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Attorney says Athens DA’s junket played role in child rape case Marsy’s Law violation

By Michael Prochaska/The Oconee Enterprise

Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez on April 18 signed off on a dismissal of rape, incest and child molestation charges against defendant Micahel Lareco Daniel, who was arrested by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

The victim’s mother subsequently filed a judicial complaint against the DA’s Office that claimed a violation of Marsy’s Law, also known as the Georgia Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, to which Gonzalez has admitted. The violation was also confirmed by Superior Court Judge Eric Norris on May 25.

Under Georgia code, “The prosecuting attorney shall offer the victim the opportunity to express the victim's opinion on the disposition of an accused's case, including the views of the victim regarding: plea or sentence negotiations; and participation in pretrial or post-conviction diversion programs."

“Court finds that the District Attorney violated the rights of [the mother] and the minor victim,” according to Norris’ ruling denying the DA’s Office motion to quash subpoenas for documents sought by the attorney representing the victim's family.

On April 25, Gonzalez released a newsletter in which she highlighted a trip to Selma, Alabama, the week prior in order to “explore the enduring influence of slavery and Jim Crow on the modern criminal legal system and discuss how to address racial injustices in their own offices and communities.”

At a May 19 hearing, attorney Kevin Epps, who is representing a man seeking a judicial order to force Gonzalez to prosecute truancy and drug possession cases but is also representing the mother of the victim in the aforementioned sex-crime case, argued that Gonzalez’ trip to Alabama forced Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert Wilson to handle both the sex-crime case and a murder case. Epps claims that Gonzalez’s choice to delegate two high-profile cases to an ADA while she was out of town had an influence in the decision to dismiss the charges against Daniel in the sex-crime case.

Epps then sought to subpoena documents that include email and text message correspondence to and from Gonzalez that contain the words and phrases “Selma, Alabama and Fair and Just Prosecution.”

“These documents are directly relevant to the State’s decision to seek a nolle prosequi (dismissal) of the case and likely expose why the State refused to communicate that decision with [the victim’s mother],” Epps argued in documents filed in the Athens-Clarke County Clerks of Courts Office.

Norris has ordered Gonzalez to produce the documents Epps is seeking within 15 days of the May 19 hearing. Norris also recused himself, and the case will now be under the jurisdiction of Superior Court Lawton Stephens.

The DA’s Office has recused itself from future litigation against Daniel. The Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia will provide a special prosecutor.

The Oconee Enterprise has sent an inquiry to the DA’s Office about Epps’ allegations that Gonzalez's trip to Alabama negatively affected the outcome of a sex-crime case, and we will update the story if a comment is provided.

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