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Clemons: McNabb murder shines light on law enforcement
David Clemons

The tragic tale of Caliyah McNabb’s too-short life has consumed the interest of people in Newton County this week.

There’s good reason for that. This is a community where people care about each other, and the idea of an infant dying is particularly unspeakable.

The fact a parent is accused makes this even worse.

No one on earth can make this better, can help it make sense.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that some measure of earthly justice might be attained, and that’s where the fine folks in law enforcement come in.

Fortunately, the men and women in the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and district attorney’s office are more than capable in that regard.

Sadly, though, this isn’t the first case that’s come the way of District Attorney Layla Zon and her team. Currently they’re prosecuting Jamie Marie Cason Whited and Justin Lee Whited, who were charged with murder after the August 2016 death of their infant daughter, Dinah Paige Whited.

Police were called to the Whited home in Monroe in April 2016 when Dinah — then a little more than a month old — wasn’t breathing. She was taken to the hospital in town, then rushed to a children’s hospital in Atlanta.

She stayed on life support until a judge ordered she could be extubated. Even then, Dinah fought.

Within a day of her death, murder warrants were issued against the parents, adding to the child cruelty charges they already faced.

(Jamie Whited remains in the Newton County Detention Center awaiting trial.)

Other than just being another sad story about the death of a baby, the Dinah Whited case offers us some clues about what might be coming in the quest for justice for Caliyah McNabb.

In the 2016 case, I was able to report prosecutors had the option of Georgia’s most serious penalties: life with parole, life without parole or the death penalty.

Although Zon couldn’t speak in specifics, she did tell me a little about these kinds of cases.

“Those are the available punishments for the charge of murder, but there are certain circumstances which will determine whether a particular murder case is eligible for the death penalty,” Zon said, speaking generally about the law.

“So, not every murder charge meets the statutory aggravating circumstances that are required before the death penalty can be sought.”

As with Jamie and Justin Whited, prosecutors leveled charges of felony murder and malice murder against Caliyah’s father, Christopher Michael McNabb. He had a first court appearance Thursday before Probate Judge Melanie Bell at the county jail.

Bond was denied.

McNabb denied the services of the public defender’s office, although I would assume that still would come into play unless he chooses to retain counsel.

The big question going forward will be if Zon and her team choose to pursue the death penalty.

Even as heinous as the death of a 15-day-old child is, especially when the alleged killer is a parent, the death penalty is hard to attain in Georgia. After conviction in a capital case, the jury must be unanimous for the death penalty.

Alabama’s repeal of judicial override earlier this year means there are now no states where the judge can impose death even if the jury votes against it. In Georgia, even an 11-1 vote for execution means is a vote to spare the life. That one vote still would mean the guilty party gets a life sentence.

The most recent local case of an execution was the December 2015 death of 47-year-old Brian Keith “Chico” Terrell. He was put to death for the 1992 killing of 70-year-old John Watson.

Terrell was tried three times for Watson. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and the second trial resulted in a conviction later overturned by the state Supreme Court. The third trial, moved to Walton County, led to conviction and execution.

Pablo Fernando Maldonado and Rodney Renia Young are on death row in Jackson for Newton County murder cases.

Expect Zon and the DA’s office to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in their work, because if Christopher McNabb goes free, it has to be on the merits of the case and not a legal technicality.

Caliyah, and the community, deserve nothing less.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.