CARROLLTON, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - A Carrollton man convicted of leaving his twin daughters to die in a hot car will soon get a new trial, all because of evidence that his trial attorney did not do her job.
In a rare move, prosecutors agreed that Asa North did not get a fair trial because of how Pam Stephenson handled his case. The attorney, who also serves as a state representative from Decatur, now faces calls for contempt of court and disbarment.
The tragic saga began three years ago when North was charged with leaving his 15-month-old twin daughters in a hot SUV. Medics could not revive either child. North would originally be charged with misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of Ariel and Alanynah. But those charges would turn far more serious when investigators say North's blood showed he was legally impaired and had recently smoked marijuana.
His family hired Stephenson to handle the defense. By all accounts, it did not go well.
"I had immediate concerns regarding the performance of the defense attorney at trial, Ms. Stephenson," Carroll County assistant district attorney Bonnie Smith told the court in a hearing this week.
According to motions filed by North's new attorney Gary Bunch, Stephenson failed to call a single defense witness or prepare any questions for cross-examination, never consulted an expert witness and even walked out of the courtroom during a break and did not return to court that day.
It took the jury about an hour to find North guilty of two counts of second degree murder and cruelty to children. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
"This man has been incarcerated for more than a year because of her performance," Bunch told Superior Court judge William Hamrick.
Hamrick agreed to dismiss the conviction and hold a new trial. North could also be released on bond as early as next week.
"Justice was served today," cried north's mother Dedra outside the courthouse. "Because I've always said my son didn't do it. I know he didn't do it. And it's going to be proven by attorney Bunch he didn't do it."
Pam Stephenson is still part of this case. She was under court order to be at the hearing for a new trial. But she didn't show. The judge said he will soon hold her in contempt of court. The only question is will it be civil or criminal?
The FOX 5 I-Team reached out directly to Stephenson and through her official state government office. We did not receive a reply. In an earlier interview, she said she thought her defense strategy was sound.
Don't tell that to the people who were paying her bill.
"It's no coincidence that she didn't show up," complained North's brother Chance. "When she showed up the last time she played just dumb basically. Like she had no idea how to represent the man."
The family believes with a different defense attorney Asa North would have been acquitted. They say there is evidence someone else was responsible for the twins' care the day they died. But in court, prosecutors said the evidence against Asa North is "overwhelming."
They will present that evidence to another jury -- and with North represented by attorney Bunch -- when the second trial starts November 7.