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Courthouse affair ruins 5 felony verdicts

Carjacking, kidnapping, bank robbery, child molestation, burglary verdicts thrown out; several criminal trials get do-overs, thanks to judge-public defender affair

A once-respected judge’s long-term sexual tryst with a public defender has come back to haunt several victims who believed they had received justice in his court.

An extramarital affair between a local judge and criminal defense attorney has resulted in five defendants being granted new trials in Fayette County Superior Court.

Fayette District Attorney Scott Ballard called the reversals “ripping the scabs off” victims’ wounds as they are forced to face again the men convicted of the crimes against them. More troubling, there’s no guarantee the once-convicted criminals will go back to jail after their new trials.

The Georgia Supreme Court on May 19 declined to reverse a ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals, which had upheld the new trial ruling from October 2012 granted by Senior Superior Court Judge Harold G. Benefield.

Benefield’s decision was based on the facts that then-Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English presided over four cases in which his paramour — then-public defense attorney Kimberly Cornwell — represented four of the five defendants. The fifth defendant granted a new trial was a co-defendant in one of the cases and was represented by other counsel.

The affair was exposed in spring 2010 a short time after English abruptly resigned from office, as officials confirmed that a Fayette County sheriff’s deputy in October 2008 observed English and Cornwell engaged in a sexual act inside a car parked in a vacant subdivision on the edge of Fayetteville.

The appeals court determined that other evidence showed it was likely the affair continued through August 2009 and perhaps into March 2010, just weeks before the affair was exposed, during a cheeky exchange between English and Cornwell that was recorded in the transcript of one of the trials.

Both Judge English and Cornwell should have notified the defendants of their relationship going into the case, or English should have recused himself, Benefield wrote in his order granting new trials.

“The client is entitled to know, without doubt, that it is his interests which the lawyer is seeking to protect and not those of herself and her lover-judge,” Benefield wrote.

The defendants granted new trials were:

• Christopher Deangelo Wakefield and Travion Marquez Willis, co-defendants found guilty of five felony counts including armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from a carjacking incident in Fayetteville. English had sentenced them both to life in prison plus an additional 20 years;

• Calvin Obie Boynton, found guilty of armed robbery, aggravated assault and other charges from a May 2009 bank robbery in Peachtree City. English had sentenced him to life plus 30 years in prison;

• William Jacob Nutt, found guilty of aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery for raping a relative days after he got out of prison. English had sentenced him to life in prison; and

• Rashad Terrez Arnold, found guilty of burglary. English had sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Each defendant was tried after the Oct. 2008 instance in which English and Cornwell were spotted by the sheriff’s deputy in the middle of a sexual act. Evidence in court later showed that English attended a drug court conference in Reno, Nevada without telling his administrative assistant. There was also testimony that Cornwell told a co-worker at the conference that English was also present.

District Attorney Scott Ballard said Tuesday that he will personally prosecute each case himself.

“I’m not pretending it’s going to be easy,” Ballard said. “We don’t know what kind of witness problems we might have. I know the victim in one of the cases has gone to prison. This is not going to be easy but it is what we’ve got to do and we’re going to gear up and do it.”

Left, Fayette District Attorney Scott Ballard. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Ballard said he worried about the emotional upheaval facing the victims during the new trials.

“They thought they had finality, they thought this was behind them,” Ballard said. “We’re ripping the scabs off their wounds and now they will have to go into court and relive what happened through no fault of their own. They didn’t do anything wrong.”

Ballard pointed out that no court has ever ruled the convictions were wrongfully obtained or that the verdicts were inappropriate.

“The decision is that because of the actions of a few people in the court system, these victims have to undergo new trials and these guilty defendants get new trials that we don’t think they deserve,” Ballard said. “But the courts have spoken and we’ll gear up for it. ... All we can do is focus on these particular cases and try to see that justice is done again.”

In his order, Benefield gave an example of how the secret extramarital relationship between Judge English and Cornwell could have created bias against defendants at trial. He notes the case against Travion Willis, represented by Cornwell and co-defendant Christopher Wakefield, who was represented by another attorney.

That trial took place “less than one month after the judge and attorney were caught having sex,” Benefield wrote, noting that English denied a continuance to Wakefield even though his attorney had been involved in the case for just two weeks.

“One might also wonder if the judge’s failure to have charged the jury on the basic and critical principle that their decision must be unanimous, as the trial transcript reveals, was in some way attributable to his own emotional instability given the wave of infamy which might at any moment have swept over him, as it ultimately did. One simply cannot know,” Benefield wrote.

English’s credibility has also been called into question for perhaps being too light in one of the cases, as he gave a 10-year prison sentence to Rashad Terrez Arnold in the burglary case despite a previous conviction for a violent felony: aggravated assault.

“With an aggravated assault and other felonies, I am just kind of surprised that he didn’t get 20 years to serve,” Fayette County Superior Court Judge Fletcher Sams said in a court hearing earlier this year on the motions for new trial in the case. Sams later recused himself from considering the motions and Benefield was appointed to hear the matter.

Benefield was distressed in arriving at the original decision to grant the new trial requests in part, he wrote, because it was clear from the trial transcripts that “the evidence which was given to the juries was more, far more than sufficient to support verdicts of guilty.”

Fayette County Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards on April 28, 2010 ordered District Attorney Ballard and Chief Public Defender Joe Saia to investigate the rumored affair between Judge English and Cornwell. At that moment, English had resigned more than a week prior ... and was serving his last few days as chief superior court judge of the circuit.

While Judge Edwards ordered the investigation on the English-Cornwell affair, he did so “to bring into the open matters that he felt had been allowed to remain secret for too long,” Ballard said at the time.

Ballard, also in May 2010, said it “appears” that Edwards ordered the investigation to protect himself “from being accused of covering up wrongdoing by a fellow judge.” Ballard also confirmed at the time that while he was unaware of the physical relationship between English and Cornwell prior to the investigation, he added that he “knew they spent some time together and I knew they were close.”

Part of the investigation determined that in September 2009, English steered some of Cornwell’s cases to his courtroom during calendar call for trial week.



Shoebox's picture

When you do wrong, someone will always find out!

Busy Bee's picture

Stupid is as stupid does.

ptctaxpayer's picture

My Mama Always Said "You're a Dumb Ass !!!"

In this case, we the taxpayers are the dumb asses. I don't give a crap about Pappy or Kimmy. There hasn't been enough reporting on it though. What frosts my pumpkins is that Pappy gets a nice fat six figure pension. Who's stupid now ?

Judge English was a great judge and he made a major, hugely piss poor choice of actions that had a huge affect on a lot of people around him - not just the Defendants and the Victims and the DA's office; but this newspaper has dragged his name through the mud for over four years now and never once published a picture or a comment about the seriously negative effect Kim Cornwell had with her involvement in this situation. It is hard enough for female trial attorneys to try and earn respect and wade through the terrain of non stop sexual harassment, put downs, being discounted or having their success credited to how they must be using the power of their looks or flirting, without having a female attorneys actions actually help confirm all these stereotypes and gender discriminations.

John Mumford, enough with the attacking Pappy. If you're gonna go after one - go after the other equally, or just leave it alone already. You've already reported this exact same story, with the exact same quotes from the exact same people at least twice already. It's old and one sided and aggravating.

Cyclist's picture

Next time you see old Pappy, tell him thanks.

Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

highflyer2's picture

Just like when the courthouse was BROKEN into a few years back, why wasn't that explored more? Why was no one ever prosecuted for that?

It's use to be called "no balls", don't really know what's it's called now but it makes me want to throw up!

I?__ll never understand why (1) the sheriff (Randall Johnson) withheld the information he had about Judge English (with all its blackmail potential while it was withheld), and (2) why our watchdogs in the press have never picked up on that. They never asked, why did it take so long for the information to come out? It was (and still is) their job to ask.

highflyer2's picture

Another instance was given to the Chief magistrate a few years later and it was deemed "unappropriate because of the race issue". So now we have a plaque saying how great he was. Really though, who cares?

He had an affair, committed adultery and you say its no big deal. He was not a good judge of character, now the citizens are the ones paying the price, and he is scot-free. Men and women like this are poor examples before our children and should be held accountable for their actions. I might add they were to cheap to go to a private facility to have sex so instead they exposed themselves in a public area where they could be found.

Now I ask you, was that a smart thing to do? As a citizen of Fayette County I am embarrassed.

highflyer2's picture

I didn't say it was no big deal, I was TOLD it was no big deal and it wouldn't be a good idea to pursuer it because it would embarrass his wife and the county.

You have no idea how bad I want to open up and let the chips fall where they may but then again from what I hear everyone thinks things can't get no better!

I'd rather sit back and watch and take notes, BIG elections coming up in 2 years. I'll wait till then.

Several weeks ago Obama let 5 terrorists go free in exchange for 1 alleged deserter from the US Army.

Who do we get in exchange?

How about the editor of this newspaper whose reporting on this case is absolutely redundant ? How many times do we have to read they were caught having sex? Or the word paramour?

Maybe next time we can read the name of the subdivision where the act took place?

Several weeks ago Obama let 5 terrorists go free in exchange for 1 alleged deserter from the US Army.

Who do we get in exchange?

How about the editor of this newspaper whose reporting on this case is biased and absolutely redundant ? How many times do we have to read they were caught having sex? Or the word paramour?

Maybe next time we can read the name of the subdivision where the act took place?

How does one delete an extra posted comment?

You don't. The best you can do is edit your comment by pressing edit and deleting it and putting one . in the text line. You can only edit if you are logged on and see the edit below your comment.

Also, you can only do that if someone has not gone in after you and replied to your comment.

So, if you hurry, you can delete the last one here.

It helps if you be patient when you press the save key. The little munchkin inside here who speed reads everything before it posts gets really annoyed when you press the save key multiple times and this is his funny little payback game. Got it?

Robert W. Morgan's picture

First question about the 5 for 1 swap - we get nothing, but a more important question would be how much American money was filtered through the system and found its way back to the Tailiban who actually paid off the Bergdahl kidnappers to let him go. Follow the money.

Second question, where did Kim and Pappy have sex? 4 times at the Wyndham, I have been told, 1 time at the boat dock on Lake Kedron and when they got caught - Whitewater Creek on the street next to Harold Bost's' house or so I have been led to believe. Hope none of the convicted felons get out because of this.

Third question, although you did not ask - What is gonna happen with the missing Lois Lerner e-mails? Well, she's going to get put in jail if she doesn't talk and if she does - Valerie Jarrett will take the fall. I'm hoping they get put in the same cell. You do remember Nixon was about to get impeached before he quit because he was using he IRS to punish political opponents. You do remember that doncha? Or read about it?

And one more. Democrats in charge really screw things up. And so do Republicans. Nothing good since Reagan on the right or JFK on the left - although he would be appalled by the Democrat Party today.

Live free or die!

PTC Observer's picture

if these two have been disbarred?

If not now, then when?

Is practicing for a firm in ATL.

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