A man convicted of raping and strangling to death a woman at her home in McDuffie County in March 2004 is seeking a new trial.
Dannie Lee Samuels, Jr., of Thomson, appeared before Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. on Tuesday, June 2, is making such a request based on the following grounds:
The verdict was contrary to the evidence and without evidence to support it;
The verdict was contrary to the law and principles of justice and equity;
Whether or not the state proved the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence was nevertheless sufficiently close so as to warrant the court to exercise its discretion to grant a new trial;
The court committed an error of law warranting a new trial;
The sentence imposed by the court was improper and excessive; and
The trial counsel was ineffective.
Mr. Samuels, through his attorney, Sara Meyers, who is with the Toombs Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office, requested the hearing held last week to present argument and evidence to support her client's motion for a new trial.
Judge Dunaway is expected to render a ruling concerning Mr. Samuels' request in the near future. His statement came after he heard about 40 minutes worth of comments from Ms. Myers, Mr. Samuels -- the only person who testified -- and Chief Assistant District Attorney Durwood Davis.
Judge Dunaway found Mr. Samuels guilty of the brutal slaying of 53-year-old Barbara Oliphant Hefner on Aug. 20, 2009 in McDuffie County Superior Court in Thomson.
It followed a bench trial that included nearly three days of testimony. Mr. Samuels had sought a bench trial in order to avoid the death penalty which District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders had planned to seek against him.
The judge ended up sentencing Mr. Samuels to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Mr. Samuels was 34 at the time.
Dressed in tan slacks and a plaid shirt, Mr. Samuels told Judge Dunaway and others attending the hearing last week that he was appointed between seven and eight attorneys from the time he was arrested and charged with the crimes against Ms. Hefner.
"They continued to appoint me new attorneys," Mr. Samuels said. "I went through several of them."
He said he was told by one attorney that it was "good to have fresh, new minds."
Mr. Samuels said he felt that was to a disadvantage to him. He claimed he wanted certain people to testify on his behalf, but for some reason, they were never added to the witness list -- thus they never testified during his trial.
He named at least three people -- all of whom had felony convictions, according to Mr. Davis.
Mr. Samuels said he gave up the right to be tried by a jury, "because my attorneys felt it was in my best interest at the time."
He said the idea of changing where the trial would be held also was discussed.
"The issue was brought to the judge," Mr. Samuels said, noting he mentioned to his attorneys that he had concerns about being tried in McDuffie County. "I didn't have a choice."
Mr. Samuels added, "I felt I had a really complex case. I felt there was room for error.
I felt I was being rushed to do this. I feel like I didn't get treated as fairly as I should have."
Under questioning by the chief assistant district attorney, Mr. Davis asked Mr. Samuels didn't he confess to the murder of Ms. Hefner and wasn't it his DNA that was found inside Ms. Hefner after he raped her.
Under questioning by Ms. Meyers concerning his confession to authorities at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 7 Office in Thomson, Mr. Samuels said, "I feel I was forced to say it."
Mr. Davis contended that Mr. Samuels knew he was in custody.
"It was quite stressful, wasn't it," Mr. Davis asked.
Mr. Samuels replied, "Yes sir."
He said Sheriff Logan Marshall had mentioned helping him before he confessed to the crimes.
Mr. Davis said Sheriff Marshall had helped him, even when he was younger and running with what the sheriff thought was the "wrong crowd."
Those involved in talking with Mr. Samuels at the GBI office, including Special Agent Teddy Jackson, now retired, "wanted you to help yourself by telling the truth," Mr. Davis said.