Court denies new trial for Augusta ex-Commissioner Sias
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Former Augusta Commission member Sammie Sias won’t get a new trial after being convicted of destroying records in a federal investigation and then lying about it to federal investigators.
Meanwhile, his sentencing date was set as June 20.
Sias was found guilty last July after a four-day federal trial and faces up to 20 years in prison. Days later, on Aug. 12, he appealed, seeking acquittal or a new trial.
His appeal alleged there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. He also said his former counsel had provided ineffective legal assistance.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall disagreed in a decision issued Wednesday.
The judge said Sias hadn’t offered sufficient grounds to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial and that an appeal for a new trial “is not the appropriate vehicle” for raising claims of ineffective legal assistance.
The judge also found Sias failed to establish there were errors regarding evidence at trial, much less that any errors had “substantial influence on the outcome.”
“Additionally, the Court notes that Defendant does not cite any legal authority to demonstrate why the alleged evidentiary errors are in fact errors,” the judge wrote.
READ THE DECISION:
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 was long criticized for managing while serving as a commissioner.
FBI computer experts testified that within hours of an agent’s visit, Sias deleted about 7,000 relevant files from a laptop computer in his possession that belonged to the Jamestown Community Center.
In their motion for a new trial, Sias’ attorneys:
- Said prosecutors put up much of their evidence in a way that unfairly prejudiced the jury about matters that had no bearing on the counts faced by Sias. Lawyers claimed an insinuation that emailed receipts were kept by Sias until Aug. 5, 2019, and then deleted on that night “is highly prejudicial, yet wholly unsupported by any evidence.”
- Took issue with the fact that a forensic accountant wasn’t designated as an expert witness “after the government presented to the jury the accountant’s impressive pedigree.” The government said the witness did not need to be allowed to testify as an expert because she “was only saying what information she would want to look at” as an FBI forensic accountant. However, Sias’ attorneys stated: “That is the definition of an expert witness.”
- Objected to the forensic accountant’s testimony that the accountant could not complete her tasks because she did not have receipts. The attorneys say there was no evidence at trial that any of the 7,400 files deleted were receipts. “So the jury hears that receipts prevent the accountant from doing her job and 7,400 files were deleted, but the government never explained how or when the receipts came to be missing,” the appeal stated.
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