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Bills to pay wrongfully convicted former Georgia soldiers clear first hurdle

By JOSHUA SHARPE | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: March 11, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Efforts to compensate three former U.S. Army soldiers wrongful convicted of murder cleared the state House this week with near unanimous approval.

The trio of bills, which now head to the state Senate for consideration, would pay Mark Jones, Kenny Gardiner and Dominic Lucci $1 million each. The money would help with the struggles they face after 25 years in prison for a Savannah murder before the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously tossed their convictions in late 2017. The men work constantly, doing often grueling labor, and can't even afford to take time off for therapy.

State Rep. Derek Mallow, D- Savannah, filed the bills, asking for $1 million each, paid out in monthly checks for 20 years. An economist hired by Karsman McKenzie Hart, the Savannah law firm representing the veterans, found that they would have made $3 million if they had stayed and retired from the military. They planned to stay before they were convicted of murder in 1992 after getting caught up in a murder case while visiting Savannah for a bachelor party.

Jones had been set to marry the next morning. The friends, stationed at Fort Stewart, got lost on the way to a strip club. Around the same time, a Black man was gunned down in the street by multiple shooters who a witness said appeared to be white men in a dark car. The soldiers, white men in a dark car, happened to ask a police officer for directions as she walked the witness into the police station.

Soon the witness would falsely identify them as the killers. The witness, a Black reverend, would later say police, prosecutors and even fellow clergy encouraged him to identify the soldiers as the killers.

"We have to rightly compensate those folks just like we would anybody who's suffered an injustice," Mallow said, adding that he's hearing support from colleagues. "I think we can all agree that's an injustice."

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