First case retried after Judge English scandal

First case retried after Judge English scandal

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This gas station in Fayetteville between Hwy. 85 and North Jeff Davis Drive was the scene of a 2008 armed robbery that led to two life-sentence convictions. Those men are being retried this week in Fayette County Superior Court. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

Christopher Deangelo Wakefield and Travion Marquez Willis, both Clayton County residents, are on trial again this week in Fayette County Superior Court six years after receiving life sentences for armed robbery and other charges.

This isn’t an appeal. It’s the first of about half a dozen retrials scheduled in the wake of revelation that then-Judge Paschal English was involved in a sexual relationship with Kim Cornwell, the assistant public defender assigned to plead these cases being tried in English’s courtroom.

The affair was exposed when a Fayette County deputy discovered English and Cornwell involved in a sexual act on Oct. 13, 2008. English resigned as a judicial ethics investigation loomed. Since then, the Georgia Court of Appeals ordered several cases defended by Cornwell in English’s courtroom to be retried.

Tuesday morning, armed robbery victim Joshua Askew took the stand to recount what he could remember of that June 16, 2008 day when he was robbed at gunpoint at The Village Market gas station located in the thin stretch of land north of Burger King and between Hwy. 85 and North Jeff Davis Drive in Fayetteville.

When Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard asked Askew if he had any doubt if he could positively identify the man holding the handgun to his head during that robbery six years ago, Askew said, “There is no doubt.” Askew then pointed to Willis, who was seated in the courtroom by Decatur-based Attorney Thomas Mondelli.

According to Askew’s testimony, he was taking the cash out of video gaming machines at The Village Market and putting it in his Chevrolet Tahoe when Willis approached him with a gun and forced him to get into the trunk of a nearby Chevrolet Impala. Askew said he only saw Willis at first, but he said a second male voice, later determined to be Wakefield’s, ordered him into the trunk of the Impala.

Askew said it was a shaky ride away from the gas station, and when the Impala was involved in an accident in the Pine Trail Road area of Fayetteville, he pressed the emergency release button and escaped from the trunk. According to reports, it was a collision between the Impala and Askew’s own Tahoe that he had experienced. Askew said when he fled the accident scene, he saw a Tahoe but didn’t realize it was his own vehicle at that moment.

Wakefield and Willis were both convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and theft by taking (motor vehicle).

Wakefield, who was 23 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison plus an extra 20 years when it was determined he had a previous cocaine possession conviction. Willis, then 18, was sentenced to life in prison. Both were said to be eligible for parole by 2038.

Ballard said he expected the retrial to wrap up as early as Wednesday morning.

Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.