COLUMBUS, Ga. — Three Columbus murder suspects must wait about two months before their trial begins. Demark Ponder, Daginald Wheeler, and James Daniels are charged in connection with the death of Dominic Mitchell. As News 3 has reported, Mitchell, 33, was shot to death in October 2015 at the 4th Quarter Sports Bar and Grill on Macon Rd. The suspects face murder, gang participation and armed robbery charges in connection with the shooting.
“When you look at forensically, when you look at where the shell casings dropped, where they were picked up and recovered, firearms were being recovered, and people were scattering everywhere,” Wheeler’s attorney Stacey Jackson said.
The three suspects were indicted in September 2016. The murder trial was supposed to start Monday, March 6. But defense attorneys asked the judge for a continuance in the trial. The judge initially denied the request to delay the trial, until he learned that a key piece of evidence would not be available for a few weeks.
The prosecution sent a DNA test to the GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta in January 2017. The evidence could possibly link Ponder to the weapon used to shoot Mitchell. However, those results aren’t expected to come back until April 15. The judge expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the snag, saying the case had been delayed long enough.
“The presence of the DNA and whose DNA it is or not will largely drive our defense in order to have effective representation,” Ponder’s attorney Rod Skiff said. “We need to know the answer to that question. As far as the judge goes, he’s attempting to maintain an effective docket.”
The judge decided that the results of the DNA test would ultimately affect how each side would argue the murder case. The defense claims that the murder charges for Daniels and Wheeler also hinge on the results of the test. For the last 15 months, Johnnie Bell’s stepson, Daginald Wheeler has made a home in jail.
“This has been going on since 2015,” Bell said. “And he’s just sitting there. He can’t go to work. They can’t lower the bond or anything. So something needs to happen.”
The judge is working to speed up the start of the trial. He asked if the test results could be expedited. But the it was determined that they could not come back any quicker. The court system must fit about 5,000 cases, divided among seven judges, into a certain amount of scheduled trial weeks.
Dorothy Williams represents Daniels. She says the families of the three suspects are anxious to get the trial started.
“It’s been a tremendous drain on them emotionally and financially,” William said. “When you have someone that’s in trouble, they live with this.”
She adds that despite the delays, the defense is cautiously optimistic.
“All I want to see is it go to court, so he’ll know what his life is and the family will know what their lives are for and what they’ll be about,” Bell said.
But the families will have to wait for the test results to return in order for court to come back into session. The judge set a new trial start date for May 1.