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By Eric Stirgus July 15, 2010

Candidate says opponent "botched" prosecution of fatal shooting

It is certainly the most emotional political ad of this election season. And, perhaps, its most controversial.

A mother claims a prosecutor botched a case in which her unarmed son, Kenneth Walker, was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy on a cold roadway in Columbus. The prosecutor was Ken Hodges, now a Democratic candidate for Georgia attorney general. The ad was put together by Rob Teilhet, a Democrat running against Hodges in a bruising campaign for the party's nomination.

"The officer got off because the prosecutor, Ken Hodges, forgot to swear him in; tried to hide the video and refused to reopen the case," the victim's mother, Emily Walker of Columbus, said during the 30-second spot.

The ad ends with a final comment from the dead man's mother: "Mr. Hodges should not be our next attorney general."

Tough words. But are the claims correct?

Teilhet, a Marietta-based attorney who predominantly deals in workers' compensation cases, thought so. "Ken Hodges badly botched this investigation and, as a result, justice wasn't done in this case," Teilhet said in a telephone interview with PolitiFact Georgia. Teilhet did not speak in the ad.

PolitiFact Georgia received a few e-mails and requests to take a look into whether the Teilhet ad is right.

Let's begin by going back to the night of the shooting, Dec. 10, 2003. Walker and three friends left an apartment complex in Columbus and were riding in a sport utility vehicle on I-185 when it was pulled over by two sets of law enforcement officers. The officials received a tip the men in the vehicle were carrying illegal guns. All four men were pulled from the vehicle. Muscogee County Sheriff's Deputy David Glisson shot Walker twice. No guns or drugs were found in the vehicle. Walker, 39, later died from the gunshot wounds. Glisson said the shooting was an accident.

The shooting drew headlines for many reasons. The victim was unarmed. Glisson is white. Walker was black.

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker appointed Hodges, then the Dougherty County district attorney, as special prosecutor of the case. Hodges presented his findings before a grand jury of nearly two dozen citizens. The grand jury, which followed standard practice by meeting behind closed doors, voted not to indict anyone in the case.

The NAACP demanded further investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice decided in July 2007 there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against Glisson, who had been fired after the shooting.

Three years later, the case is back in the news as Hodges and Teilhet duel in a raucous battle to become the state's top prosecutor. The sparring includes who has the endorsement of Andrew Young, the civil rights icon, former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor. (Young has endorsed both candidates.) Teilhet, a former state representative from Cobb County, said he wanted the campaign ad done to examine Hodges' record as a prosecutor.

So let's start with the first claim, "the officer got off because the prosecutor, Ken Hodges, forgot to swear him in." Hodges did not swear in Glisson, who gave a statement to the grand jury. Hodges has said he's "sorry" he didn't swear in Glisson, but added that it wasn't necessary to validate the shooter's statement. Teilhet argues not swearing in Glisson hurt the public's confidence in the prosecution. The Georgia Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that requires prosecutors to swear in all witnesses.

The second point, Hodges tried to "hide" the video of the shooting. Hodges argued in an Oct. 15, 2004, legal brief with the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia and the District Attorneys Association of Georgia against releasing video of the shooting to the news media before any criminal proceedings took place, court records show. The grand jury saw the video several times before the November 2004 decision not to indict Glisson.

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Third, Hodges "refused to reopen the case." Gregory W. Edwards, who is now Dougherty County's district attorney, said Hodges told Walker's mother he would reopen the case if there was sufficient new evidence after the grand jury refused to indict Glisson. One community group, the Grassroots Unity Movement for Change, sent Hodges a 10-page letter in October 2007 asking him to convene a second grand jury.

Hodges took some heat at the time for not recommending to the grand jury that they indict Glisson. The critics include Teilhet. Hodges told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer he felt it "was important [for the grand jury] to make the decision in this case." Most prosecutors say they'll recommend an indictment if they feel the evidence is overwhelming. Some made no recommendation if the case was a "jump ball."
Teilhet said the combination of questions about the video, Glisson not being sworn in, and no recommendation to indict should have prompted Hodges to take another look at the case.
"These folks were never given a legal proceeding they could have confidence in," Teilhet said.
Teilhet said Emily Walker was eager to talk about her concerns in the campaign video. "No one puts words in her mouth," he said.
Others contend Teilhet has taken advantage of Emily Walker and accuse the candidate of pandering to black voters.
"The ad is outrageous," said Richard Hagler, Glisson's attorney.
Hodges did not swear in Glisson before the grand jury, but it was not required at the time. The prosecutor did oppose efforts to release the video to reporters, but there's no evidence Hodges hid it from the grand jury. Hagler said Hodges told him that he would reopen the case if any new evidence came forward. There's no overriding proof that Hodges refused to reopen the case.
There is some truth to two of the three claims in the ad. But was this case "badly botched"? So far, there's been no significant evidence to prove that allegation. Additionally, the federal Justice Department decided not to move forward with a criminal civil rights case against Glisson. The feds found there was insufficient evidence to prove Glisson willfully shot Walker. Teilhet said the feds were considering different criteria. Still, we rate Teilhet's claim as False.

Our Sources

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, "Criminal case closed; Federal authorities conclude the evidence is insufficient to press charges against sheriff's deputy," July 21, 2007

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, "Group calls for second try at indicting deputy," Oct. 19, 2007

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, "Hodges' lack of recommendation not uncommon," Dec. 12, 2004

Georgia Senate Bill 313.

Gregory W. Edwards, Dougherty County district attorney, telephone interview, July 12, 2010

J. Tom Morgan,former DeKalb County district attorney,telephone interview, July 12, 2010

Rob Teilhet campaign ad, July 9, 2010.

Rob Teilhet telephone interview, July 13, 2010.

U.S. Justice Department press release, July 20, 2007. 

Atlanta Unfiltered article, "Andy Young: I endorse both Dems running for attorney general," July 9, 2010. 

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Candidate says opponent "botched" prosecution of fatal shooting

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