A Georgia man convicted of murder could soon go free despite being sentenced to life behind bars.
Back on December 7, 1997, Charles Elder, 66, was flush with cash after running an illegal liquor store out of his apartment where neighbors could buy beer and cigarettes on Sunday. Four days later, he was found dead, stabbed more than 50 times.
PHOTOS: : Man convicted in brutal murder could be set free
A witness told police that Craig and Elliott Sheard knew their neighbor had lots of money. The witness said he saw the cousins go into the apartment, and saw Craig Sheard do the stabbing. He said that someone stole the money.
Both were found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.
“Elliot’s position from day one has been that he had nothing to do with this he was not there when this terrible act took place and the testimony from the one witness who implicated him was fabricated,” attorney Kyle Winchester said.
Court documents show the witness later recanted, admitting he’d never seen then-28-year-old Elliot Sheard near the crime scene.
Kyle Winchester was the fourth court-appointed attorney to the case, which has now dragged on for nearly two decades.
To appeal a murder conviction, defense attorneys need the trial transcript. In Sheard’s case, an important part of the transcript was missing, including attorneys' closing arguments and the judge’s instructions to the jury.
“It’s essential to do a comprehensive review of someone’s appeal and it was absolutely necessary in a case like this where the stakes were so high,” Winchester said.
In all those years of appeal hearings, the transcripts never turned up, and the original court reporter died.
Sheard sat in prison at Wheeler Correctional Facility in South Georgia until Winchester, fresh out of law school, took on his case last year.
Last week, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously reversed Elliot Sheard’s conviction because of the missing transcript. It’s up to the state whether to try him again.
It’s not known if a new trial, nearly 20 years after the crime took place, would be even possible. The apartments were torn down years ago, the witnesses have scattered and memories have faded.
“I can’t comment on that,” Winchester said. “From my perspective it would be extremely difficult, but that decision rests with the district attorney's office.”
District Attorney Paul Howard said losing a transcript is very unusual. He hasn’t yet decided whether to retry the case, and declined 11Alive’s request for an interview.
Elliott Sheard, now 48 years old will be transferred to the Fulton County jail to await his fate. He’ll either get his day in court or possibly his freedom.