VALLEY, Ala. — An Alabama judge dismissed a capital murder charge against a man jailed for nearly six years because authorities failed to turn over key evidence to the defense, but the man will still face prosecution in Georgia.
Chambers County Circuit Judge Steven Perryman ruled Tuesday that the state purposely failed to provide lawyers for Stacey Demar Gray with DNA evidence that supposedly linked him to the death of Renee Eldridge, who was abducted from her home in Columbus, Georgia, in 2015. She was later found dead in a creek in east Alabama.
But Perryman also ordered that Gray remain jailed without bond in Chambers County until he can be sent to Georgia, where he was charged in an alleged sexual assault on Gray that occurred the year before the slaying.
Despite what happened in Alabama, Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones told news outlets the man could still be charged with murder in Georgia.
"We are not bound by any ruling of an Alabama court on that sort of evidence," Jones told WRBL-TV. "We have been in pretty close communication with the victim's father on the case. So, we are talking pretty much daily about what we can do and what can be done."
Gray's attorney in Alabama, Bill Smith, said he requested the raw DNA data behind a report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences that prosecutors said linked Gray to Eldridge's slaying. The defense wanted to analyze the data to determine whether the report was correct, he said, but Forensic Sciences didn't provide the information to prosecutors until the day the trial began.
Perryman previously had ordered that the defense be provided with the data, so the judge blocked the use of DNA evidence since the defense didn't have time for analysis. Smith said. When that happened, prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss the case and Perryman agreed.
"The judge was given no choice. The DA was in a hell of a spot, too. He didn't have that information in his office to begin with," Smith said.
The state forensics agency did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.
Eldridge's sister, Nichole Hawk, told the Ledger-Enquirer that relatives of the victim were at the courthouse waiting for Gray's trial to begin when they learned the case was begin dropped.
"July will be six years since it happened," Eldridge's sister said Wednesday. "Just to be back to square one is devastating."