Bobby Buckner (Source: Chatham Co. Sheriff's Office)
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -
A Savannah man accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 12-year-old Savannah girl is no longer facing charges for the crime.
The Georgia Supreme Court announced Monday it had upheld a Superior Court ruling dismissing charges against Bobby Buckner, claiming the state, more specifically the Chatham County District Attorney's Office, violated Buckner's right to a fair and speedy trial.
This is likely the end, according to new Chatham County DA Meg Heap. She says the state has one last avenue, which is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Georgia Supreme Court ruling. However, she says the U.S. Supreme Court rarely does a review in these kinds of cases.
Last May, Judge Penny Haas Freesman threw the case against Bobby Buckner out just before it was scheduled to go to trial after what she described was a clear violation of his right to a fair trial despite evidence suggesting he killed Ashleigh Moore, 12. Buckner was first indicted in 2007, under District Attorney Spencer Lawton, and again in 2009 and 2011 under District Attorney Larry Chisholm.
When it came time for trial last year, it simply had taken too long. Judge Freesman, in her ruling, called the DA's office unprepared.
It's a situation new District Attorney Heap, even though she was not involved in the original case or even district attorney last year, calls a travesty and says she takes to heart vowing it will not happen again.
"If a case like this occurs, number one, I have to be involved in that. The buck stops with me. That's one that should have been fly spect from the beginning, someone should have stayed on that and been prepared and worked with police and that didn't happen," Heap told WTOC. "That's the travesty of all this. We have a 12-year-old little girl who will never have justice."
The lead prosecutor in the case, assistant DA Greg McConnell, left the DA's office shortly after Chisolm took office.
Michelle Moore, Ashleigh's mother, says her family was shocked, disgusted and upset but were prepared. They still believe, without a doubt, Buckner killed Ashleigh Moore.
For her mother, the woman who brought Bobby Buckner into her family's life, the pain and guilt may be even deeper.
"I believed in the good of all people and it takes my daughters death for me to realize everybody does not have your best interest at heart. Everybody is not good. That is what I have to live with," Moore said Monday, via phone from Atlanta.
10 years ago, her daughter Ashleigh, a Savannah 7th grader, went missing and was later found dead. Michelle's boyfriend, Bobby Buckner, was indicted four years later for Ashleigh's kidnapping, rape and murder.
"I'm always going to regret even encountering him and not being mature enough to ask the right questions" Moore said of Buckner.
It was Michelle Moore who met Buckner while he was in the jail where she worked, began a relationship and brought him home.
"I found out he should not be around my kids after my daughter was dead," Moore said.
Moore says she blames herself for her daughter's death, but she also blames the system and the district attorney's office for letting the man she believes killed her daughter go free after he finishes serving his current sentence for an unrelated crime.
"It's not on Mrs. Heap, but as a unit, we are disgusted because from the beginning we waited, sat back quietly and allowed them to do what they needed to do," Moore said. "It's unfortunate we learned the hard way. Maybe we should have made some noise a lot earlier."
"You have the rape and murder of a little girl. I can't imagine a case that is more horrendous," heap told WTOC.
Bobby Buckner remains in prison, with a chance for parole in 2016, but his charges in Ashleigh Moore's case are likely gone for good. There is nothing the DA's office can say or do to make Ashleigh Moore's family's pain and frustration go away any faster.
"The DA's office failed to do their job and the only thing I can say to them is we are not going to do that again. Under my watch that is not going to occur," Heap said.
"Honestly, I don't want to hear about anything else about the court doing anything else unless they know because it hurts to get my hopes up just to be let down again," Moore said.
Buckner remains in prison on an unrelated crime, sentenced in 2004 to 20 years to serve. He will be eligible for parole in 2016, according to the Chatham County DA's Office, who say they will be watching and be there every time parole comes up.