In only the second time ever while on the Rockdale County bench, Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation granted a retrial in the case of Nathan Christopher Dwight on Thursday.
The motion for retrial was originally heard on Aug. 8 but was sent to recess as Nation said it was his job as the 13th juror to determine if a witness was credible.
On Thursday he reached that determination after the state’s attorney and Dwight’s attorney Albert Myers argued whether witness statements and descriptions were accurate.
“The question in my mind is am I satisfied that this man should go to prison for the rest of his life based on the evidence such as I just described,” Nation asked himself before granting the retrial. “And, I am not.
“I realize this is very, very serious to grant a new trial, and I don’t do it lightly. I do it very seriously. But I’m not going to let him or anybody else stay in prison for the rest of their life on something as iffy as this is.”
In particular, Nation said he did not see the same scar on Dwight at the trial that the witness who was carjacked in Decatur said she saw.
“(Dwight) stood up and stood 12 inches from the bench and I leaned toward the front of the bench and looked him dead in the eye, and I didn’t see a scar. I didn’t see a bruise or anything. It wasn’t there,” Nation said. “As a matter of fact in a very low voice I looked at him and I said, ‘What in the hell is she talking about?’
“That identification is the lynchpin of the state’s case. Without that identification the state would have zero circumstantial evidence in this case.”
Dwight, 22 of Conyers, was sentenced to life plus five years in prison in July 2010 after being found guilty of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime during a robbery of a Hispanic grocery store. He will now have another chance to argue his innocence before a jury.
The motion for retrial began on Aug. 8 when Dwight’s attorney Albert Myers brought a DNA and a fiber analyst to bring up the question of Dwight committing the crime. As the motion went to recess, Nation brought up the question of the witness.
On Monday the defense and the state argued the validity of the statement from the witness who was carjacked along with the identification made by the two witnesses in the store which was robbed.
Along with the identified scar below his left eye being in question, there was also the identification and misidentification of a Hispanic grocery store in Conyers.
In one photo lineup one of the grocery store witnesses identified Dwight, and in another lineup the other witness did not.
This questionable identification led Nation to declare a retrial - just the second time during the 19 years on the bench.
The first one came during a motion trial when Nation ruled that the defendant’s right to council had been violated.
“I have never sent somebody off to prison where I had any personal doubt about their innocence,” Nation said. “I have thought about this case a lot.”