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State high court denies Heidt's appeal

POSTED: January 7, 2013 6:46 p.m.
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Craig Heidt’s battle for a new trial appears to be over.


The state Supreme Court unanimously upheld his December 2010 conviction in the August 2008 murders of his father, Effingham County builder and realtor Phillip Heidt, and his brother, Carey Heidt. Craig Heidt was sentenced to two life terms plus 85 years after a trial that lasted more than a week. Jurors returned a guilty verdict on all counts.


Craig Heidt had been involved in an affair with Carey’s wife Robin and was convicted for the murders and for aggravated assault upon his mother, Linda Heidt, who was gravely wounded but survived the shooting. Craig Heidt is incarcerated at the Macon State Prison.


“For all practical purposes, this is the end of it,” said Ogeechee Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney Michael Muldrew, who was the lead prosecutor in the case.


In writing the court’s opinion, Justice Keith Blackwell said the trial court did not err in disqualifying Heidt’s co-counsel and in denying a motion for a change of venue. Justices also denied five other grounds for appeal brought forth by defense attorney Dow Bonds.


“The district attorney’s office was pleased the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the conviction of Craig Heidt,” Muldrew said. “While there has never been any doubt as to Craig Heidt’s guilt, the affirmance of his conviction by the Supreme Court will hopefully bring closure to Phillip, Linda and Carey Heidt’s family and friends and the Effingham County community at large.”


The defense said the evidence was not sufficient for a conviction and noted the discrepancy between expert witnesses on the nature of Craig Heidt’s bruises. Prosecutors claimed those bruises were the result of a shotgun being fired. The defense countered that they stemmed from a fall in the bathroom.


“Given our obligation to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and to leave questions of credibility and the resolution of conflicts in the evidence to the jury, we conclude that the evidence in this case was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Heidt guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted,” Justice Blackwell wrote.


The justices also backed Judge Gates Peed’s disqualification of Manubir Arora. Arora was Bonds’ co-counsel but also was representing Robin Heidt, who had been charged with intimidating a witness. Robin Heidt testified in the trial about her affair with Craig as a prosecution witness, and the state charged Arora had a conflict of interest.


Craig Heidt and Robin Heidt consented to the dual representation but Judge Peed upheld the state’s motion to disqualify Arora from the trial.


“Because the prospects of Arora advising Robin about any deal that might be proposed by the State to secure her testimony against Heidt or cross-examining her on behalf of Heidt were rife with serious ethical problems,” Justice Blackwell concluded, “the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that Arora’s representation of Robin would materially and adversely affect his representation of Heidt.”


The justices also said the trial court did not err when the motion to disqualify Judge Peed was denied. The motion was heard and denied by Judge Paul Rose from the Atlantic Judicial Circuit. The defense “failed to show that the judge had revealed any bias against Heidt,” Justice Blackwell wrote and “failed to show that the trial judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned” after the judge expressed “some sort of agreement” to a statement that Heidt might not receive a fair trial in Effingham County.


The justices also denied the defense’s charge that a change of venue should have been granted. Though the defense alleged there was “gossip, rumor and innuendo” about Heidt’s affair with Robin, there was no claim that the stories were false or even disputed at trial. The justices also said the defense failed to show the pretrial publicity created a hostile or inflammatory atmosphere.


Six of the 59 jurors selected for the jury pool were excused because they said the pretrial publicity made it impossible for them to reach a verdict based solely on the evidence, and the justices found the approximately 10 percent excusal rate to be well below that which would indicate making a fair trial impossible.


Justices also denied the defense’s claim that hearsay evidence was allowed into testimony, noting the testimony was consistent with two other witnesses, who said they heard Craig Heidt and Carey Heidt threaten to kill each other.


Bonds said a shotgun turned over to authorities by a local gunsmith could have proven to be exculpatory, but the justices turned down that appeal.


Robin Heidt had asked a local gunsmith to put a gun that had been owned by Carey Heidt back together. The gunsmith brought the shotgun to the sheriff’s office when he heard it was similar to the weapon believed to have been used to kill Philip and Carey Heidt.


Bonds claimed the shotgun was suppressed as evidence. But assistant district attorney Michael Muldrew countered that the defense already knew of that weapon’s existence and the gun previously had been in the sheriff’s office’s possession for safekeeping at Robin Heidt’s request.


“Our review of the record confirms that, at least as to the necessary element of suppression by the prosecution, Heidt failed to come forward with any evidence that the State failed to disclose the existence of the shotgun,” Justice Blackwell said.


Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie testified that he told Muldrew and Bonds about the shotgun the day after it was delivered to him, and all sides agreed it had nothing to do with the murders.


Prosecutors said a shotgun known to be missing from a shed behind Phillip and Linda Heidt’s home was consistent with the kind of weapon that could fire 3-inch Winchester shells. It was that type of ammunition investigators determined was used to kill Phillip and Carey Heidt and gravely wound Linda Heidt.


“Although the affirmance of the conviction was fully expected,” Muldrew said, “it is gratifying to see that all of the endless hours of hard work performed by the GBI, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie’s office and personnel with the district attorney’s office resulted in the conviction of Craig Heidt for the commission of such heinous crimes.”

Heidt case timeline
• Aug. 25, 2008 — Philip and Carey Heidt are shot and killed in Phillip’s home on Springfield-Egypt Road. Linda Heidt is wounded severely in the attack.
• May 22, 2009 — Craig Heidt is arrested and charged with the murders of his father and brother. He is indicted six days later.
• Nov. 30, 2010 — Craig Heidt’s double murder trial begins.
• Dec. 9, 2010 — A jury finds Craig Heidt guilty on all counts.
• Jan. 6, 2011 — Craig Heidt is sentenced to two life terms plus 85 years.
• Jan. 20, 2011 — Craig Heidt files the first motion seeking a new trial.
• Feb. 23, 2012 — Judge Gates Peed denies the motion for a new trial.
• March 8, 2012 — The appeal for a new trial is filed with the Supreme Court of Georgia.
• Sept. 10, 2012 — Attorneys present their cases in the appeal before the state’s justices.
• Jan. 7, 2013 — The state Supreme Court justices unanimously deny Craig Heidt’s appeal for a new trial.

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