Did Judge English go easy on burglar due to ongoing affair with public defender?
For the first time, there has been an indication that former Fayette County Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English may have given a lighter than normal sentence to a criminal defendant represented by his then-paramour, defense attorney Kimberly Cornwell.
The question centers on the case of Rashad Terrez Arnold, who already had an aggravated assault conviction on his record when he was found guilty in September 2009 of burglary for entering a home off Redwine Road in unincorporated Fayette County.
Judge English sentenced Arnold to 10 years in prison followed by 10 years on probation.
At the time of the burglary, Arnold was on probation for the aggravated assault case in Griffin that led to him serving more than a year in prison at age 20.
That previous conviction led Fayette County Superior Court Judge Fletcher W. Sams to question the “fairness” of Arnold’s sentence, according to the transcript of a May court hearing as part of Arnold’s bid for a new trial stemming from the English-Cornwell affair.
“With an aggravated assault and other felonies, I am just kind of surprised that he didn’t get 20 years to serve,” Sams said during the hearing. Sams also said if Arnold were granted a new trial, and again found guilty, he almost certainly would face a longer prison sentence.
Although Arnold’s trial came more than a year after Cornwell and English were caught having sex in a vehicle parked in a new subdivision by a Fayette County deputy, Arnold insists that Cornwell never told him about her relationship with the judge.
Both English and Cornwell have declined to speak with investigators probing the matter, and both resigned their positions in the wake of their relationship becoming public in July 2010.
The affair between English and Cornwell, who were both married to others at the time, could upset verdicts, guilty pleas and sentences in six different cases, ranging from Arnold’s burglary to an armed bank robbery in Peachtree City, a child molestation case and an armed carjacking at a convenience store in Fayetteville.
Arnold is one of five defendants seeking a new trial who was represented by Cornwell and sentenced by Judge English either following a trial or a guilty plea. A sixth defendant also has filed a motion for a new trial, claiming that his right to a fair trial was harmed because his co-defendant was represented by Cornwell in a case heard by English.
In addition to Arnold’s rap sheet, another aggravating factor favoring a lengthy sentence was the Redwine Road residence being occupied at the time of the burglary, Sams said. In the transcript, Sams said that made the case very similar to a home invasion.
Cornwell in 2009 following the jury verdict noted that Arnold never made contact with the teenager who was home at the time, who was startled by strangers arriving in the driveway and when the door to the residence was kicked in, according to the transcript from the 2009 trial.
Arnold, who was 22 at the time of the trial, never apologized for his role in the burglary even after he was convicted. Arnold did address the court, saying that the previous aggravated assault charge he pled to in Griffin was because he gave a can of mace to a juvenile who then committed the assault. Arnold told the court that he did not take part in the assault, for which he served just over a year in prison.
Arnold also had previously pled guilty to entering an auto, according to the trial transcript.
At the time of trial, Assistant District Attorney Lura Landis asked for the maximum sentence, which would have been 20 years on the burglary charge.
Sams was the sitting judge on the six new trial motions stemming from the extrajudicial affair, but he recused himself from the cases last month. In his recusal order, Sams wrote that he may become a potential witness in the cases because of “unsolicited information” that he heard, which Sams had shared with prosecutors and defense attorneys so they can investigate it further if they so desire.
While there are no details available on the public record about the new information Sams stumbled upon, it is believed to deal with the time frame involving the affair between Judge English and attorney Cornwell.
“One issue is the length of the improper relationship and whether it existed at the time of the defendants’ representation,” Sams wrote in his July 23 recusal order.
Because all other Fayette judges also have recused themselves from the cases, a judge from outside the Griffin Judicial Circuit will be appointed to make the final decision on all six new trial motions.
Prosecutors are concerned about forcing victims to relive the crimes in a new trial, and there is also the question whether the passage of time will soften witness accounts, as all of the six cases in question were resolved by trial or a guilty plea in 2008 and 2009.
Weighing on the other side, though, is not just Cornwell’s failure to notify her clients of the relationship with the judge, but also Judge English’s failure to recuse himself from her cases. In fact, an investigation conducted by the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that English, as chief judge of the Griffin Judicial Circuit, was steering Cornwell’s cases to his courtroom.
Steven Phillips, an attorney representing three of the six defendants, wrote in a brief that English violated one of Georgia’s judicial canons by failing to recuse himself from all of Cornwell’s cases.