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Boat fatality case from 2012 returning to Hall County court
Bennett convicted in 2013 after 2 boys' deaths, seeks release from jail
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A Forsyth man’s lawsuit to be released from the Hall County Jail spent three weeks in federal court before returning to Hall County Superior Court.

Paul Bennett filed his original petition for release Feb. 4, claiming his good behavior days had not been counted.

He was convicted on Nov. 15, 2013, by a jury on charges of operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol (less safe) and reckless operation of a vessel. The sentence was 30 months in confinement.

The charges stemmed from a June 18, 2012, boat wreck, in which a pontoon boat collided with Bennett’s fishing boat. Jake, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, were killed in the crash.

Bennett claimed in his original complaint that he had confirmed an early release date back in November through credits for good behavior. This changed as the date drew closer, Bennett claims, and the release date changed to May 31, 2016.

Bennett and his counsel later “amended the petition to assert federal equal protection and due process claims, as well as a claim under the Eighth Amendment for alleged cruel and unusual punishment,” according to court documents.

The claims included that Bennett was kept in a section of the jail reserved for inmates convicted of felony crimes and that he was kept in the cell for 22 hours per day.

“This case is currently under litigation which limits my ability to comment in detail. However, I can state that Mr. Bennett has been treated fairly and within the boundaries of the law and the policies of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a previous statement.

Bennett was excluded from good-behavior credits, according to Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes, because of the loss of life.

A hearing was scheduled in Hall County Superior Court for March 13, but the case was removed to U.S. District Court on March 11 due to the Eighth Amendment assertions.

Bennett and his counsel filed an amended complaint Tuesday.

”The plaintiff has now removed all federal claims, and is seeking a state writ of mandamus,” according to the court motion to remand it back down to Hall County Superior Court.

Bennett’s lawsuit seeks the award of the “good behavior” allowances, the release from jail and attorney’s fees.

Senior U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley signed the order to send the case back to Hall County on Wednesday.

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