By Joe Johnson
A Superior Court judge has granted a new trial for a man who was convicted of sexually molesting underage boys while he was an Athens-Clarke County police officer.
Kristin Matthew Wards, 32, was a senior police officer when arrested in 2015 for allegedly sexually molesting boys who were under his supervision as cadets with the local unit of the Civil Air Patrol at Athens-Ben Epps Airport.
After a trial in March 2018, a jury found Ward guilty of child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes and three counts of violating his oath as a police officer, but acquitted him of the more serious charge of aggravated sexual battery.
Superior Court Judge Regina Quick imposed a 55-year sentence, ordering Ward to serve the first 44 years of his sentence in prison and the balance on probation.
The conviction was appealed, and in October 2019 the Georgia Court of Appeals vacated the violation of oath of office charges and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings on the remaining charges due to evidentiary issues.
In an order signed Dec. 22, Judge Lisa Lott ruled that Ward’s constitutional rights were violated because during his trial, prosecutors improperly used immunized statements that Ward made to superiors during an internal affairs investigation.
The judge cited a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that employees are protected under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews by their employers.”
The ruling further held that any information derived from such interviews “is protected and cannot be used against an employee in subsequent criminal proceeding against him.”
The judge further opined, “The state has failed to meet its burden of establishing that all evidence presented at trial was derived from sources independent of Ward’s statements” to his employers.
It was on that basis that the Georgia Court of Appeals remanded Ward’s case to Superior Court for a hearing on the evidentiary issues. The hearing was held in February 2020.
The day after Lott’s order for a new trial, the prosecution appealed.
Ward’s defense attorney subsequently filed a motion thar his client be granted bond while the appeal was pending.
The Department of Corrections website indicates that Ward was released from prison on Thursday.
Following a bond hearing on Friday, Judge Lott granted Ward a $50,000 good security bond that came with more than a dozen conditions, including requirements that he wear an ankle monitor, remain under house arrest at his parents’ residence in Watkinsville, not use any form of social media, and have no contact with the Civil Air Patrol.
Ward was released from the Clarke County Jail Monday afternoon.