Family, district attorney react to murder acquittal by directed verdict

Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 4:21 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A Savannah man is free after he shot and killed another man during an argument in a Savannah neighborhood.

He was acquitted last week on murder charges. But not by the jury who heard the case.

In a rare decision, the judge tossed out the murder charges.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge John E. Morse Jr. said this is the first time in his more than 30 years as a judge to issue directed verdict in a homicide case.

“Sometimes I can’t even breathe,” Zhane Futch said.

It’s difficult because not only is her father gone, his killer is free.

E.J. Futch was shot six times and died in a parking lot of a Southside neighborhood in Savannah last year. It’s something his family is still trying to process after learning those details during the murder trial.

“He was alone, on the ground. No person deserves to be alone for that amount of time,” Zhane Futch said.

His youngest daughter Zhane, his wife and high school sweetheart Danielle and his oldest son Craig gathered in the court last week for the trial.

“I wanted that closure when I came to the trial, and I never got it really. It was a lot of confusion,” Danielle Futch said.

Charlie Sapp - her husband’s killer - was on trial for malice murder.

“Lots of witnesses.”

Witnesses told Savannah Police said they heard the two “arguing over gas” in a neighborhood parking lot off Coastal Place. Later they heard gunshots and then saw Futch “on the ground, trying to get up” when Sapp shot him multiple times and “took off running”.

In court, witness testimony didn’t matter. Neither did what Charlie Sapp told the jury.

“He says he did it.”

In self-defense is what his public defender said. That didn’t matter either in court.

“Not knowing what was going on - I just told my family to connect hands and pray,” Danielle Futch said.

In a rare decision, Superior Court Judge John E. Morse Jr. issued a directed verdict - which let Sapp walk free on the murder charges. Judge Morse explained that the state has the burden of proof. He said proved in court that Futch had been shot, but that the Prosecutor assigned to the case didn’t prove that Futch was dead, or that his death was caused by Sapp.

And for that reason, he had a duty under the law to drop the murder charges. It’s the first time he’s done that in his 30 years as a judge.

The Chatham County District Attorney was asked if she felt her team had mishandled the case.

“I don’t feel like they mishandled it at all. With the number of cases that we’ve tried since I’ve been here. There are cases that go to trial, and you lose some cases that you should win and you win some cases that you should lose. I respect the work that was done in the case and the information I got about it and I don’t find any fault at all with how my staff handled it,” Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones responded.

Sapp’s public defender Katherine Kelly said in a statement that said the decisions by the judge and the jury “speak for themselves.”

Futch’s family is finding comfort in each other and their memories of EJ who was known to friends as Shawn.

“I was glad that my children got to experience that military life because you’re open to new experiences and people.”

He served his country and was a retired disabled war veteran who served in Iraq. But he was most well known as “Call me Coach Hamburger, I’m Coach EJ Futch Hamburger.”

“Any sport that his children were involved in, he was right on the sidelines.

Charlie Sapp was released from jail last Wednesday. The case against him is closed.

And because of the verdict, it means no new murder charges can be brought in the case because of double jeopardy.

WTOC Investigates is looking into how murder cases are being prosecuted in Chatham County. We are in the process of putting together an in-depth look at our local justice system.

Below is the full statement from Cook Jones:


Below is the full statement from the public defender: