ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a teenage girl who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her mother, concluding on Tuesday that the trial court shouldn't have allowed prosecutors to introduce a "curse" found among her belongings and pictures of her wearing Gothic outfits that suggested she held satanic beliefs.
The court's unanimous opinion reversed a Gilmer County jury's verdict finding that Debra Boring's 15-year-old daughter was guilty of her December 2005 murder. The teen was arrested two months after her mother was found dead in the front doorway of their home with a gunshot wound to the back of her head, and she was convicted after a two-week trial that captivated the north Georgia county.
The justices found that there was enough evidence to back up the teenager's conviction, but they took issue with how prosecutors characterized her as living a "gothic lifestyle."
State attorneys used as evidence photos of the teen with dyed black hair and dark makeup, a document with the word "curse" that was to be read over a black candle, handwritten quotes on her bedroom walls and inscriptions that a prosecutor claimed were quotations from the founder of the Satanic Church.
The evidence was "clearly integral to the state's strategy of portraying appellant as a deviant capable of murdering her mother, in the absence of any other evidence suggesting she had a violent or angry nature," said the opinion, written by Chief Justice Carol Hunstein. It found that the teen's alleged satanic beliefs "bore no specific nexus with the crime."
At the trial, attorneys introduced evidence that Debra's husband Rodney was an alcoholic and verbally abusive to his wife and daughter, and a neighbor said he'd heard loud arguments at their house and spotted a patrol car at the home. Prosecutors also said the teen got into a bitter argument with her parents about a week before the shooting after they caught her sneaking out to be with her 19-year-old boyfriend.
The teen, meanwhile, consistently denied shooting her mother and none of the 20 or so friends and teachers interviewed by police implicated her in the shooting or any other act of violence.
Prosecutors now have the option of retrying the suspect, who is still being held in prison pending an appeal. Gilmer County District Attorney Joe Hendricks said he believed she received a fair trial, and said the office is weighing its options.
Jimmonique Rodgers, the daughter's attorney, said her client was vindicated by the ruling and criticized the state's use of what she called a "shock tactic."
"She could be up for a new trial, but the evidence that has been used against her was excessive use of prejudicial and emotionally inflammatory evidence that had nothing to do with the case," said Rodgers. "I'm ready to fight this case again, and committed to making sure something like this doesn't happen again. We need to hold their feet to the fire, and make sure they don't run ramshod over defendants."