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Charges dropped after a local man was faced with 1,100 years in prison

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 6:16 PM EDT
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RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - News 12′s Sydney Heiberger sat down with the wife of Maurice Franklin in her first interview since his release from jail. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office arrested Franklin in September of 2019.

He was accused of being involved in a drive-by shooting where no one got hurt. He had no criminal history and cell phone evidence that showed he wasn’t in the area of the crime. Still, he ended up behind bars for close to two years. Many of his charges stemmed from his alleged connection to the Crip gang.

Maurice Franklin faced 51 charges, including aggravated assault, cruelty to children, and weapons charges. The majority though are 34 counts of violating the Street Gang Terrorism Prevention Act.

Franklin’s defense attorney tells us that all adds up to more than a thousand years in prison. 1,100 years to be exact. All for a crime he says he was nowhere near.

“I love him so much, I told him: I’ll fight for you. I’ll fight for you until the very end,” said Lanette Jones, Maurice Franklin’s wife.

Maurice franklin reunited with his wife after nearly two years apart. She spoke with us while waiting to pick him up from jail.

“What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you see him?,” asked Heiberger.

“Probably hug him all over (laughs),” Jones said.

His case was related to a drive-by shooting that happened back in August 2019. No one was injured. But still, he faced 1,100 years in prison because investigators believe he’s affiliated with the Crips street gang.

“I can’t just bend over in a corner and just cry my eyes out. I’ve got to fix the situation,” said Jones.

So Jones went to work fighting for her husband’s release every day.

The strongest piece of evidence against him witness testimony. Case records show the drive-by victim identified Franklin through Facebook, and witnesses told her they saw someone on the scene who matched his description.

Former district attorney Natalie Paine says Franklin and the victim knew each other and phone records show they had talked before.

“She had seen him before, she knew who he was. But a lot of times on this street, people use street names, they don’t use their government name,” said Natalie Paine, former district attorney.

The strongest piece of evidence in the defense is Franklin’s phone records. Franklin willingly surrendered his cell phone to investigators, and through their investigation, they found the phone associated with Franklin was more than seven and a half miles away from the shooting.

“I come from a background where I don’t see these types of things. I don’t see people getting locked up for something they didn’t do. So when I seen it, I was just outraged,” said Jones.

Prosecutors say while records do show he wasn’t at the scene before or after the shooting, they say his phone saw a gap in data from 4:36 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. The shooting happened at 5:20.

“Certainly, the portrayal that this evidence existed and that we were just ignoring is a bold-face lie,” said Paine.

But still, when his phone did ping again five minutes later, he was still seven and a half miles away. Franklin’s defense attorney says five minutes would not be enough time to travel from the crime scene back to his friend’s house.

In a statement, current district attorney Jared Williams said the case fell apart when the drive-by shooting victim changed her story.

“The listed victim made a number of conflicting statements which irreparably damaged our ability to prove the case,” he said.

But Natalie Paine says victim recanting is common in cases like this, especially because the victim allegedly had a relationship with one of Franklin’s co-defendants.

“If the information was the same as it was when I left office in December, then yes, I would believe he was wrongly set free,” said Paine.

Franklin spent 604 days away from his wife and his children. Now, they’re finally ready to start life over again.

“Right now we just want our kids to be with their dad and basically build the bond back up. Just get our family back together,” said Jones.

Investigators do believe Maurice is affiliated with gangs or at least gang-members. But the law does not prohibit being in a gang. It only prohibits committing a crime while in one.

Maurice’s wife actually gave birth to their fourth child while he was in jail which means he’ll get to meet him for the first time today. She also says before his arrest, they were working on starting a nonprofit to help get kids off the streets. Right now, she says they’re not focused on whether they’ll file any lawsuits.

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