The guilty plea entered by Darrell Antonio Crowder in the 2008 murder of his estranged wife has been overturned by the Supreme Court, despite Newton County Superior Court Judge Eugene Benton's denial for a new trial in 2010.
Crowder, 52, is accused on 17 counts related to the murder of his 43-year-old estranged wife Catcilia. She was shot to death in her Newton County home Jan. 16, 2008. According to investigators, Crowder left his work at a post office distribution room in Atlanta after exchanging angry texts with Catcilia for several hours, drove to her home, kicked in the back door and fired shots in her direction.
As she ran from Crowder, he followed her, and when she fled into a bathroom inside her bedroom he fired through the door, striking her in the shoulder. He then forced his way into the bathroom and shot her twice more in the head. After that, Crowder returned to work, according to investigators.
The couple's 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old friend who had spent the night with her were in the home at the time of the murder.
The 49-year-old received life plus five years in 2009 after pleading guilty. He was required to serve 30 years before being eligible for parole.
In 2010 Crowder pleaded ineffective assistance of council shortly after his sentence was imposed, saying his attorney had misinformed him about his eligibility of parole and told him that he would not have to serve a full 30 years before parole eligibility. He said in court that had he known that, he would have insisted on a trial.
Despite his testimony, Benton denied his request to withdraw his guilty plea and go forward with a jury trial in the case. Crowder then filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court.
According to court documents from the Supreme Court, "there is no constitutional requirement that a defendant be informed of his parole eligibility prior to entering a guilty plea for a guilty plea to be voluntary... Should, however, counsel make an affirmative misrepresentation about the collateral consequences of a plea, such as parole eligibility, the misrepresentation may form the basis of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim."
The ruling goes further, saying Crowder's defense attorney "did not accurately state the law when he advised appellant would serve ‘probably 20 years or in excess of 20 years' and was not subject to serve a minimum of 30 years before becoming eligible...Thus, contrary to trial court's conclusion, counsel was deficient in that regard."
Crowder will have his pre-trial hearing March 7. His trial is scheduled to begin this spring.