The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the ruling by a Chatham County Superior Court judge dismissing charges against a man accused in the 2003 death, kidnapping and sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl.
Ashleigh Moore disappeared from her home early on the morning of April 18, 2003. The next day, Ashleigh's mother's live-in boyfriend Bobby Lavon Buckner was arrested in connection with her death.
Police said Buckner had been alone with Ashleigh and two other children, which violated of a condition of his probation. Buckner admitted that he violated his probation and pleaded guilty to sex crimes with four other children, according to court documents. Her body was found three weeks after Ashleigh's disappearance.
Buckner was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is an inmate at Calhoun State Prison.
Buckner was indicted in December 2007 by a grand jury on charges of murder, kidnapping and child molestation and was re-indicted in May 2009.
In 2010, the lead prosecutor resigned from the district attorney's office and the case was re-indicted a third time in March 2011. On the 10th time the case was set for trial, prosecutors announced in April 2011 that the state would seek the death penalty and the case was reassigned to another Judge Penny Haas Freesemann , according to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The case was reassigned to the Capital Defender's Office and Buckner was appointed two new attorneys and more than 140 motions were filed, according to the Georgia Supreme Court. In August 2011, the state announced it would not seek the death penalty and trial was reset for February 2012.
In December 2011, Buckner filed his motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated.
On May 30, 2012, Freesemann granted Buckner's motion to dismiss the indictment because on prosecutors violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
An appeal was filed by Larry Chisolm, the Chatham County District Attorney at the time, to the state Supreme Court.
"Upon our review, we cannot say that the trial court clearly erred in its assessment of the relevant facts, and we cannot say that its ultimate conclusion, which appears reasoned and reasonable, amounts to an abuse of discretion," Justice Keith Blackwell wrote for the high court. "Accordingly, we must affirm the judgment below."
The Georgia Supreme Court opinion: "The State's explanation for the significantly delayed decision to seek the death penalty fails to persuade us that the trial court was unreasonable in its assessment of the delay occasioned by that decision."
"The trial court appears to have thought that someone in the office of the prosecuting attorney ought to have carefully reviewed the case file long before December 2010, and that it should have occurred to someone in that office long before March 2011 that the death penalty perhaps ought to be sought. Such thoughts are not unreasonable ones. After all, in a case like this one – involving a convicted sex offender accused of murdering, kidnapping, and sexually abusing a child – the idea that the death penalty perhaps might be warranted is hardly a novel one."