With jury picked, trial starts for suspended commissioner

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 9:14 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2022 at 2:37 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Suspended Augusta Commission member Sammie Sias came to federal court Tuesday morning for the start of his trial.

Twelve jurors plus two alternates were selected, and the trial was set to start in earnest at 2:45 p.m. after a lunch break.

Under a federal indictment, charged with destroying public documents and lying to a federal agent.

On Aug. 8, 2019, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI executed a search warrant at Sias’ home.

Sias was accused by a former employee of sexual misconduct, pocketing $10,000 of SPLOST funds, and mistreating children at the Jamestown Community Center – a center he’s been long criticized for managing while he’s a commissioner

Jury selection began at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

After the charges were laid out by 9:45 am, the 32-person initial panel was selected from a randomized pool of 94 (11 of those who were absent).

The judge, prosecutors, and defense got to submit questions to potential jurors. The questionnaire contained 23 questions, as well as nine biographical questions, to give perspective on potential jurors. Some of the questions consisted of “do you live in or have lived in District 4″ “have you or know someone that is associated with the Jamestown community center” “have you or know someone that has a relation to the Sand Ridge Community Association” and multiple questions regarding serving in government or being related to someone in government.

Some questions raised a preview of what’s to come in the next few days.

For example: “Do any potential jurors know witnesses that the defense and prosecution will call on?” In this case, federal prosecutors listed government names that include but are not limited to District 8 Commissioner Brandon Garrett, Parks and Recreation Director Maurice McDowell, Marion Williams, and Donna Williams. From the defense, a few names were mentioned, but one that sticks out is Willa Hilton, the person who accused Sias of misconduct.

Next, the defense and prosecutors took time to select 12 jurors plus two alternates to be on the sitting jury of this case from the primary pool of 32 potential jurors. This was a tense process on both ends that resulted in two sidebars.

It was also the only time accused Sias spoke when describing the makeup of District 4 in Augusta.

The 12-person jury was then selected by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and sworn in at 1:33 p.m.

After jurors left the room, a tense argument over Hilton took place between the defense, prosecutors, and judge.

Judge Randall Hall then dismissed the defense and prosecution and said he’ll have his ruling on Willa Hilton and her early 2000s conviction in a separate case, as relevant testimony for when she’s later called as a witness.

Coming back from lunch at 2:45 p.m. was opening statements.

The side of the United States government spoke for 20 minutes, breaking down the timeline of investigating Sias down two statements phrases: On Aug. 5, he deleted file evidence of him allegedly taking $137,000 out of $150,000 in SPLOST money and that he lied to an agent about this on Aug. 9.

After this, the defense deferred, essentially making no opening remarks.

The prosecution then brought out their first witness and took off with presenting evidence.

The trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m., continuing with the prosecution’s first witness.

That witness was a computer analyst with the FBI, who broke down how he discovered missing files on Sias’ work computer, justifying that over a dozen files were digitally deleted in the evidence presented before the end of today’s trial. He was also a part of analyzing Sais’ nine work devices back in 2019 when the FBI originally issued the subpoena on Sias.

Once jurors left the room at 5 p.m., Judge Randall Hall decided that Willa Hilton’s federal conviction from over 20 years ago was not relevant to the current trial. Ruling in favor of the U.S. government to remove any line of questioning concerning Hilton’s previous conviction.

The judge said the case should take the rest of the week.

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