The Georgia Supreme Court on Friday overturned the convictions of an Army couple accused of killing their newborn daughter in 2008.
Albert and Ashley Debelbot were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for the death of McKenzy Debelbot, who died three days after her parents brought her home from the Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning.
Authorities determined the infant died of blunt force trauma to the head, though prosecutors never said which parent allegedly killed McKenzy.
The child was born May 29, 2008, and cleared to go home the following afternoon, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
On June 1, her parents brought her back to the hospital, telling doctors they discovered a lump on McKenzy’s head. The baby was pronounced dead hours later.
Because Albert and Ashley Debelbot were the only people to see McKenzy after bringing her home, both were charged with her murder.
Following their joint trial, the Debelbots tried for years to appeal their convictions without any luck.
That all changed Friday when the state’s highest court determined the Columbus couple had ineffective legal counsel at their initial trial and unanimously agreed to reverse their convictions.
The court’s decision hinged on remarks made during the prosecution’s closing argument, Justice Keith Blackwell wrote.
According to the Ledger-Enquirer, the comments were made by Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey as she explained the concept of reasonable doubt to the jury.
“. . . Reasonable doubt does not mean beyond all doubt. It does not mean to a mathematical certainty,” she said. “You don’t have to be 90% sure. You don’t have to be 80% sure. You don’t have to be 51% sure.”
Nobody objected to the prosecutor’s comments at the time, and the jury was left with that definition of the standard of proof before deliberating and finding the couple guilty, the court determined.
“In doing so, ... the prosecuting attorney set the bar far too low, going so far as to argue that something less than a preponderance of the evidence would be enough to authorize the jury to find the Debelbots guilty,” Blackwell wrote. “There is no good reason that any reasonably competent lawyer would fail to object to such an egregious misstatement of the law.”
District Attorney Julia Slater told the Ledger-Enquirer her office intends to retry the Debelbots, who remain in prison.
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