan,” court administrator Jason Stephenson said this week. “They’ll be consulted before making any decision.”

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Regarding the metrics used, Stephenson said there is no magic number regarding level of infection or threshold that has to be crossed. 

“Based on Northeast Georgia (Health System’s) numbers of hospitalizations that they publish every day, which are incredibly helpful that we’re watching very closely, hospitalizations were going up,” Stephenson said.

NGHS matched its new record Wednesday, Dec. 2, of 181 confirmed patients being treated that was set the day before.

Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden was able to hold a trial in Dawson County more than two weeks ago, which has provided insights for the jury committee on how to tweak their processes moving forward.

“We’ve got some improvements to make on the logistics,” Stephenson said. “The jury turnout was kind of pre-pandemic levels. It’s what we were expecting.”

Stephenson said they hope to resume trials Jan. 4. The following week, they will move to two felony trials per week. The intention was to start with a simpler trial, which would likely exclude cases with multiple defendants or complicated evidence presentation, Stephenson said.

Grand jury sessions started back in November, and Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said they have “worked well.”

Darragh added they will continue holding grand jury sessions with their safety procedures, as he had grand jury in both Hall and Dawson counties this week.

Stephenson said the grand jury is meeting weekly to catch up with a backlog of cases.