Dougherty County district attorney to focus on murder cases, elder abuse, protecting businesses in 2023

Jan. 4—ALBANY — These commitments don't include things like losing weight or doing better with finances, but for Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards, three areas he has emphasized for 2023 are New Year's resolutions of a sort.

First on his list is resolving some of the backlog of homicide cases that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which in-person court proceedings were prohibited for a lengthy period. That delay was compounded by flooding in the Dougherty County courthouse caused by a faulty water feed to a coffee machine and a yearlong renovation project to complete repairs.

Among the murder cases outstanding is a suspect in a homicide that involved several individuals in what has been dubbed "the Sand Trap murder," Edwards said, referring to an Albany nightclub.

"That's one remaining defendant, and he will be tried as (soon as) this coming Monday," he said. "In February and March, we have a number of homicide cases we will try. There are about 12 cases that are ready for trial."

Second for the DA is taking care of elderly residents who are victims of crimes, whether financial or physical abuse.

"We need to look a lot closer at elder abuse," he said. "That seems to be an issue. While we're looking at many things, elder abuse seems to be on the rise because the general population of the country seems to be older.

"We're seeing a lot of elder abuse cases."

Edwards said he plans to meet with groups, including Georgia Adult Protective Services.

"We'll meet with them to let them know what we need to make effective cases," he said.

Those cases can be difficult, like child molestation cases, because they not only can involve individuals with dementia but also carry a stigma.

"In a lot of cases, it's the children abusing a parent," Edwards said. "The dynamics of parents and their children are pretty significant. Even without dementia, there's still those child/parent relationships. There are a lot of dynamics to those cases. We're going to address these in a methodical manner and address these issues like safety and (financial) exploitation."

The third area to be addressed in the DA's initiative is helping out the business community.

"We've had businesses that have been repeatedly burglarized," he said. "If we can, we'll make sure that people who can be identified in those cases get maximum attention. It's important that businesses are protected in Albany, so we're going to make a focus of that."

Another impediment to quick resolutions is one that, like COVID, impacted the entire state: a shortage of personnel in the office, including assistant district attorneys. The Dougherty County office has a shortage of about six assistants, and public defenders' offices also are having a tough time filling positions.

It takes both sides of that equation to move cases along, Edwards said.

"I'm still down a number of personnel at this point," he said. "I've interviewed people. I hired one, and he was supposed to have started yesterday (Tuesday). He supposedly was offered more money in another jurisdiction. He emailed us during the holidays to say he had accepted another position."

Of the murder trials pending, there are 140 defendants in 51 cases, meaning there are several that involve four and sometimes as many as five defendants. Those cases require the most time because of the need to schedule multiple defense attorneys, along with prosecutors, for hearings and trials.

There are an additional 15 vehicular homicide cases pending in the county.