QUITMAN — A Brooks County jury found a woman not guilty Wednesday of charges of voter fraud stemming from a 2010 school board election.

After two mistrials and almost five weeks of testimony in a Brooks County courtroom, Lula Smart, a Quitman woman charged with multiple counts of unlawful possession of ballots, was found not guilty on all counts.

Smart is part of the “Quitman 11,” a group of citizens and elected officials charged with multiple counts of unlawful possession of ballots in relation to the July 2010 Brooks County school board primary election.

Smart originally faced 33 counts, but nearly half were dismissed or removed, and 19 counts remained at the start of the trial, including one count of interfering with an elector, said Smart’s lawyer, Chevene King.

Initial charges came after Brooks County School Board candidates lost the election at 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, but were eventually 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, who are African-American, defeated white opponents and placed the black school board members into the majority for the first time.

At issue during the trial was if Smart violated election statutes. King said the prosecution’s view of the laws would make “countless numbers of people open to prosecution.”

“The prosecution was taking a very strained view of the statute which we maintained made no sense,” said King. “The idea that it would be a felony offense if a child brought mail inside the house that included an absentee ballot.”

King said the driving force behind charging the Quitman 11 was voter suppression.

“In this county, at this time, there is a heightened sensitivity to opening up the process. Many on the conservative side see it as a threat when you make it easier for someone to vote in support of their interests,” said King. “Because they didn’t have the numbers, they decided to go after the charges.”

The jury in the case broke for deliberation around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and returned 12:30 p.m. Wednesday with a not guilty verdict on all counts, said King.

King also represents the other 10 defendants facing charges in connection with Smart’s case.

“We hope that this sends a message to the powers that be that to continue this line of prosecution is a waste of time and taxpayer money,” said King.

Smart may file a malicious prosecution suit sometime in the near future, King said.

Prosecuting attorneys for this case were provided by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia after Southern District Attorney David Miller recused his office of involvement because Assistant Southern District Attorney Brad Shealy is a member of the Brooks County School Board. The Times contacted the PACGA for this article, but a response was not received by press time.

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