Win by Losing – Juliana’s Story

By Douglas Ammar

Originally published in “Matters if Justice”

August 20 & September 3, 1993

The fall dew covered her face and arms making her think, when she woke up, that it had rained during the night. Her hands reached for the pain in her neck and throat—sore and burning from the rope. Her aching body informed her that she had been unsuccessful—she was still alive. She rose from the grass. It was 5:30 a.m. and still dark. The horror of the night before was not fiction. It was not a bad dream. She had fallen asleep on the grass three miles from her apartment. She had walked there. A quarter was all she had in her pocket.

There was only one person to call, her identical twin sister Juliette. “Where are you?” “I think I’m on Buford Highway, somewhere near North Druid Hills.” “Stay where you are” Juliette said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Juliette would wait until she arrived to call the police. She didn’t want her sister to be alone when she was arrested. In the middle of the night, half drugged out, Juliana walked three miles from her apartment. Fleeing what was her infant son but now was only a body, cold, still, and lifeless. He died of the same means that she unsuccessfully used on herself: strangulation and an overdose of sleeping pills.

When Juliette arrived, Juliana looked like a crazed street person. Juliette didn’t hesitate asking her sister the hard question: “Why did you do it Juliana?” Juliette asked as they waited on the police. “The voices told me that they were after us. I didn’t want to hurt anybody.” Juliana told the police the same thing when they arrived. They didn’t even bother taking her to the city jail. Instead they took her directly to the 8th floor of Grady Hospital. 8D. The lock‑down psych ward. She would stay there for over two and a half months.

This is where John and I would meet her, in September 1991. Juliette, a Fulton County bailiff, worked in Judge Edward Johnson’s courtroom. Everyday she witnessed the value of having a good lawyer. She wanted this for her sister, but the lowest quote for a murder trial was $15,000. The average was around $20,000. All in cash, due up front before the lawyer got involved. Neither Juliette nor her family had that kind of money, eventually being directed to us. Within a week of the incident, GJP decided to handle the case.

In 1986 Juliana was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. Since then Juliana was under a doctor’s care, hospitalized no less than five times, and given psychotropic drugs. A county mental health clinic became responsible for her treatment in late 1990 and when Juliana began missing her appointments, the clinic failed to contact her. At the time of the incident, Juliana hadn’t received her medication for nearly five months. The state charged her with murder. There was no question that Juliana “did the act” (what the law calls “Actus Reus”); she killed her son.

To be guilty the law also requires the accused to have the intent to commit the act (i.e., Mens Rea – guilty mind). If someone lacks the intent (e.g., via insanity or mental defect) but did the act, then Georgia law provides the option of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI). This was our defense. To support it, I had to prove Juliana’s history of mental illness. I interviewed numerous doctors, social workers, and other psychology professionals, who all remembered Juliana. “I’ve never seen as clearly defined a case of paranoid schizophrenia” said a psychiatrist who hadn’t seen Juliana for over three years. The Judge appointed Dr. Hudson, a forensic psychologist, to evaluate Juliana for the State. Dr. Hudson, known to find every defendant sane no matter how mentally ill, usually spent no longer than a 30 minute visit and a one paragraph evaluation. Dr. Hudson found 99.9% of all patients sane and legally responsible for their actions. After months of trying, the doctor finally agreed to meet me at the jail.

I carried Juliana’s medical record with me for visual effect—all one and a half feet of it. The doctor was true to form. Less than 30 minutes after he arrived, he announced that his interview was over. As we walked out, a glimmer of hope came through the thick jail walls. Dr. Hudson asked if he could look at her medical records. Within a week he expressed a shattering request: he wanted to interview Juliana again. Two months later Dr. Hudson’s report arrived on my desk: nine pages, single spaced, ending with the conclusion that Juliana was not responsible for her actions. Victory was imminent. We had a winning defense. All the experts agreed that Juliana had committed the offense in the throws of a psychotic episode.

The verdict would be NGRI. I talked with lawyers, psychologists, D.A.’s, and Dept. of Corrections and Dept. of Human Resources employees and learned that someone found NGRI would be admitted to a mental hospital—a lock-down forensic unit—only to be released once the Judge who sentenced her deemed she was no longer a threat. We realized that an NGRI sentence could be for an indefinite, undeterminable duration and that Juliana would probably serve more time in a state mental hospital than she would serve in prison. We could win the trial. But if we won, Juliana would have lost. Our backs were against the wall. A long incarceration seemed likely, whether it was from a guilty verdict or from NGRI.

The DA’s offer was a straight guilty plea to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter and a 20 year sentence. There was only one other option: an unnegotiated plea. That’s used in cases when the DA and the defense lawyer cannot agree to a plea bargain and the defendant is at the Court’s mercy and asks the Judge to use his/her wisdom and compassion in finding an appropriate sentence. An unnegotiated plea was risky, but the only chance of avoiding a long incarceration. Our Judge was a tough man. An ex-police officer and an ex-DA, he was known for his tough sentencing. But he was Juliana’s only hope of not serving 12-20 years in prison or a lock-down psych ward. We had to try it.

The Judge scheduled our plea on a day when his courtroom was crowded with a regular criminal arraignment. I arranged for a variety of witnesses to be there: Juliana’s friends and family, folks from her church, her old psychiatrist, and a volunteer from our office who had been visiting her for the past year. I stood up and recited a detailed account of the incident and of Juliana’s mental health background. Next I asked the witnesses to address the Judge. Most convincing was the psychiatrist who had seen Juliana three days before the incident and knew that she was out of touch with reality. The DA was also ready. The deceased child’s father and child’s aunt (the father’s sister) spoke and the DA asked the Judge to impose a twenty‑year sentence, the maximum available for voluntary manslaughter.

The Judge sat silent for minutes. His head dropped. He looked down and sighed. The tension was thick. I looked over to Juliana and I thought she would bite her lip off. After minutes of silence he looked up and delivered his sentence. I took a deep breath. When the Judge finally began to speak, looking directly at Juliana: “Seeing that experts agree that Ms. Moore was in a deep psychosis at the time this incident occurred, I hereby sentence you to two years in prison, with credit for time served, and eight years probation after your release.” Juliana would only have to serve one more year in prison. We did it.

Prison is never easy, but Juliana made the best of her circumstance, communicating regularly with our office through telephone, letters, and visits by our staff. Several months before her scheduled release, we began making arrangements for Juliana. We made sure that she had a program that would monitor her medication as well as provide the specialized support she needed. After completing two applications that we sent her, and after having two telephone interviews, facilitated by her prison counselor, Juliana was accepted into two different outpatient mental health programs.

Gloria Parker, a GJP volunteer who visited and wrote to Juliana in prison, continued a nurturing and empathetic relationship with her, becoming an integral part of Juliana’s support network after her release from prison. Within a week of Juliana’s release, we held a birthday party which was also a freedom party—welcoming her back into the world. When Juliana needed help with her housing situation, we were there for her, referring her to Welcome House, a single occupancy hotel where GJP staff member Ricks Anderson works. When her Social Security benefits were cut off, we paid her rent for several weeks.

In late 1992, Juliana began counseling with our social worker, Kevin twice a week. Their work together reached an apex when Kevin and Juliana visited her son’s grave. A burden was lifted. This visit and Kevin’s counseling and presence helped Juliana overcome her lingering guilt and hurt. Juliana began volunteering in our office, her way, she said, of showing us her appreciation. She became a faithful member of our bi-weekly support group to support those recently released from prison. Juliana also became involved with her sister’s church. We eventually recommended Juliana for an intern position at the Georgia Indigent Defense Council. We also paid for a typing course at Georgia State to help her develop marketable skills. Kevin says that Juliana’s prognosis is good. Clear skies and sunshine are in Juliana’s extended forecast.