William Marcus “Marc” Wilson finally caught a break in his case. For months Wilson’s attorneys have been trying to get a new judge assigned to the case, alleging issues with bias and prejudice. A decision early Friday afternoon requires the judge overseeing the case to recuse himself.
Senior Judge Michael L. Karpf issued a seven-page order for Wilson’s case to be rescheduled according to the usual procedures of the local court. While Karpf’s ruling did not make a finding of bias or inappropriate conduct on behalf of Judge Michael T. Muldrew, he found that there could be an appearance of bias against Wilson or his attorneys.
“While the court does not ascribe actual bias or prejudice by the trial judge against defendant or his counsel, the series of events outlined above do create such an appearance,” wrote Karpf.
The senior judge recounted the incident that gave rise to the request for recusal. He noted the prosecutor handed a notebook with evidence to Muldrew that had never been given to the defense team during the discovery process. The notebook was handed back to the defense by mistake prompting attorney Francys Johnson to request the clerk take possession of the notebook to “preserve a chain of custody.”
Johnson was found in contempt and detained. During a conversation with Johnson’s co-counsel, both Black attorneys, Muldrew claimed that he had several lawyers express “concern about the quality of representation afforded to defendant.”
Karpf found conversations with lawyers outside of the case about the defense team’s performance “would constitute an extra-judicial communication suggestive of prejudice against trial counsel.”
Despite Muldrew’s claims that he received complaints about the defense’s handling of the case, over 100 lawyers signed a letter of support after Johnson was held in contempt.
“The behaviors that have been displayed, directed against the legal team of Mr. Wilson should cause all lawyers and citizens of this state much concern about the type of justice that is available in Bulloch County,” said Miguel A. Dominguez, a civil rights attorney in Atlanta.
Another issue raised by Karpf was when the prosecutor seemed to answer for Muldrew in response to a subpoena.
“Of course, the judge played no part in that filing so no fault is ascribed to him, but the appearance remains nonetheless,” Karpf wrote.
Detained pre-trial for approximately 600 days, Wilson has been denied bail, and an immunity hearing to hear his stand your ground claim has been delayed for months. Muldrew denied Wilson bond in August. After a second bond hearing in December 2020, Muldrew didn’t issue a decision letting Wilson remain detained.
It’s unclear how long it will take for the case to move forward now that it must await rescheduling, but there is hope that Wilson can get a fair hearing with a new judge. His case is one of the most recent examples of the disparity in who gets the privilege of claiming self-defense and being believed.
White defendants claiming stand your ground are significantly more likely to be found justified than their Black counterparts.
As previously reported by NewsOne, Wilson was arrested for the shooting death of Haley Hutcheson, 17. According to Wilson, a group of teens yelled racist slurs and tried to run him and his girlfriend off the road. Reflecting on his fear at the moment of the shooting. Wilson said given the racial tensions at the time, he was scared for himself and his girlfriend.
“Judge Karpf’s order reiterates why judicial and prosecutorial accountability is urgently needed now more than ever,” says Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project.