Should The Indictments Be Dismissed Against The Man Accused Of Setting Fire That Collapsed I-85?


May 24, 2017

Lawyers representing the homeless man indicted for setting the fire that lead to the I-85 collapse have asked the Fulton County Superior court to dismiss the indictments. The man faces indictments for arson in the first degree and criminal damage in the first degree. Both charges are felonies under Georgia law. The man has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is now free on bond and residing in a recovery center.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the defense team filed a motion to dismiss the indictments claiming that the prosecution of their client is unlawful. The defense argued that the prosecution is based solely on the word of two homeless people who were in the same situation as the person charged and could have started the fire themselves. The defense team also argued that the prosecution is guilty of selective prosecution because the man police arrested for the crimes is an African-American while the two witnesses were not. The defense claims that the two non-African-Americans lived under that bridge and were present when the fire started, but the investigation never focused on them. Instead, the defense argues, the police went after the African-American man. Lawyers for the defense and the prosecution may argue the matter before a Superior Court judge in the near future.

A successful prosecution in this case depends on the credibility of the two witnesses who pointed an accusatory finger at the man indicted for setting the fire. The defense claims that the two witnesses have a motive to lie. There is no evidence corroborating their stories. At this time, there has been no indication in media reports commenting on the criminal case that the prosecution has any surveillance video, fingerprint evidence, DNA evidence, or statements from unbiased bystanders could identify the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime. Additionally, the defense claims that the criminal citations police gave the pair alleging criminal trespass for being under the bridge have not followed traditional procedural channels for prosecution. Instead of going to the municipal court for adjudication, the district attorney's office retained jurisdiction over the charges. The district attorney's spokesperson indicated that their involvement remains under investigation.

The prosecution faces other challenges getting this case to trial. First, the prosecution has to find them and get them to court to testify. Prosecutors could face a stiff challenge in that regard because the two witnesses are homeless. If the case goes to trial, the prosecution team will no doubt use whatever resources they have at their disposal to locate their witnesses and prepare them to testify. Secondly, the prosecution must determine the level of involvement of the pair in starting the fire and determine whether they have a viable prosecution if the judge rules in their favor on the defense's motion to dismiss.

The defense team has steadfastly maintained its position in the media that their client is a scapegoat who is being targeted to take the fall for the government since the accused's initial bond hearing after being booked into the Fulton County jail two days after the fire. Advocates for the homeless as well the defense team argue that the focus should be on the state government, specifically the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), for their role in the I-85 collapse. GDOT stored flammable, although not combustible, materials beneath the overpass for several years before the fire. The focus of the investigation, according to the defense, should be to determine what role, if any, GDOT played in the collapse.

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