There is a very lucky man in Gwinnett County, Georgia today. Christopher Roesser is fortunate today because the Georgia Supreme Court utilized common sense to end this man’s seven year nightmare.
This month, The Georgia Supreme Court held that Roesser, who was acquitted of murder and other charges in 2011, may not be re-tried on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, upon which the jury deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of acquittal.
The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Hunstein, said that Christopher Roesser’s re-trial is barred by the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. It reversed a Court of Appeals opinion allowing the retrial to proceed.
The ruling means that Roesser, who has been incarcerated since shortly after he shot and killed Keith Price almost seven years ago, should be released soon.
Roesser was originally charged in the December 2006 slaying of Price, who along with another man had arranged to meet Roesser in the parking lot of a Lawrenceville trucking company. While the facts were disputed at trial, basically Roesser entered a car with Price and the other man. Price pulled out a plastic gun and robbed Roesser, who jumped from the car, pulled his own gun and fired one shot, killing Price.
In 2008, he was tried and sentenced to life in prison for the killing, but that verdict was vacated the following year when a judge granted a new trial.
In a 2011 retrial, the jury returned not-guilty verdicts on murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The jury was hung on a lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter, with 11 jurors voting not guilty and one voting guilty.
The issue of self-defense played an important role in the case. A note the jury sent out during deliberations said that one juror “‘wanted verification that does self-defense mean he is not guilty of all charges. We said yes, if there is self-defense according to the information we are given, Mr. Roesser would have to be found not guilty on all counts.’”
The court declared a mistrial on the voluntary manslaughter charge and the state moved for a retrial. Roesser opposed the State’s request for another re-trial because he had already been acquitted of charges based on the same events.
Conner granted the new trial, and Roesser appealed. The Georgia Supreme Court held that a re-trial would violate Roesser’s constitutional right against double jeopardy because the jury had clearly considered that he acted in self-defense. “In this case a review of the entire record supports Roesser’s argument that the jury necessarily determined that he acted in self-defense when it acquitted him of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault in connection with Price’s death. From the attorneys’ opening statements through the jury’s verdict, the issue presented to the jury was whether Roesser had acted in self-defense,” said the opinion.
I applaud the high court in their analysis of this case. A common sense approach focused on the defense in the case coupled with the jury’s concerns lead the court to the correct conclusion. A third trial based on these circumstances would be unconstitutional.”