Embattled city commissioner Olivia Pearson is set to stand trial again on charges of felony voter fraud in October. Pearson was tried in March on the same charges; however, Superior Court Judge Andy Spivey declared a mistrial after jurors could not reach a verdict. The jury deadlocked at 11-1.
Pearson’s second trial has been continued twice since March. Her trial, which was on the June and August calendars, has been continued twice. Since the first trial, Pearson has a new legal team. The continuances have been granted to allow her new counsel to familiarize themselves with the case. Commissioner Pearson's charges arose from an incident on October 15, 2012; during early voting in the 2012 election, Commissioner Pearson allegedly improperly assisted Diewanna Robinson in casting her ballot. Georgia law allows assistance only to voters who are illiterate or disabled. Forms available at polling stations require that the one assisting sign an oath to that effect. Tendered into evidence was a form for Diewanna Robinson bearing Commissioner Pearson's signature with the box next to “illiterate” checked.
During the first trial, the prosecution called two witnesses, Diewanna Robinson and Coffee County Elections Supervisor Misty Hayes. Under questioning by the prosecution Ms. Robinson testified that she is not illiterate. It was the prosecution's assertion that according to the law Ms. Robinson was therefore not eligible to receive assistance in voting. Ms. Robinson did not, however, recall Commissioner Pearson as the person rendering assistance to her at the time in question.
Supervisor Hayes testified that during the 2012 election she approached Commissioner Pearson and explained to her the conditions which would allow her to assist voters. Seventeen voter assistance forms were tendered into evidence by the prosecution, all bearing Commissioner Pearson's signature, although Commissioner Pearson did dispute the validity of two of the signatures. The defense called numerous character witnesses to support Commissioner Pearson's reputation for truth and honesty within the community. They were allowed to testify over the objection of the prosecution, which faulted the witnesses’ cumulative nature.
The proceedings were at times contentious, and at no time more so than when Commissioner Pearson took the stand in her own defense. Commissioner Pearson maintained that Diewanna Robinson asked her for help when casting her ballot in the 2012 election. Commissioner Pearson also testified that she never asked Ms. Robinson whether Ms. Robinson was illiterate or disabled. Perhaps most importantly, Commissioner Pearson maintained that she did not check the box next to “illiterate” on the oath which she signed.
The investigation that led to charges against Pearson also resulted in charges for three other Coffee County residents. Charlie Mack Wooten III, Evelyn Griffin, and James Curtis Hicks were charged with varying counts of improper assistance in casting a ballot and false swearing. All three pled guilty to misdemeanor charges. Pearson is the only one of the four who decided to roll the dice and go to trial on the original charges. If convicted, Pearson would have to vacate her city seat on the city commission.
Bradley Bennett contributed to this story.
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