The Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed a Newton man’s 2017 murder conviction and sentence despite his claim a judge and the convict's attorney denied his constitutionally protected rights to a fair trial and effective assistance.
Quran Ali Knighton, 20, said a judge denied his constitutional rights to a fair trial by twice interrupting his attorney’s closing argument to give instructions to the jury.
The former Newton High School student also maintained that his attorney’s failure to object to the interruptions meant he had ineffective assistance.
Knighton is serving a life sentence in Georgia State Prison in Reidsville after being convicted on a murder charge in the 2016 stabbing death of 18-year-old Markice Harris outside a gated subdivision where Harris lived north of Oxford.
In affirming the conviction, the justices unanimously said the trial judge generally instructed the jury correctly about the laws regarding self-defense.
They also said the judge’s interruptions of the attorney to give instructions to the jury did not improperly limit his closing argument.
The justices also said he did not prove his attorney had been ineffective by not objecting to the interruptions — in part because he had no reason to object to the judge’s proper instructions about the issues the jury was to consider.
District Attorney Randy McGinley said in a posting on Facebook he was “proud of the hard work of so many with the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office” in prosecuting and investigating the case.
He said Senior Assistant District Attorney Bailey Wilkinson handled the prosecution and the appeal, including arguing the case in front of the Supreme Court.
McGinley also singled out former Deputy Chief Assistant DA Candice Branche, who is now the Newton County Juvenile Court judge, and Investigator Josh Shumate, Victim Services Director Leslie Smith and Legal Assistant Allie Davis for their work on the case.
“Their hard work at the trial and appellate levels ensured justice was done in this case. I hope this can serve as some level of closure for Mr. Harris’s family,” McGinley said.
A Newton County jury found Knighton guilty in October 2017 of the May 2016 stabbing death of Harris after the former friends fought outside the gated Wesleyan Subdivision where Harris lived off Boogers Hill Road.
Knighton, who was 16 at the time of the incident, was convicted of malice murder and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony.
Superior Court Judge John Ott sentenced Knighton to life in prison, plus an additional mandatory five years for possession of a knife used while committing the crime, according to the court’s decision.
His attorney, Jeff Banks, moved for a new trial before Knighton hired a new attorney in mid-2019.
After another hearing, the Newton County court denied the motion in December 2019. Knighton appealed and the state Supreme Court heard the case on Sept. 15, 2020.