Motion for new trial denied

Oct. 27—In 2019, Robin Denise Harper was sentenced to 20 years in prison — without the possibility of parole — after being convicted of several counts of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer.

On Tuesday, Oct. 24, Conasauga Judicial Circuit Judge Jim Wilbanks denied defense attorney Steven Miller's motion for a new trial on Harper's behalf.

"The trial itself was May 22, 2019," Miller told the court. "Harper was indicted for aggravated assault on a police officer, unlawful acts of violence in a penal institution, two counts of felony obstruction ... she was found guilty as charged by the jury on all counts."

Harper was not physically present in Whitfield Superior Court for the hearing.

"It's our position that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to more thoroughly investigate Mrs. Harper's mental health," Miller contended. "Once mental health became an issue in the case, it was incumbent upon [the judge] to inquire into Mrs. Harper's competence to stand trial."

Miller said that Harper's attorney "did not file a special plead of incompetence and did not urge a separate trial on the issue" during the 2019 proceedings.

A mental evaluation of Harper, however, was ordered. Forensic psychologist Dr. Samuel Perry deemed the defendant mentally competent to stand trial.

The charges stem from an incident that occurred at the local detention center in late 2018.

"While she was detained in the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office on other matters she wound up getting into a fight and injuring a couple of the jailers," Miller said. "Those are the five counts for which she was tried."

Miller said that the attorney who represented Harper in the 2019 trial was subpoenaed. However, that individual did not provide testimony during the Oct. 24 hearing.

"There's not much wiggle room with regard to the facts of the case," Miller said. "Mrs. Harper had a history of mental health problems that was known to the public defender's office ... our argument, at this moment, is that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Perry was called to testify in Whitfield Superior Court on Oct. 24.

He said that he had no recollections of meeting with Harper "and all I can go by is the report that I wrote."

Perry said that Harper was on medication and compliant with treatments, noting that she understood the charges presented against her and the consequences of a guilty verdict.

In his opinion, the defendant was "clearly competent" to stand trial.

"I don't remember seeing her, but by my report she was doing well," he testified.

Representing the State at the proceedings was Conasauga Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Christina Antalis.

"In the May 22, 2019, transcript of trial proceedings before the honorable Judge William Boyett, if we go to page 14, [Harper's attorney] stated 'your honor, we file no insanity, it is clear that Dr. Perry interviewed Mrs. Harper not once but twice and found her competent,'" Antalis said. "We would also direct the court to its sentencing hearing on July 2, 2019, specifically the court asked Mrs. Harper at sentencing whether she understood what was going on in the proceedings multiple times ... not only in this case but also in two misdemeanor cases that she pled guilty to on that date."

Continuing, Antalis said evidence presented before, during and after the trial point to Harper being competent at the time of the 2019 proceedings.

"What we know from case law is that when a finding of competency is challenged on appeal, the question is whether after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State that a rational trier of fact could have found that the defendant failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that she was incompetent to stand trial," Antalis said. "She understood her right to an attorney and had tried to fire her attorney and she made the decision to retain her attorney."

Antalis said that the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel simply did not carry weight.

"Here, I don't believe its controverted by the record or the evidence we've heard today that she was competent," she told the court. "And we would ask that the court deny this motion for a new trial."

According to Georgia Department of Corrections records, Harper is currently an inmate at Arrendale State Prison in Habersham County.

Her "maximum possible release date" is listed as 2038.