The grainy video begins, showing a white house on Highland Circle in 1986.
Moving around to the back of the house, the mechanical zoom of the camera whirs as Mike Reynolds, the Rome police officer working the case, takes focus on a green luggage tag.
Someone broke into the house by prying out a wall-mounted air-conditioning unit, Reynolds said, scanning over to the black plastic used to cover the open window.
Reynolds pans the camera along a trail of small items, documenting each of them, until he finds several footprints leading to nearby Church Street.
His investigation began after the sister of 79-year-old Queen Madge White found her brutally beaten body in the bedroom of her Highland Circle home.
White had lived by herself at the home, retired after teaching for over 30 years. By all accounts she was loved by her friends, former co-workers and students.
On Aug. 27, 1986, at approximately 8:30 p.m., a friend took White to choir practice and brought her back to her home near the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.
White spoke with her sister on the telephone around 9 p.m. The next morning, her sister discovered her body and called police.
Police arrived and began their investigation. They found White covered up to her chin by a blanket. Her face was covered in talcum powder. She had been badly beaten as well as sexually molested and strangled.
As Reynolds used the video camera to document the evidence in the ransacked house, he commented on what the investigators believed happened.
He also asked questions about what likely happened to White as crime lab personnel removed her body from the home.
Georgia high court review
One of the issues discussed in a Floyd County Superior Court hearing Tuesday concerning the retrial of the man originally convicted in White’s death was whether that video could be used as evidence.
Timothy Tyrone Foster, who is now 53, was sentenced to death in 1987 for White’s murder.
But Foster appealed the case a number of times on the state level and it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016.
The high court cited Batson v. Kentucky in its ruling that the Floyd County district attorney at that time had struck Black jurors from the trial on the basis of their race.
After his conviction was overturned, Foster was brought to the Floyd County Jail in March 2017 from Georgia’s death row in Jackson. In 2018, the state expressed its intent to seek the death penalty and the process to try him for murder began again.
There will be some difficulties presenting the 35-year-old case for trial. Original case files have been lost, only copies remain, and many of the witnesses have died or are experiencing health issues.
Reynolds, the police officer who took video of the crime scene, died in 2020. He’d retired as a captain of the Rome Police Department in 2004.
During a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, prosecutors and Foster’s attorneys presented arguments about what pieces of evidence should be admissible in the trial.
Arguing that the video should not be admitted, one of Foster’s attorneys, Shayla Galloway, said the lead investigator’s speculation could lead jurors astray.
“This isn’t just anybody,” Galloway told the court. “This is the person running the show. That’s problematic to me.”
Floyd County Superior Court Judge William “Billy” Sparks told the attorneys he intends to allow the video but may determine that portions of Reynolds’ assessment of the evidence be removed.
Other items discussed Tuesday included statements from White’s family members, which would be introduced in the sentencing phase of the case if Foster is again convicted.
Death penalty cases in Georgia have two phases, the trial phase and the sentencing phase. The sentencing phase is a mini-trial in and of itself and is when jurors will determine if the defendant is sentenced to death.
The court has heard hundreds of motions in this iteration of the Foster case in a series of hearings since 2018. The hearing Tuesday was the last one before the case is sent to the Georgia Supreme Court for review.
If the high court decides to review several questions it may be another year or two before the case comes to trial. If not, the age of the case gives it precedence.
“If the Supreme Court doesn’t take this case we’re going to try this case in the beginning of next year,” Judge Sparks told the attorneys.
Among those questions sent up for review is a defense motion regarding a claim of Foster’s intellectual disability.
Foster’s attorneys argued that, while he was 18 when the murder was committed, his intellectual disabilities meant he was not functioning as an adult at the time.
Floyd County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon earlier argued that a civil jury ruled 20 years ago that Foster did not suffer from a mental disability that would prohibit the state from imposing the death sentence.
On that issue, Sparks ruled the case could move forward.
Other questions that will be sent to the high court concern a motion seeking to bar the death penalty as well as other motions filed by Foster’s defense team.
Near the end of the hearing, Sparks asked Foster directly if he had any objections or issues with the performance of his counsel.
Foster declined to answer the question.