Courts news

A jury acquitted a Rome man of all charges related to an August 2019 fatal shooting on Cliffview Drive.

Joe Paul Atwater, 21, has been in custody since turning himself in at the jail in September 2019 on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault related to the shooting death of Jonathan Lynn Hull.

Both the state and Atwater’s attorneys agreed that Atwater shot and killed Hull, however Atwater maintained that he acted in self defense.

There had been a previous incident between the two men, Atwater’s attorney Anthony Perotta told the jury, and Hull was the aggressor in the incident. Atwater’s attorneys intimated there had been a confrontation earlier at a Citgo gas station that led to the conflict.

Backing up that assertion, Perotta pointed out that only two minutes elapsed between Hull’s gold SUV and the car carrying Atwater arriving, then that same car leaving, according to video obtained from a nearby residence.

Rome Circuit Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon argued that the path of the shot showed that Hull was retreating up a flight of stairs when he was shot.

GBI medical examiner Andrew Koopmeiners testified Tuesday that the bullet had entered through Hull’s left lower back and exited on the opposite side of his chest.

Attorneys for Atwater worked to poke holes in the state’s case and called into question some investigative and prosecutorial decisions regarding the case.

For example, one of the people in the car with Atwater, Kaitlin Richardson, testified during the trial. Atwater’s attorneys asked why the other person in the car with Atwater, Shidreyius McClinton, wasn’t called to testify.

“He’s not been subpoenaed to come here to testify; (but) you know where to lay hands on him,” Perotta said to former Rome Police Department investigator Corey Bowers.

Bowers, who now works for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office, was the lead investigator on the case. He testified that they’d been unsuccessful in reaching McClinton.

McClinton was arrested in March 2021 in Los Angeles, California, on charges that he with two others threw the dead body of a robbery victim from a moving vehicle, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Salmon asked Bowers if it would be difficult to get a city across the country to release a murder suspect to Floyd County.

“It would be very difficult, yes,” Bowers testified.

The trial began Monday and testimony wrapped up Tuesday afternoon. The jury began deliberating late Tuesday and resumed deliberating at 9 a.m., they announced the acquittal verdict around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

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