ATLANTA — A family is waiting to see if a father accused of raping his daughter, who was 14 at the time, will be reindicted.
The decision is now up to the judge after the Prosecuting Attorney's Council (PAC) filed a response with the court stating it did not have the authority to get involved.
The calls for re-indictment come after the Athens District Attorney's Office dismissed the charges without properly notifying the victim and her family.
Last month, superior court judge Eric Norris ruled this move by the DA's office violated the rights of the teenage girl under Marsy's Law. It's a law in Georgia that provides victims constitutional rights in court.
What happened with the case?
The victim's mother told 11Alive she found evidence of the alleged rape on her daughter's phone.
"He, a lot of times, was asking her to come into our home office with him," the mom told 11Alive outside the courthouse in Athens. "If she didn’t respond, he would ask her to delete the messages."
We’re not identifying the mother or child involved, but their precedent-setting case could shape the future. After a jury was seated in Athens, instead of presenting those text messages or calling witnesses to the stand, the prosecutor dismissed the charges.
"Judge Norris asked, 'Do you intend to bring this case back? Nah, nah, nah. We’re done,'" attorney Kevin Epps recalled. "That is, in my opinion, such a lack of effort on behalf of the district attorney."
In the court transcript from that day, Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert Wilson is quoted saying "I made a mistake." A key witness was “not subpoenaed.” Wilson told the court when he did try to serve that witness, “she refused to take it.”
But Epps says he talked with that witness and was told the information shared in court was not accurate. Epps had hoped to call the witness to testify during the Marsy's Law hearing to inform the judge and public what really happened.
"There was a false narrative created by the prosecutor’s office in order to attempt a continuance and ultimately a reasonable dismissal," Epps explained. "And, neither one were valid."
A violation of victims' rights
Epps is the one who filed the Marsy's Law violation.
Under it, crime victims are constitutionally guaranteed to be notified of hearings, when a defendant is released and it ensures their right to have their voice heard in the courtroom.
"We didn’t care about winning the case or not," the victim's mother told 11Alive. "We really just wanted to have our day in court."
The Athens DA wrote an article in May about the importance of giving victims and witnesses that voice. But in court, she spent two hours trying to stop anyone from testifying about what happened.
The victim’s mother was the only one allowed on the stand at the Marsy’s Law hearing. She told the court she and her daughter would testify if the father was reindicted.
In a statement from Marsy's Law for Georgia, board member and UGA Law professor Christine Scartz commended the judge's ruling of the violation.
“This ruling establishes a clear precedent that the hard-won constitutional rights afforded to crime victims under Marsy’s Law will be taken seriously in Georgia courts and cannot simply be brushed aside. We commend the court for affirming the victim’s rights and enforcing them," Scartz said in the statement.
"We also encourage the District Attorney to implement comprehensive training and procedures to ensure victims’ rights are fully recognized in the criminal justice process. This ruling serves as an opportunity to educate and correct protocol as necessary to ensure victims’ rights are fully respected in the Western Judicial Circuit," the statement continued.
District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez said her office has already taken steps to improve timely communication with victims.
Four years ago, Georgia voters added Marsy's Law to the state constitution joining states like Florida and California.
The Law is named after Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her Marsy's death, her mom encountered the accused murderer in public not knowing he was released. Marsy's Law was first passed in California to give crime victims equal rights and protections.
Police in the courtroom during the Marsy's Law hearing said the mother's testimony provided them new information that could be used to file additional charges against the defendant.
PAC will appoint a special prosecutor to handle that case if accused and a case already scheduled to be heard in court in August. The charges, in that case, are cruelty to children and battery-family violence.