In August 2018, attorney, Foss Hodges, obtained a reversal for his client, Jessie Mercer, in Georgia’s highest court.
Jessie Mercer was convicted in 2004 of kidnapping and other offenses in connection with a home invasion and robbery. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. His co-defendant, Rasaul Rayshad, was convicted of the same offenses at a separate trial.
In 2007, Mercer appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, claiming, among other things, that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for kidnapping. His appeal was denied, and his convictions for kidnapping were upheld.
Co-defendant, Rayshad, filed his appeal with the Georgia Court of Appeals a little later.
In 2008, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided the “Garza case,” establishing a new test for determining sufficiency of the the evidence in kidnapping cases.
A month after Garza, the Georgia Court of Appeals considered Rayshad’s case. The court reversed Rayshad’s kidnapping convictions, finding the evidence insufficient under the new Garza test. Soon after, Rayshad was released from prison, and given a second chance at life. He’s subsequently gotten married, started a business, raised children, led a honorable life.
In light of the Rayshad’s reversal, Mercer filed for habeas corpus relief in 2011, arguing again that the evidence was insufficient to support his kidnapping convictions, especially in light of Garza and Rayshad. The habeas court denied Mercer’s petition, upholding his convictions.
In 2016, Mercer appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, and the Court agreed to hear the case.
In January 2018, the Court approached Mercer Law professor, Sarah Gerwig-Moore, and adjunct professor, Scott Key, about handling the case through the “Habeas Project” – a one-of-a-kind student clinic at Mercer Law School, created by Gerwig-Moore, and currently led by Key. The Project enables Mercer Law students and private practitioners, under faculty supervision, to handle habeas cases pending before the Supreme Court of Georgia, where the petitioner cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. The Project has successfullly handled dozens of such cases, and was thrilled to get the opportunity to help Mr. Mercer.
Gerwig-Moore and Key recruited private attorney, Foss Hodges, to work on the Mr. Mercer’s case pro bono. Hodges is a criminal defense lawyer with Decatur law firm, Peters, Rubin & Sheffield. He’s also a 2013 Mercer Law graduate and former student in Gerwig-Moore’s other clinical projects: The Public Defender Clinic, and the Public Interest Practicum. He was honored to get involved.
With the help of Mercer Law student and Habeas Project participant, Robert Evans, Hodges filed a written brief in Mr. Mercer’s case and conducted oral argument at the Supreme Court of Georgia. In August 2018, the Court issued it’s decision, finding that the habeas court was wrong to deny Mr. Mercer’s petition, because, indeed, the evidence was not sufficient to support Mr. Mercer’s kidnapping convictions.
JESSIE JAMES MERCER, JR. v. GLEN JOHNSON, WARDEN
CASE NUMBER S18A0748
The opinion can be accessed at: Supreme Court of Georgia