DA Ben Coker on Michael Bowman verdict, upcoming Chantell Mixon trial

Kevin Jordan

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

After countless hours, days, weeks and months became years of preparation and work, Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ben Coker is now looking back on the trial of Michael Bowman and is comfortable in the knowledge that the man who murdered Griffin Police Department Office Kevin Jordan will never again walk free.

The state had sought the death penalty against Bowman, who killed Jordan – the father of seven children – with five gunshots to the back. Ultimately, Bowman agreed to accept a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole plus 30 years.

This negotiated sentence followed a split verdict with Bowman being found guilty on six

counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and guilty, but mentally ill on six accompanying charges including malice murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault and felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

Coker said upon the trial’s conclusion, he was able to speak with jurors in an effort to understand the basis for the verdict.

“I can’t answer as the part of why the found him guilty, but mentally ill on some, but guilty, but mentally ill on others, but their assessment on the whole was that we did not take mental health seriously enough – the state did not – and that mental health was definitely a factor,” Coker said. “You know, our strategy was to attack the mental health defense because of what not only our expert had said, but also the court expert had said – that he did not suffer from PTSD. They (jurors) indicated that they thought he (Bowman) suffered from a mental illness based upon how he testified on the stand, but they didn’t take into account that he had been shot in the face.”

Although he believed the death penalty was the appropriate sentence, Coker said he accepts the outcome.

“Obviously it wasn’t the verdict we had worked for and hoped for, but I’m at peace with it now,” he said. “It gives some closure to the Jordan family and to the community.”

He then explained his decision to reach a negotiated sentence.

“It was clear after the verdict was returned that the jury was not going to give Mr. Bowman the death penalty. That was the impression that they gave us. They were strongly opposed to the death penalty. At least eight out of the 12 (jurors) were,” Coker said. “After hearing the evidence, had it proceeded to the sentencing phase – see, I took it out of the hands of the jury because I couldn’t take a chance on the jury returning a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. It was clear to me that they were not going to vote for a sentence of death, so I had to do what I needed to do to ensure that he did not have the opportunity to have parole in the future. So, at that point, I worked with the defense team as to a sentence that we could agree upon, and I consulted with the family about that, and they were in accord with it as well. I stand behind it.”

He also clarified that a verdict of guilty, but mentally ill differs from a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

“With guilty, but mentally ill, you still go to prison. You may get treatment in prison, but if you’re not guilty by reason of insanity, you go to a mental institution, not prison,” he said. “He (Bowman) will be in prison…He will die in prison.”

Coker said the trial was difficult, and praised his staff for their efforts to obtain justice for all of Bowman’s victims.

“It was very hard to begin my administration with a death penalty case, but I had a lot of good help and a lot of good support. I’m very proud of the way our trial team performed. It took everyone in our team away from our families and away from our normal day-to-day duties,” he said. “The staff in the other offices in the circuit stepped up and knocked it out of the park for all of us.”

Now, Coker and his staff are looking ahead to the trial of Chantell Mixon, who will also stand trial for Jordan’s murder.

Bowman’s girlfriend at the time of the incident, Mixon is charged with felony murder and felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

“It’ll come up some time on Judge Sam’s trial calendar. We’ll get to her sometime this year,” Coker said. “We’ll resolve her case this year, too.”

Unlike Bowman’s defense team, Mixon’s has not yet requested a change of venue for her trial.

Mixon, who was initially being held without bond for her alleged role in Jordan’s murder, is now serving a two year sentence at Pulaski State Prison after having been convicted of possession of a weapon by a prisoner and possession of drugs by a prisoner.

“That happened over here in Fayette County while she was in jail, so she was convicted of that over here,” Coker explained.

If convicted of the charges she faces in Jordan’s murder, her maximum sentence would be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

 

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