The attorney for a teen charged with murder in a car accident that killed two people argued in court Monday a motion to dismiss the charges on the basis that the district attorney’s office had “selectively prosecuted” his client because of his age and the law enforcement connections of the victim’s family.
In what the judge deemed an “unusual case,” 17-year-old Christopher Eggersdorf is being charged with felony murder in Hall County Superior Court.
Larry Duttweiler, senior assistant public defender for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, said the more typical charge of vehicular homicide — a misdemeanor or felony depending on the level of “recklessness” — is the maximum charge his client should face.
Eggersdorf faces two counts of felony murder, criminal damage to property in the first degree, aggravated assault, two counts of homicide by vehicle in the first degree, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, no insurance and no headlights.
He is being held in Hall County Jail on $75,000 bond.
On Sept. 30, 2012, the then-16-year-old driver’s Ford Mustang struck the left side of a Pontiac Bonneville, killing Lora Thompson, 50, and Anna Grace Jones, 3, at the intersection of Ransom Free Road and Ga. 283 in Clermont, according to the Georgia State Patrol.
By running the stop sign and having his headlights off, Assistant District Attorney Kelley Robertson asserted that the “individual facts of the case” and “egregious” nature of the allegations warranted the felony murder charges, describing Eggersdorf’s actions as a sort of “Russian roulette” scenario with deadly consequences as the inevitable outcome.
“It’s the intent to do the act, the intent to drive through the stop sign,” Robertson said.
“Do you think intentionally driving under the influence is somehow different than intentionally driving through a stop sign?” presiding Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin asked Robertson at one point.
Nuanced legal issues of intent versus recklessness determined not only the charges Eggersdorf faces and length of his potential sentence, but in which court he is tried.
Duttweiler argued that selective prosecution was employed to get the case against the teen kicked up to Superior Court, rather than prosecuted in Juvenile Court.
In Georgia, a 16-year-old can only be charged as an adult if he or she commits certain serious felonies, murder being one.
“This motion is the most troubling of all the motions,” Gosselin said at the conclusion of the hourlong hearing where she had dismissed two other motions by Duttweiler to dismiss the murder charges.
“At the very least, this is one of the most unusual charges I’ve seen in 26 years on the bench,” she said. “Mr. Duttweiler’s argument that Mr. Eggersdorf is being charged in this manner because of his age, in order to keep the case in Superior Court, as opposed to Juvenile Court, is a serious one. It’s a serious argument, and the state’s position is also serious.”
Gosselin made no ruling, saying she needed more information.
“I feel like I need more time and more law,” she said.
Eggersdorf’s lawyer and the state have two weeks to gather more evidence to either prove or refute the selective prosecution motion.
Duttweiler cited cases charged with vehicular homicide that involved drugs and alcohol, and also cited the gang-related case of Juan Villanueva, who behind the steering wheel of a van, dragged 23-year-old Daniel Adame across a parking lot, according to an investigator. He was charged and convicted with vehicular homicide caused by reckless driving, serious injury by vehicle, hit-and-run and fighting.
“They need to prove that similar situations have been treated different, and not just analogous, but really the same facts,” Robertson said, in response to the argument.
Robertson also said it was the burden of the defense to prove that the discriminatory prosecution had been made in “bad faith” by the government based on the “constitutionally protected” set of factors of race, gender or religion.
Duttweiler also called to the stand and questioned the involvement of the victim’s family and the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Jack Jones, son-in-law of one of the victims and a sheriff’s deputy with Lumpkin, and before that the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, gave emotional testimony in which he said he felt malice murder — a more serious charge — should have been pursued.
“I know that they’re on the side of justice, but it doesn’t seem like what they’re going with is justice to me,” he said of the felony murder charge.
Duttweiler also questioned Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacey Jarrard, asking why he had attended interviews with witnesses in the case.
One of the questions Duttweiler seemed to be grasping at was where the decision to charge felony murder originated, but that was a matter, Robertson said, for District Attorney Lee Darragh himself to address.
“I would need to actually call the district attorney and actually question him about this,” Robertson said.
Gosselin agreed, and said that “it may be, Mr. Duttweiler, that you needed to call the D.A.,” she said.
Darragh declined to comment while litigation in the case is still pending.
In the meantime, the case is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 19.