Hearings on the composition of the jury pool in a now 34-year-old death penalty case will likely be held on Oct. 5.
Timothy Tyrone Foster, who is now 52, was originally sentenced to death, in 1987, for the brutal murder and molestation of retired school teacher Queen Madge White during a burglary at her home at Highland Circle. He was 18 at the time of the incident.
In December 2019, Floyd County Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks set a tentative date for Foster’s retrial at January 2021. It’s likely the months-long hiatus in jury trials under a Georgia Supreme Court COVID-19 emergency order will push that date back.
At least one scheduled hearing remains before any trial, concerning a potential challenge to the pool from which jurors would be pulled.
On top of the delay due to ongoing pandemic measures, there are several issues in trying the case.
One is the age of the case. Many of the original case files were damaged, although copies of those files were preserved and available because of review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a May 2019 hearing, prosecutors stated the lead investigator would not be able to testify because of significant physical issues including memory loss. Foster’s attorneys didn’t object to allowing testimony from the prior trial, but asked to have the right to object to evidence or statements made from that testimony.
Sparks has already ruled on a number of pretrial motions.
Citing previous rulings in the case, he ordered that a recorded statement to police would not be able to be used at the trial while another statement, which was not recorded, could be used at trial.
All the way up to Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Foster’s conviction in 2016. The high court ruled there was enough evidence to show the district attorney at that time had systematically excluded black jurors.
Just prior to the case being tried in 1987, the high court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that prosecutors could not strike potential jurors on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.
Foster was brought to 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 lengthy process began again.
Several rounds of hearings have already taken place, the most recent of which was a hearing in December 2019. This isn’t unusual in any case involving the death penalty. The process, called the Unified Appeal, is essentially a checklist designed to protect a defendant’s rights in capital cases.
Once completed, the case will be sent to the Georgia Supreme Court for review before going to trial again.