The District Attorney’s Office lost another trial Wednesday after a jury acquitted a woman of felony Entering Auto charges.
Martha Amanda Sheley was tried before a jury and Judge Ronald Thompson Wednesday on charges stemming from an October 2020 incident when she hit a deer and then a tree, causing her vehicle to catch on fire. The jury, however, heard only a small presentation of evidence and returned a verdict around lunch.
On October 6, 2020, Sheley was traveling on Highway 67 toward Pembroke when she struck a deer and then collided with a tree. According to public records, Sheley regained consciousness due to the vehicle being on fire. She left the scene of the vehicle on foot and knocked on doors in the area, seeking help, before walking to a gas station further up the road.
Deputy I.J. Johnson, the first responding deputy with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, said in his narrative that he was dispatched to a home in reference to an unknown person knocking on the door, stating they were involved in an accident with a deer. While en route, the deputy was notified that a vehicle was on fire near the area of the home. He arrived on the scene of the vehicle fire and extinguished it while waiting for the Bulloch County Fire Department.
“While I was on scene at this location, the driver of the wrecked vehicle called the Sheriff’s Office from the EnMarket on Highway 67 at I-16. Sgt. White went to that location and met with the female,” who identified herself as Martha Sheley, the report from Deputy I.J. Johnson reads. EMS responded to that location and transported the woman to EGRMC for care as she had a serious head trauma.
Law enforcement then received a call from the original homeowner reporting the woman knocking and he reported that two guns were stolen from his vehicle. A deputy responded to the scene and reported back to Deputy Johnson that ‘Martha was shown on security video, with an unknown male, at the time of the incident.’ From there, GSP handled the crash investigation and CID handled the investigation on the homeowner’s property.
The Homeowner’s Account
According to police reports, the homeowner told deputies that a female showed up to his residence asking for help. He further stated that the female told him that she was in an accident. When he told her that he was calling for law enforcement, she stated that she did not need law enforcement and left the residence. Testimony later revealed that the woman said ‘I don’t need police, I need help!’
According to the report, “the complainant then went to his vehicle and drove down the road to check on the female and see if she was really in a wreck. When he returned home, he reviewed his security camera and discovered there was a male subject inside of his vehicle. He also stated that he could hear the male subject urging the female to go to the front door and ask for help as he went to the back of the resident. He reported two pistols missing from inside the vehicle.” He later testified in trial that there were maybe four guns in his car but he couldn’t be sure.
A handwritten note on a property listing incident report indicates that at least one of the guns was later taken out of the NCIC database for stolen weapons as “it was found by the owner.” The note is not dated.
The Investigator’s Report/Questioning of Sheley
The homeowner provided four short segment videos to BCSO from the home security footage.
TGV News reviewed both the videos and the investigative reports summarizing the videos.
- In the first video, Sheley appears alone and can be seen walking around the yard. Twice, she calls for ‘help.’
- In the second video, Sheley is in the video alone and can be heard saying “Is anyone home?” A car door closing noise can also be heard, but is not visible in the video.
- In the third video, Sheley again appears in the video, walking alone, in the yard.
- In the fourth video, Sheley is walking alone in the video and can be heard saying, “Hello? Is anyone here? I’m sorry to bother you, I just got in a wreck. A deer ran out in front of me. My car hit a tree and it blew up.” She walked out of the frame and the video ended.
There are no videos of ‘a male on camera’ as reported by the homeowner. There’s also no exchange of conversation where the homeowner reportedly told the woman he would call 911 and she said she did not need law enforcement. Neither event is mentioned as evidenced in the Investigative Report prepared by BCSO.
Sheley spoke willingly with investigators and told them that she wrecked trying to avoid hitting a deer. She said she was “knocked out” by the airbag and woke up to the vehicle being on fire. Her phone and everything else was in the vehicle at the time and she did not gather anything before climbing out of the vehicle to search for help. Sheley was adamant that she was alone in the vehicle. She told investigators that she tried to get help and saw the truck near the house, prompting her to approach the residence.
“I was surprised that, ya’ know, it was even unlocked and I wasn’t trying to steal anything. I was hoping for a phone or something.”
From the Investigative Supplemental Report:
“She initially stated that she did not steal anything from the victim’s truck. I told Sheley that she was on camera stealing an item from the truck. Sheley admitted that she removed the jacket from the truck, but she did not steal any firearms. The interview concluded shortly thereafter.”
Upon learning that Sheley left the hospital, investigators instructed deputies to arrest Sheley for Entering Auto with an investigative hold if she could be located. Shortly thereafter, she was located and placed under arrest.
The Georgia State Patrol issued citations to Sheley for:
- Hit & Run (a misdemeanor traffic offense)
- According to the traffic citation, Sheley ‘left the scene of the accident on foot, left the hospital on foot’
- Failure to Maintain Lane (a minor traffic offense) for leaving the roadway after reportedly striking a deer.
- Expired License (a minor traffic offense)
- No Proof of Insurance (a traffic offense)
The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office subsequently issued a warrant for the arrest of Sheley for Entering Auto with Intent to Commit a theft or a Felony (felony). According to the warrant, “Sheley unlawfully entered the vehicle and stole a jacket.”
It was later revealed that the jacket was not taken from the scene and was not in Sheley’s possession.
Sheley was arrested and booked into the Bulloch County Jail on those offenses and spent 36 days in jail before Judge Michael Muldrew set bond.
The district attorney’s office used the accusation process as opposed to grand jury proceedings to bring formal charges against Sheley in March of 2021. Noticeably absent from any further prosecution was the ‘Hit & Run’ charge, seemingly illustrating a lack of sufficient evidence to prosecute that charge.
On Wednesday, Chief ADA Barclay Black, most well-known for his zealous prosecution of a domestic violence victim who defended herself against her abuser, tried the case for the state. Sheley was represented by Savannah attorney Skye Musson.
The guns were not an integral part of the trial, as there was no evidence that Sheley ever stole them, and the state presented no evidence that a male was at the scene, encouraging her to approach the homeowner.
Twenty-eight months after the incident, after less than a half day of trial, a Bulloch County jury found Sheley not guilty of the felony charges and guilty only of two traffic citations: Insurance Requirements (No Proof) and Expired License. She was also found ‘not guilty’ on the Failure to Maintain Lane charge.
Even still, Chief ADA Black asked for Sheley to serve time in jail for the traffic offenses — a total of six months in the county jail.
Judge Thompson, however, suggested the jury had spoken. Sheley’s sentence was suspended jail sentence of 12 months, meaning she will not serve a single day, and a $175 fine.
Resources expended for the prosecution of this case as a felony include:
- 14 jurors for two days (jury selection and the one-day trial)
- Subpoenas of 8 law enforcement officers called as witnesses in the case, most of whom were called to court on their days off. Resources were also expended to serve their subpoenas.
- Jury selection process before a Superior Court Judge
- Prosecutors from the district attorney’s office, which claims to be overloaded and attempting to work through a back log
- A Superior Court judge to oversee the trial
- A court reporter for jury selection and a trial
- 36 days in jail at a rate of ~$45/day
Currently, there are at least a dozen murder cases pending in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit and dozens of other serious felony cases, including child molestation, rape, and aggravated assaults – all of which were sidelined for the prosecution of this case.
For more stories from the tenure of District Attorney Daphne Totten, click here.