Looking Ahead: In court
Each day this week, The Times will preview coming changes in a top issue in Northeast Georgia. Today, a look at 2012 court cases in Hall County.
If all goes as planned, 2012 could be a busy year in the Hall County Courthouse.
While murder cases often require more time to close than others, Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said he expects current murder cases to conclude next year.
"We are just at the beginning of 2012, so I think that the possibility of all of the presently pending murder cases closing in 2012 is pretty good," Darragh said.
"There might be some bleed over to the following year, but murder has a way of happening unexpectedly and other cases may arise in 2012 that may delay things," he added.
One case coming up early in the year, is that of a 2010 Valentine's Day slaying at a North Hall County park.
Tentatively scheduled for trial in April, prosecutors are hoping to convince a jury that Reginald Coleman was the triggerman in the murder for hire of 45-year-old Richard Schoeck.
Prosecutors allege Schoeck's wife, Stacey Schoeck, arranged the killing through Lynitra Ross, a mutual friend.
The cases against all three suspects are being handled individually and are each expected to be completed in the next calendar year, Darragh said.
"We are confident of our evidence in the case," Darragh said.
Investigators recorded six hours of footage in which Coleman confessed to being near the Belton Bridge Park crime scene, but not to killing Richard Schoeck. Instead the footage shows Coleman confessing to paying two other men $3,000 to carry out the murder.
Defense attorneys, though, argue Coleman only made the confession out of concern for Ross, as well as being sleep deprived and hungry during the interrogation.
Prosecutors also have phone records between the three co-defendants, as well as records of Richard Schoeck's pending life insurance claims totaling $560,000.
However, Brad Morris, director of the Office of the Public Defender, said regardless of evidence, judgment should not be made until a verdict is reached.
"Many times it doesn't turn out the way some people think at the outset," Morris said. "There's always more to a story than you hear."
If the case against Coleman proceeds to trial, prosecutors will seek the death penalty, Darragh said.
That would mark the first death penalty trial since 2008 when Ignacio Vergara avoided a death sentence and, instead, received two life sentences for a 2002 drug-related double murder in South Hall.
A number of 2011 Hall County murder cases are also expected to close in the next calendar year.
Although no date has been set, Darragh expects the cases against Deanna Renee Kipp, 24, and her boyfriend Stephen West, 22, to proceed to trial near the end of 2012.
In August, the couple pleaded not guilty to the murder of Kipp's 18-month-old daughter, Kaylee Kipp. Each is accused of assaulting the girl with an unspecified "blunt object" in mid-June, resulting in her death.
Both are facing charges of malice murder, aggravated assault, cruelty to a child in the first degree and two counts of felony murder. Deanna Kipp also faces an additional count each of felony murder and cruelty to a child.
Gainesville Police responded to a call of the child not breathing the afternoon of June 12 at On Riverside Condominiums. When paramedics responded, Kaylee Kipp's body was "cold to the touch," according to a police report.
Darragh also expects two other late 2011 murder cases to wrap up in 2012.
Few details have been released regarding the circumstances of both September murders, however.
The Flowery Branch Police Department charged Randall Lewis Breazeale, 56, of stabbing Tony Caswell Reece, 51, to death during a domestic dispute in a home in the 5200 block of Chattahoochee Street.
According to an indictment, Breazeale broke into the Hillside Apartments home of Alicia Flores and hid in a closet with a knife and rope.
A Gainesville woman is also facing charges stemming from the murder of a 26-year-old Gainesville man.
Lisheena Kinanna Cantrell, 22, pleaded not guilty to the murder of Eveccio Ballard earlier this month.
Prosecutors allege Cantrell stabbed Ballard's neck during a Sept. 5 dispute between the two and another woman, 25-year-old Tacheena Collins.
Public Defender Travis A. Williams would not provide his plan to defend the case, but he said the defense has a theory it will pursue.
Murder cases are not the only significant items on the court's calendar.
Glenn Douglas Berry is another high profile case that Darragh said "will certainly go to trial in 2012. I really don't think it should be delayed beyond that."
The Flowery Branch man faces 26 counts of possession of sexual exploitation of children.
Among the allegations against Berry is the prosecution's claim that he possessed images of men involved in sexual activities with infants, as well as both minor boys and girls, according to an indictment.
Darragh said 2011 was a successful year for the Districts Attorney's Office, with the indictments of several defendants and guilty verdicts in multiple noteworthy cases.
"I think we closed a lot of significant cases well where justice was served and victims received justice," he said.
While Morris said he focuses on future cases and doesn't dwell on past cases, he feels his office was successful in 2011 because of the effort made to defend indigent people.
"I don't think you necessarily look at winning or losing cases," he said. "What you do as a form of professionalism is that you seek to get decent representation."
The coming year, Darragh hopes, will be just as successful, but with fewer cases.
"It would be my hope for 2012 that those who would be criminals might decide not to be, so that we won't have to prosecute them for the safety of victims in our community," he said. "However, to the extent that crime is committed we will do everything we can to make sure justice is served well."