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Baldwin County District Attorney's Office loses 3 murder trials since November

Overall, the District Attorney's office has lost almost half of the murder cases they've tried in Baldwin County since Barksdale took office in January 2021.

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Last Friday, a Baldwin County jury found Marcus Lillard not guilty of killing University of Georgia professor Marianne Shockley.

It's the third time since November that District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale III's office has taken a murder case to trial and failed to convince a jury.

Overall, the District Attorney's office has lost almost half of the murder cases they've tried in Baldwin County since Barksdale took office in January 2021. His office has tried seven murder cases in the county-- three of those ended in acquittal.

"It's not unsurprising that you'd lack a conviction in the cases that have been lost by Barksdale," said David Oedel, a Mercer Law professor. 

Oedel says each of those cases presented challenges for Barksdale's prosecutors.

Dequanis "Quan" Parks

One of the cases was against Dequanis "Quan" Parks. He was found not guilty of murdering Cuatez Jones in June 2020.

The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office said Parks confronted the 16-year-old near the Milledgeville Manor Apartments and shot him several times.

Credit: Baldwin County Sheriff's Office

"Two eyewitnesses got up on the stand, pointed the guy out, I think ultimately the jury chose not to believe them," Barksdale said. 

Barksdale says the jury likely questioned the credibility of those witnesses.

Oedel says we're seeing a trend nationally where jurors are more hostile toward prosecutors. 

"There is a growing sense of skepticism about prosecutorial process for whoever they are--prosecutors, DAs, U.S. District Attorneys," Oedel said. 

William Weaver

The next case was William Weaver. A jury acquitted him of shooting his ex-wife's husband, Jody Raley, in February 2022. 

The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office says Raley and his wife Amanda were arguing in September 2019. Deputies say Amanda called her ex-husband, William, to come pick up his son. 

Credit: Baldwin County Sheriff's Office

When Weaver got to the home, the two men got into an argument. Prosecutors say that ended with Weaver shooting Raley once.  

"He shot an unarmed man. There's no dispute about that," Barksdale said. "He didn't dispute that. He was claiming self-defense. He stayed there and rendered first aid. Based on the law, we felt like we had to move forward with that case."

Marcus Lillard

Then, the latest case involved Marcus Lillard, who was acquitted last Friday in the murder of his girlfriend Marianne Shockley who was a University of Georgia entomology professor.

He was found not guilty on all counts--felony murder, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.

Lillard was accused of strangling Shockley to death while they were having sex at Lillard's friend's home. However, the only possible witness, the homeowner Clark Heindel, committed suicide that night.

"Who's to say who killed who? I think that decision is understandable by the jury," Oedel said.

Credit: Baldwin County Sheriff's Office

So Barksdale says they had to rely on testimony from women who had relationships with Lillard. 

"The six or seven women who had previous relationships with the defendant who got on the stand and said 'hey, he did a similar thing to me.' We believe it was enough to identify him," Barksdale said. 

Putting the losses into context

It's important to put the prosecution's losses into context. Yes, Barksdale's office has lost nearly half of the murder cases in Baldwin County since he took office. Oedel says that's unusual because prosecutors typically don't push cases that they lose.

However, the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit which Barksdale represents cover eight counties. In his 16 months in office, Barksdale and his office has tried 16 murder cases with four of those coming back with not guilty verdicts. Oedel says that's "not a bad batting average."

Barksdale added that there's been tough cases they've lost and won. He says his office will continue to follow the law and evidence and he'll "continue to be an aggressive prosecutor."