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Civic Center could become trial venue

By Alan Mauldin

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    ALBANY, Georgia (Albany Herald) — An Albany entertainment venue could become the stage for the assembly of a first-ever cast of characters, but the purpose will be deadly serious as prosecutors seek to work through a backlog of murder cases.

Due to COVID-19, the Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office has postponed trials with multiple defendants in murder cases.

Through much of the pandemic the gathering of grand juries and trial juries has been curtailed, and there are a number of homicide cases that include as many as four or five defendants.

Traditional courtrooms do not provide space for social distancing needed during the pandemic for the gathering of multiple defense attorneys plus the audience of family members of victims and the accused such trials entail.

To help clear the backlog, including some cases that could bring the death penalty with convictions, the district attorney’s office has considered school gymnasiums, the former National Guard armory and Albany Civic Center as potential venues for trials.

District Attorney Greg Edwards has applied for funding through the federal American Rescue Plan Act to pay for additional costs.

“We have identified 10 cases that we are using as a base for immediate attention if we get these funds,” Edwards said. “There are ARPA funds that are being distributed by the Georgia Supreme Court. We are asking for funds to hire staff and use special venues such as the Civic Center to try these cases.”

In addition to the defense attorneys and audience members the trials will draw, there also will be enhanced security personnel required. The 10 trials identified are murder cases, and two armed robbery cases involving multiple defendants also could be put on the docket for the special sessions.

“The main issue, in addition to being spread out, is security, both for defendants and court staff,” Edwards said. “That’s why the Civic Center is being looked at.

“We really looked at a lot of places. What you need is a wide area where you can distribute tables. We need infrastructure, with access to computers and Wi-Fi. At this point, the Civic Center offers all the necessary infrastructure and security.”

During the pandemic, the Civic Center has played host to events other than traditional concerts, which also were shut down for months due to COVID-19, including early voting for the 2020 election.

If approved for funding, Edwards’ office is looking at handling as many of the identified cases as possible during a special trial term before July 2022.

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