The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the appeal of a man who escaped the death penalty but was instead sentenced to life without parole by a Hall County jury for a drug-related double murder.
Ignacio Vergara is appealing the sentence imposed in his August 2008 trial for the 2002 shooting deaths of Francisco Saucedo and Alejandro Santana.
The two men were shot to death on a remote gravel road in South Hall road for two kilograms of cocaine worth about $39,000.
The gunman in the case, Brigado Soto, pleaded guilty and also received a sentence of life without parole.
Soto testified against Vergara at trial, saying Vergara ordered him to shoot the men.
Vergara’s appellate attorney, Brian Steel, argues that trial judge John Girardeau improperly commented on the evidence when he instructed the jury on the law regarding armed robbery. Steel also believes an essential element of armed robbery was not proven, and that Vergara’s trial attorneys failed to request that the judge give certain jury instructions.
Prosecutors with the Hall County District Attorney’s Office are expected to argue that the judge did not comment on the evidence but merely stated a legal principal the jury should consider. The state argues that armed robbery was proven, and that Vergara’s lawyers requested the appropriate jury instructions.
The appeal is a routine procedure in murder convictions. In recent years, no Hall County murder convictions appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court have been reversed.