Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of GIP Client Johnny Lee Gates!

Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of GIP Client Johnny Lee Gates!

Johnny Lee Gates has spent 43 years imprisoned for a crime he did not commit; 26 of those years were on death row.  Learn more about Mr. Gates’s case here.

In 2018, Georgia Innocence Project and our co-counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights successfully argued to Muscogee County Superior Court Senior Judge John Allen that Mr. Gates deserved a new trial for a number of reasons, including new DNA evidence, Brady violations, destroyed physical evidence and race discrimination. After a multi-day hearing, Judge Allen granted Mr. Gates’s Extraordinary Motion for New Trial, holding that the new exculpatory DNA evidence, when considered in light of the other evidence in the case, probably would have produced a different verdict at trial. 

Johnny Lee Gates

Judge Allen also made searing findings regarding new evidence demonstrating undeniable and profound race discrimination by the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office in several death penalty trials in the 1970’s and 1980’s in order to secure all white juries.  

District Attorney Julia Slater, along with Georgia’s Attorney General’s Office, appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that Mr. Gates was too late to bring his claims and that the DNA evidence was not material enough to justify a new trial.  Last week, in this 62-page decision, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with the DA, and affirmed Judge Allen’s order.  

The Georgia Supreme Court found that Johnny did indeed act with due diligence in promptly seeking DNA testing of the physical evidence that GIP discovered over a decade after the State argued it had been destroyed.  The Court held that exculpatory DNA obtained from that evidence was indeed material to the identity of the true perpetrator, especially in light of all the other evidence in the case. And while it found that the race discrimination claim need not be addressed since Johnny Lee Gates would already receive a new trial based on DNA evidence, the Court nonethelss commented that Judge Allen’s findings documenting profound race discrimination by Chattahoochee Judicial Cirucit prosecutors during jury selection in Johnny’s death penalty trial and several others were “very troubling.” 

We are thrilled at the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision.  Check out these AP and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer news articles for more information.  

For now, Johnny remains in prison until the Court’s decision becomes final and we all adjust to life with COVID-19.  District Attorney Slater has told the press that she intends to continue to prosecute Mr. Gates. And we will, of course, keep you posted as we continue to fight for Johnny’s freedom!

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