The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously reversed a judge’s decision granting a new trial to Samuel Mitchell Abernathy, a gay man convicted of killing a man who called him “faggot” outside a bar.
Samuel Mitchell Abernathy was found guilty of malice murder and aggravated assault in November 2008, some 10 months after fatally stabbing Darrin Keith Ramey outside the Southside Bar & Grill in Helen, Ga. Ramey approached Abernathy and John Geren in the parking lot and called the men, who were in a gay relationship, “faggots,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Geren, who wasn’t charged in the incident, later testified against Abernathy during the trial in White County Superior Court, where a jury convicted him and he was sentenced to life in prison. But in July 2010, the trial court granted Abernathy’s motion for a new trial based on its finding that the Enotah Judicial Circuit’s Public Defender’s office in Cleveland had a conflict in representing both Geren and Abernathy.
On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court unanimously reversed a White County judge’s decision granting a new trial and ruled that the conflict did not “significantly affected counsel’s performance.” The court heard arguments in the case in February.
“Simply put, ‘[Abernathy] has not shown in this case how his attorney’s conflict caused divided loyalties [or] compromised his attorney’s representation of him,” Chief Justice Carol Hunstein writes in the ruling. “We find that the trial court erred in granting Abernathy a new trial and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings in the trial court.”
In a cross-appeal, Abernathy argued that the trial court made a number of errors in rejecting other reasons for a new trial. But the high court said it found no errors.
“The evidence was sufficient for a rational trier of fact to find Abernathy guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the malice murder and aggravated assault of the victim,” the opinion says.