On Monday, the high court unanimously upheld its ruling from December that denied the claim by Jamerson Mangrum of Woodstock that his trial attorney, Jimmy Berry of Marietta, had been incompetent and ineffective.
In 2009, in response to Mangrum’s first appeal in the high-profile case, the court rejected 11 of the 12 errors Mangrum claimed the trial court had made. However, it sent the case back to the trial court with directions that it consider Mangrum’s claim that his attorney was incompetent and ineffective. Last December, the trial court denied the claim and the state Supreme Court upheld that decision on Monday.
Cherokee District Attorney Garry Moss called Mangrum’s appeal a “stab in the dark” and a “last ditch effort.”
“We knew all along that the defense counsel was more than sufficiently competent,” said Moss. “He was in fact a skilled trial attorney having done a number of death penalty cases out of Marietta. We’re certainly gratified by this final conclusion and we hope to move forward.”
In December 2005, a Cherokee jury after nine hours of deliberation convicted Mangrum of the crimes and with concealing Hamlin’s death. Mangrum was 17 years old at the time of the murder.
He was given a mandatory life sentence for murder, plus 60 years for child molestation and 20 years for other counts, to be served consecutively. Mangrum, who has maintained his innocence, is serving a life sentence at Hays State Prison in northwest Georgia.
Evidence in the trial showed that Mangrum spoke to Katie by phone at 1 a.m. July 2, 2002. An hour later, a car that neighbors believed was his was seen speeding away from his house. Five hours later, Katie’s burned body was found dumped about a mile from Mangrum’s house.
Mangrum gave conflicting statements to police and at trial, first saying he had gone to bed without seeing Katie, then saying they had consensual sex at his house, and he finally gave testimony that the two of them had sex at a friend’s apartment, where he left her.
Witnesses at the trial – who were with Mangrum in jail – testified that he told them he’d sexually assaulted Katie while another man or men held her down. They said she fought back and was choked during the attack, and then Mangrum and his accomplices burned her body to destroy evidence.
Forensic experts testified that Katie died from asphyxia and that bruising on her back was consistent with being forcibly held down. DNA evidence showing Mangrum had sexual relations with Katie also was introduced at trial.
Following Mangrum’s conviction, Berry filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.
Moss – who has served as DA since 1989 – said it was time for his office to turn its attention to more pressing matters.
“We expected this ruling and it was a matter of time for the opinion to come back,” he said. “Hopefully, now we can put this case to rest and move on other cases.”