Defense attorneys for James “Jamie” Ray Ward and a state prosecutor agreed in Walker County Superior Court on Thursday to meet again on March 9 for an evidentiary hearing and viewing of physical evidence presented against Ward.
In 1991, Ward was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury for the 1989 murder of Nikia “Niki” Gilbreath of LaFayette and her unborn son.
There are seven boxes of physical evidence against Ward at the Walker County Sheriff’s Department.
Ward’s attorneys argued on Wednesday that they have yet to see any evidence against their client as numerous requests to access that evidence have been ignored.
Ward’s death sentence was overturned because of improper bailiff-jury communication during the trial. A juror reportedly asked a bailiff if a sentence of imprisonment for life without parole was an option and the bailiff allegedly responded that it was not.
The two parties met again Thursday to work on setting a resentencing trial date some time in the near future.
Walker County Superior Court judge Jon “Bo” Wood said he is giving priority to the case.
On Wednesday, another motion called for the introduction of Ward’s prior death sentence being kept from the jury.
The defense will view the evidence, the judge ruled, but not in Ward’s presence as he is not allowed to see or handle any evidence against him.
His attorneys said their client would not be allowed to see or handle the evidence, but they would want to be able to ask Ward questions about that evidence while he was present in the same room.
Instead, it was ordered that Walker County sheriff’s deputies will hold the defendant on the same floor of the courthouse but not in the room with the evidence. Defense attorneys instead must question Ward while he remains outside the room where the evidence is being reviewed.
Ward, in 1989, was in his early 30s and living in LaFayette when he met Gilbreath while he was helping well workers on the family’s 40 acre farm.
Gilbreath, five months pregnant with a son, and her mother had been planning a trip to Florida that would permit Gilbreath’s daughter Amber, then 22 months old, to see the beach for the first time before her little brother Garrett’s birth. They had planned to leave on their trip after finishing work on Thursday, Aug. 17, 1989.
Instead, authorities averred that earlier on that August morning Ward had hidden in Gilbreath’s house until her husband left for work and then kidnapped his victim.
Joe Gilbreath came home from work to find his daughter Amber alone in the home and his wife’s car missing, officials said.
Search parties were mobilized that evening and helicopters using infrared sensors searched for the missing woman over a 50-mile radius.
A man picking up cans found the victim’s body at an illegal dumpsite located between Villanow and LaFayette several days later.