Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

September 27, 2013

‘Quitman 11’ trial continues

QUITMAN — The “Quitman 11” trial of Lula Smart continued Thursday, with the morning starting with witness Whitney Cobb, one of the many absentee voters from the 2010 election.

Presented with the 16-item questionnaire that Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Secretary of State agents used to note her answers when interviewing her back in 2010, Cobb confirmed to prosecutor Clara Bucci that each answer was correct, save one. While it’s noted on the two-page questionnaire that Lula Smart picked up Cobb’s finished absentee ballot, Cobb stated on Thursday that the ballot was picked up by a woman, but not particularly Smart.

Following Cobb on the witness stand was Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mark Pro, the GBI agent who, along with an agent from the Secretary of State’s office, questioned Cobb. Chevene King, Smart’s defense attorney, questioned Pro as to the investigation’s decision to use a paper questionnaire as opposed to voice recording. Pro also interviewed Errol Cobb Jr., who answered that he had neither filled out nor returned an absentee ballot. King focused on Pro’s summary of the interview, a summary that mentions Errol Cobb’s sister picking up his absentee ballot, something that wasn’t noted on the questionnaire.

Before breaking for lunch, Melba Lovett, Brooks County registrar, was called to the stand. Bucci had Lovett lead the jury through the absentee-ballot process, from the application submission to the returning of the completed ballot.

While previous elections had usually involved 300 to 400 absentee ballots, the 2010 election saw 1,402

absentee ballots sent out, with 1,059 returned. Part of the increase may be due to a change in the law after the 2008 election, allowing anyone to vote through absentee ballots.

Due to the increase, Lovett deputized two other people in the office to lawfully handle ballots, along with her granddaughter, to handle the workload. At one point, she took ballots home with her in an effort to keep up.

This case stems from a 2010 election where Brooks County school board candidates lost at the polling places then won their respective races via absentee ballots. Though charged in the case, these school board officials served, then couldn’t serve for several months due to the charges, then were reinstated to the board. Originally, these suspects were called the Quitman 10 then two more people were charged prompting the title Quitman 10+2. One suspect has since passed away.

The case has attracted statewide and national attention from civil rights groups since the Quitman 11 suspects are African-American, defeated white opponents, and placed the black school board members into the majority for the first time.

As of Thursday, signs point to the trial continuing into next week.

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