Columns

COLUMN: We Can’t Afford Another 2 Years of District Attorney Daphne Totten

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not those of TheGeorgiaVirtue.com.


This week I learned that one of the individuals who was jailed in Bulloch County for almost two years before he stood trial and was acquitted by a jury…took his own life. 

The specifics of the who, the why, and so on will emerge when the time is right and that time is not right now. Sadly, in most places, ‘the who’ would be easy for any of you to determine by process of elimination. But in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit under the reign of District Attorney Daphne Totten, the storyline is all too common. That’s why we’re talking about it yet again.

The news from this week made me sad, furious, and more motivated to advocate for change. The point at which a man reached the end of his rope was preceded by a series of events that not only didn’t have to happen, but never should have happened. An arrest before the investigation was complete, multiple denials of motions for bond, a jury trial which revealed no real evidence, and a stigma that lasts a lifetime. Or would have, if he was still here.

I’m not a lawyer, but I worked in a law office in Cobb County before I moved down here. I worked in the legislature for nine legislative sessions and saw the voice of influence anytime lawmakers considered something to do with the criminal justice system. And in the last year and a half, I’ve covered 13 jury trials, one bench trial, and enough pre-trial motions to make your head spin. All I can say is that you learn a great deal by watching and I wish more people had the opportunity to do it. 

What I’ve learned, though, is that the way we do things in this judicial circuit is destroying people’s lives. Unlike what you see on TV, it’s not an assembly line of throwing the book at the circuit’s most violent offenders. The entire operation is on fire right now. 

The District Attorney’s Office has seemingly taken the position that it must prosecute every case that comes across the desk, irrespective of facts. The office also opposes bond for nearly every defendant, irrespective of circumstances and charges. In doing so, it has put the office in a position to present cases to the grand jury when some of the facts are still unknown because under state law, defendants are entitled to a bond after 90 days if there is no indictment. 

If you’re following, that means the DA’s office is advocating to hold people without bond when they don’t even know all the information, but presenting the case for formal prosecution because they need to buy themselves time to collect more information. However, looking at the track record of the office for nearly the first half of her first term, it doesn’t appear that the office ever collects any of that other information.

In twenty months, the office has:

  • Put a domestic violence victim in prison for defending herself against her abuser.
    • If that’s not bad enough, the woman was acquitted of Felony Murder and when the jury delivered an inconsistent verdict, the DA’s office asked for the maximum on the predicate offense. 
  • Attempted to prosecute a Trooper for defending his life against a thrice-convicted felon he believed to be using his vehicle as a weapon.
    • The DA’s office advocated against bond for 106 days and in three different bond hearings before the Trooper was released and despite 8 hours of presentation to a grand jury, received a No Bill of Indictment. After 15 months, she still has not said publicly whether or not she will try to prosecute the case again or finally close it.
  • Held off closing another officer-involved shooting case from 2021, in which Troopers, deputies, and three elected Sheriffs were involved in a chase across four counties for a man who kidnapped a woman at gunpoint and fled. 
  • Lost five sexual assault cases, costing acquitted defendants a combined 3,216 days in jail (with a price tag of $144,720 in jail costs)
  • Tried four defendants in a felony drug case for possessing the exact same marijuana and a single gun.
    • Three of the defendants were acquitted, but two of them spent over a year in jail waiting it out.
  • Technically lost the high profile Marcus Wilson case since the accelerator was on Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault charges for over two years and a jury returned Not Guilty on each and every one of those counts.
  • Opposed the resentencing of Grant Spencer as a ‘youthful offender’ to allow him access to more vocational and educational programs while incarcerated without impacting his release date.
  • Lost a trial prosecuting a man for hunting on someone else’s land.
  • Lost a two defendant Murder trial in the shooting death of A’Nyah Davis.
  • Lost a Homicide by Vehicle trial in which Totten personally yanked the case from state court to make it a felony, despite facts and law enforcement testimony supporting a misdemeanor charge
  • Promised in open court to nolle prosse a co-defendant in a murder case because he was not the trigger man. When she lost the trial of his co-defendant, she came back and personally prosecuted the one she once admitted was not the trigger man.
  • Jeopardized the case in the murder of Frank Davis Jr. because, while all of the cases above were being tried, the eye witness (and key witness) in this 2020 murder died. Of course, the DA’s office didn’t learn about it for 10 months.
  • Paved the way for an abuser to become a killer by once again giving a man probation (for the third time) for his assaults on a significant other. Now he’s standing trial for the murder of his girlfriend.

There are others, I assure you. The question, though, is how? How does a district attorney have such an deplorable track record when she gets to pick each and every case that moves forward?

The state did win a murder trial in Bulloch County recently where the defendant represented himself and in Screven County, there was a child molestation case in which the state persevered. That, of course, came after a delay from a Brady violation on the part of the state followed by another delay during a hornswoggle in jury selection. In that case, the state did not disclose to the defense or the court that one of the jurors in the pool was the parent of a victim of child molestation in another case in Screven County, which was being prosecuted by the same ADA. 

And there have been a few other ‘wins’ for the state, too. Like the conviction of man charged with attempted murder on an Effingham County Sheriff’s deputy and the multi-victim rape case out of Rincon. I credit those victories to the autonomy the ADAs have over there since Daphne Totten usually isn’t present. The autonomy comes with a price tag, of course. One of the ADAs shot himself in his office while showing his gun to another ADA. The district attorney’s office didn’t even conduct its own investigation or detail the incident in a personnel file.

But most of her ADAs have battle wounds because she sends them to war with bad facts and no ammo. Worse, Totten has tried (or been in the courtroom) for only two of the cases listed above. Marcus Wilson’s trial makes three and while she sat second chair during that trial, the only words we heard her utter were at the press conference after the verdict. Why?

I’m afraid of what two more years of District Attorney Daphne Totten mean for the four counties in our circuit. So far, lives have been ruined – and lost – livelihoods have been destroyed, victims of crime are routinely revictimized, and the taxpayers are on the hook for all of it…plus salary, benefits, and a work vehicle.

I would love nothing more than to stop writing about the antics of the District Attorney’s Office because, unlike the city government fiddling with SPLOST dollars or the county government ripe with nepotism, prosecutors have the ability to impact every facet of people’s lives. When they get it right, undoubtedly justice is served. When they get it wrong, the impacts are devastating and long-lasting. You’d think at some point Mrs. Totten would take that into consideration.

But until she does, we press on for all the people who have been wronged by her misdeeds.

Jessica Szilagyi

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Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

7 Comments

  • Avatar
    James C Desmond September 18, 2022

    Easily one of the most important journalistic functions being upheld here: Policing the borderline between prosecutorial judgment and abuse.

    Keep up the excellent work!

  • Avatar
    Vicki September 18, 2022

    Yes keep up the excellent work!

  • Avatar
    Tim Saxon September 19, 2022

    The young man to whom you refer at the top of your article is a cousin of mine, part of my extended family. It is a terrible injustice that has been done to him and his family by this prosecutor. While there may have been some poor decisions made by two young folks that brought about this chain of events, it is and was an avoidable situation that he remained in jail for 500+ without bond. He was not a flight risk. And this prosecutor’s inept job performance and misdeeds make her complicit in Paul’s death in my opinion. Please keep your foot on the gas this. For Paul’s sake, there need to be some justice here

  • Avatar
    Suzanne Basham September 20, 2022

    Thank you so much for your reporting. Paul was my family as well. Please keep this reporting going as fast and hard as possible so that no other parents/families have to endure the horrific loss and pain that could have been avoided.

  • Avatar
    Sarah Thompson September 21, 2022

    Devastating leadership. It would be interesting to see if she could turn a 150 page file into an act of statewide heroism. Includes felony crime. Time is ticking.

  • Avatar
    Brenda Albanese October 10, 2022

    The story regarding the child molester in Screven County could be my son’s story. He sat in jail for one year and nine months to be released on an ankle monitor for an additional year to wait for trial. This makes a total of four years his nine year old son misses the only parent he has. The only difference is my son got 40 years….after the jury acquitted on all five charges they came back and changed their minds to one count aggravated and one regular charge of child molestation. He raised the twins from birth to five years and, I guess, woke up and decided to become a child molester. You know, after bio dad got out of prison for meth making owing 3 years worth of child support for three children. Step parents make up 65% of the wrongful accused in child molestation cases.

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