In our criminal justice system, there are only 13 people who are bound to abide by the time-honored phrase, "innocent until proven guilty": the 12 jurors and the judge in a trial.
Everyone else, inside and outside the courtroom, is free to believe whatever they wish because their views have no bearing on the court's determination of the guilt or innocence of the person being judged.
Thus, it is entirely reasonable to assume that many people believe Thomas Edwin Chumley executed his mother six years ago despite the "not guilty" verdict rendered by a Columbia County jury last week, just as most people believe O.J. Simpson killed his ex-wife and her friend and got away with it.
Why is it reasonable? It's simple: Chumley said he did it.
A year after the shooting death of 74-year-old Meredith Guy in 2003, Columbia County cops still hadn't made an arrest. They had plenty of suspicions, of course, but not enough evidence to lock anyone up.
That's when Chumley, out of the blue, called the sheriff's office and confessed. In two days of videotaped interviews that followed, Chumley told investigators he shot his mother once in the back and again in the back of the head in her Martinez trailer.
During his trial a year later, Chumley admitted making the confession, but claimed it was false - given because he was depressed. The jury deliberated just three hours before finding him guilty.
Unfortunately, Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet made the mistake of telling the jury that Chumley's confession - the one Chumley himself sought out the cops to deliver - was voluntary.
The Georgia Supreme Court said Overstreet's comment prejudiced the jury. Understandably burned, Overstreet might have been overly cautious during last week's retrial. He not only tread lightly on the confession, but also refused to allow testimony from a jailhouse witness who was prepared to tell the jury that Chumley told him he shot his ill mother as a "mercy killing."
The second jury apparently believed Chumley's later denials of his admissions of guilt were more credible that the actual confessions, finding him not guilty on charges of malice murder and possession of a firearm during a crime.
Such a stunning verdict is a black eye not just to Overstreet, but also to District Attorney Ashley Wright who prosecuted the case. And the outcome is a feather in the cap of defense attorney Pete Theodocion, whose client walked out of the Columbia County Detention Center Friday afternoon.
Like O.J., Chumley is now free to undertake a personal quest to find "the real killer."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.