By Caitlin Farmer/The Oconee Enterprise
Oconee trial attorney Kevin Epps filed a motion Oct. 10 for a hearing on a Marsy’s Law violation committed by Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez on Sept. 21 when a plea agreement was entered with defendant Luke Harrison Waldrop without notifying the victim, referred to in the motion as movant.
Movant is the surviving spouse of James Jones, who on March 3, 2022, was riding his bike on Tallassee Road when then-25-year-old Waldrop from Campobello, South Carolina, struck and killed Jones with his Honda Accord, according to a press release from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
Waldrop was charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle in the first degree, driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving.
Movant wrote the prosecuting attorney a request to be notified of all proceedings and gave valid contact information to the prosecuting attorney’s office, in accordance with the Georgia Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights and Marsy’s Law, the motion said.
According to Marsy’s Law, the movant has the right to give her opinion on the case’s final outcome, plea or sentencing negotiations, be at scheduled court proceedings with written request and have prompt notification of any scheduled court proceedings for a “meaningful opportunity” to exercise her rights.
The case was placed on the court’s Sept. 21, 2023 plea calendar.
The District Attorney’s Office didn’t notify the movant of the plea proceeding until the morning of Sept. 21, when she was unable to answer the phone. The DA’s Office hadn’t contacted her since Sept. 30, 2022.
At the plea proceeding, Gonzalez moved the court to abandon the charges and filed an accusation for homicide by vehicle in the second degree and improper passing of a bicycle.
Waldrop pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 24 months of probation, 40 hours of community service, a defensive driving course and a $2,652.50 fine. When the plea was accepted, the movant had no knowledge of it and was not given an opportunity to express her opinion.
At 5 p.m. on Sept. 21, after the agreement was accepted, the movant spoke with a victim advocate and learned of the agreement and its terms, the motion said.
The movant requested the court issue an order that Gonzalez and the District Attorney’s Office “immediately preserve” all emails, Tracker notes (a digital case management system), written communications from the movant, case file and any other digital or paper documents.
Epps, who has represented other victims who were not notified of defendant pleas during Gonzalez’s tenure as DA, is seeking a hearing before a judge.