Georgia high court rejects appeal of gay killer

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A gay Georgia man who stabbed to death another man outside a bar was denied a chance for a new trial on Monday, the second time the state Supreme Court has turned back his appeals.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Samuel Mitchell Abernathy's arguments that although his then-boyfriend, John Geren, changed his story about what happened and implicated him in the killing, that was not enough to force a new trial.

Abernathy was found guilty of malice murder and aggravated assault and sentenced to life in prison in November 2008, some 10 months after fatally stabbing Darrin Keith Ramey outside the Southside Bar & Grill in Helen, Ga. Abernathy maintained that he acted in self-defense when he plunged a knife into Ramey's chest with such force that it bisected his sternum. He said Ramey jumped he and Geren, who were dating, in the parking lot and threatened the men and said, “I'm going to kill both of you faggots.”

But prosecutors say that Abernathy, drinking for several hours, was asked to leave the bar. Ramey and another man, Luther Mize, reiterated the bartender's request for Abernathy and Geren to leave and Abernathy challenged the men to take the disagreement outside. That's when Abernathy pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed Ramey. Abernathy and Geren fled in their truck but were arrested a short time later.

Abernathy and Geren were both charged with murder, though prosecutors dropped charges against Geren. He later testified against Abernathy during the trial in White County.

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. But the state Supreme Court later rejected Abernathy's attempt to force a new trial and reversed the trial court's ruling.

On Monday, the court again rejected Abernathy's arguments for a new trial. He argued that Geren changed his version of events and that was significant enough to grant a new trial. The court disagreed in an opinion written by Justin Harold Melton.

In today’s opinion, the state Supreme Court agrees. “Abernathy cannot show that his new evidence does anything more than impeach the trial testimony of Geren, which is insufficient by itself to warrant the granting of an extraordinary motion for new trial,” the opinion says. “The fact that Geren said one thing to his attorney but then told a different story to police and at trial goes strictly to Geren’s credibility,” and that “is an insufficient basis for granting an extraordinary motion for new trial.”

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