MOULTRIE, Ga. — Attorneys for Jeffrey Alan Peacock filed a motion for a new trial Tuesday.
Peacock was convicted two weeks ago in a bench trial on 14 counts related to the deaths of five people on May 15, 2016, and the burning of their house to conceal the crime. He was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, as well as 20 years for the arson. Charges stemming from the possession of a firearm during the crime and from the deaths of three dogs at the residence resulted in sentences that would be served concurrently with the life sentences.
In the motion, the attorneys list reasons they believe Peacock should get a new trial:
• The verdict is contrary to the evidence and without evidence to support it.
• The verdict is decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence.
• The verdict is contrary to the law and the principles of justice and equity.
• Whether or not the state proved the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence was nevertheless sufficiently close so as to warrant the court to exercise its discretion to grant a new trial.
• The court committed errors of law warranting the grant of a new trial.
• The sentence imposed by the court is improper and excessive.
The attorneys also reserve the right to amend the motion once they’ve reviewed the transcript of the original trial to see if there were other errors.
The motion does not go into any detail about what errors the court might have made during the trial, but arguments during the trial itself hint at the logic behind the motion.
In closing arguments June 20, defense attorney Allan Sincox cited a Georgia law that states if the defense proposes a competing theory of how an event took place, “The state’s evidence must exclude every reasonable theory of innocence,” he said.
In other words, if the defense proposes a different way the incident could have happened — one in which the defendant did not commit the crime of which he’s accused — the prosecution has to prove it didn’t happen that way.
The trial lasted three and a half days before Judge James Hardy returned his verdict. During that time, the prosecution presented witnesses and evidence to build the following story:
Peacock and the victims had been close friends, but his drug use had caused Jonathan Edwards, the member of the clique who was renting the house on Rossman Dairy Road, to expel him. This was in spite of witnesses and evidence that showed all members of the group commonly used drugs.
Peacock had been accepted back a few weeks prior, but the friends were on the verge of ostracizing him again.
On the night before the fire, Peacock took another friend home from the house. When he returned, everyone except Jordan Croft was in bed. Peacock — in an interview recorded and played for the court — told GBI Agent Jason Seacrist that Croft offered him some liquor and cocaine, and they shared them. Peacock said the cocaine made him feel weird and he didn’t like it.
The prosecution claimed Peacock, addled by the bad drugs, then shot the five other people present: Croft, 22; Edwards, Ramsey Jones Pidcock and Aaron Reid Williams, all 21; and Alicia Brooke Norman, 20.
Sometime thereafter, he set fire to the house to cover up the crime. He went to get breakfast for everyone to give himself a reason to have not been there when the fire started. On his way back, he changed clothes; the clothes he was wearing were found in his truck with blood on them.
When he arrived at the burning house on Rossman Dairy Road, Peacock called 911 to report the fire — one of three people to do so. He was arrested a few days later, as the GBI wrapped up its crime scene investigation at the house.
Seacrist interviewed Peacock for about three hours before placing him under arrest then continuing the interrogation. During those three hours, Peacock reaffirmed his original version of events: Everything was fine at the house when he left to get breakfast, and the house was engulfed in flames when he returned.
But by then Seacrist had enough evidence to show Peacock that things couldn’t have happened that way.
Once he was placed under arrest, Peacock changed his story. In the new version, he came back from dropping off the friend, shared liquor and cocaine with Croft and sat and talked with him for a long time. He got up to move around because the drugs had him feeling weird, and when he rounded a corner into the living room he saw Pidcock’s body. He went on to discover the other bodies in other rooms of the house.
Peacock said Croft came up behind him after he found the last body. He rounded on Croft, demanded to know what happened and beat his friend when he didn’t get an answer.
Peacock said Croft had a pistol in his waistband and pulled it to defend himself from Peacock’s beating. Peacock said he took the gun from him and shot him twice.
Still addled by the drugs and by the shock of what he’d seen and done, Peacock couldn’t figure out what to do next, so he drank some beer and smoked some marijuana, he said. Eventually, he came up with a plan to burn the house to conceal the crime and preserve the good name of Croft — who in spite of what Peacock said he’d done had been his friend.
The defense attorneys presented no evidence in their phase of the trial, but Sincox argued that the prosecution’s evidence supported Peacock’s version of events just as well as it did the prosecution’s version.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Prine said Peacock’s story was not credible and used part of his closing argument to try to poke holes in it.
“No reasonable person would believe this story,” Prine said. “No un-reasonable person would believe this story.”
The motion filed Tuesday seeks a hearing “after counsel has had reasonable time to amend it with additional grounds.”