Judge Bars Georgia From Charging Murder Suspects Again, Throws Out Charges Against Them

The murder charges against two people arrested for a 2004 killing were tossed Wednesday by a Georgia judge who also blocked the state from attempting to prosecute the individuals again.

Rebecca Haynie and Donald Keith Phillips were charged with the killing of William Kirby Smith Jr., who was Haynie's husband at the time, inside Kirby's Speed Shop in Columbus. Prosecutors accused Haynie and Phillips, her alleged lover, of conspiring to kill Smith and ultimately shooting him twice.

But Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Gil McBride dismissed their charges Wednesday, writing that the state's delays in prosecuting Haynie and Phillips for the 2004 killing were unacceptable. He also claimed that the case was jeopardized by the fact that charges were only filed after a true-crime reality show got involved.

"The state has had available vast public resources and ample opportunity to bring this case to trial during the approximately 17 years that have elapsed since the murder giving rise to these charges and seven years since defendants were first arrested for this crime," McBride wrote.

Murder Charges Tossed
Rebecca Haynie and Donald Keith Phillips were charged in Georgia with the 2004 killing of William Kirby Smith Jr., Haynie’s husband at the time. Prosecutors accused Haynie and Phillips, her alleged lover, of conspiring to kill Phillips and ultimately shooting him twice. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Muscogee County prosecutors had asked McBride to drop the charges, saying they did not have enough evidence to win convictions but wanted the chance to refile them later. But McBride agreed with defense lawyers who wanted Haynie and Phillips protected from future prosecution, saying he would not allow "further delay and further uncertainty."

McBride had already found prosecutors in contempt in June for disobeying court orders to provide materials to the defense, including evidence related to "Cold Justice," a show that featured the suspects' arrests.

"It is doubtful defendants would have ever been charged based on the record of this case in the absence of interest from a California entertainment studio 10 years after the crime was committed," McBride wrote. "This order is the outcome that results naturally when forensic inquiry and the pursuit of truth are confused with entertainment."

During a preliminary hearing in 2014, investigators said they immediately considered the estranged wife a suspect, as she and Smith were involved in a contentious divorce, and Smith claimed evidence of his wife's infidelity.

But police did not arrest the pair until June 15, 2014, after producers of the "Cold Justice" show got involved. The arrests were featured in an episode that aired a month later.

Defense attorneys demanded materials from the show. McBride ordered prosecutors to hand it over, but they never did,

McBride punished prosecutors by ruling they could not use evidence from "Cold Justice."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Georgia Charges Dropped
The murder charges against two people arrested for a 2004 killing were tossed Wednesday by a Georgia judge who also blocked the state from attempting to prosecute the individuals again. A police vehicle is seen in Philadelphia on June 24, 2021. Matt Rourke/AP Photo