A Blairsville man who authorities say fatally shot his ex-girlfriend was ready to admit to the murder in court just two days later, but a Georgia law prevented the swift guilty plea.
Richard Charles Bishop was in Union County Magistrate Court on Thursday for a routine first appearance hearing when he expressed the desire to plead guilty to the charge of murder, District Attorney Stan Gunter said.
"He appeared to be competent and know what he was doing, and this was his wish," Gunter said.
Prosecutors arranged for a plea hearing later in the day in front of a Superior Court judge, but the hearing was canceled after it was determined that a grand jury must indict a defendant on murder charges before he can plead guilty. In some felony cases, defendants can waive indictment and plead guilty to an accusation, but not in murder cases, Gunter said.
"We decided to call the grand jury in on the 24th (of August), and we may do the plea on that day as well," Gunter said.
A murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence with parole eligibility after 30 years.
Authorities said Bishop shot ex-girlfriend Gwen Nutt at her home on Highway 325 near Old Blue Ridge Highway late Tuesday night. Bishop also is charged with aggravated assault for allegedly shooting at Nutt’s boyfriend, who was not injured.
Union County Public Defender Charlie Brown said an attorney with his office met with Bishop in jail as part of the office’s required duties, but that "at this point we don’t represent him."
"It’s conceivable that we will represent him, we just don’t know at the moment," Brown said. "He may have other counsel that he will retain."
The decision to plead guilty so soon after the crime recalled the case of Gary Michael Hilton, who entered a guilty plea to murder just 30 days after the January 2008 bludgeoning death of hiker Meredith Emerson. Hilton’s plea came as part of a deal brokered by Union County prosecutors who agreed not to seek the death penalty.
In that case, a Dawson County grand jury was specially convened to indict Hilton the morning of the guilty plea.
Mike Mears, an associate dean at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and former director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, said such quick pleas are "unusual but not unheard of."
Mears noted that while as an attorney he would caution against a client entering a guilty plea too quickly, "the decision to plead guilty or not guilty is one of those decisions that only the defendant can make.
"Some clients are going to make their own decisions despite the best advice you can give them," Mears said.