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Cleared of murder, shooter's fate murky

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE — Chris Roesser has been cleared of murder charges that, two years ago, condemned him to life in prison plus another five years.

Yet he’ll remain behind bars for the foreseeable future.

In a complex twist to Roesser’s four-year legal dilemma, Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner on Monday ruled that Roesser can be retried on lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter that his defense attorney had fought for during his recent murder trial, claiming self-defense. The murder charges, and ancillary counts related to them, are gone.

The outcome was applauded Tuesday by both the prosecution and defense. The murder trial closed earlier this month, and all parties met for a special hearing Monday to argue the jury’s findings.

Roesser’s attorney, Brian Steel, said he plans to appeal Conner’s decision to allow the state to move forward with the lesser voluntary manslaughter count. He feels Roesser has been exonerated — acquitted of all six counts in the recent trial — and justice finally served.

“Hopefully the appeal will work,” Steel said. “One step at a time.”

Assistant District Attorney Chuck Ross said he successfully argued that jurors were hung on the two murder counts Roesser faced, so instead of walking free, Roesser should be retried, albeit on the lesser count.

Georgia code allows a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter convictions. The minimum sentence is one year.

In the meantime, Roesser, now 29, remains jailed without bond, as he’s been for four years.

The judge denied Steel’s motion for bond this week, determining Roesser to be a flight risk, as he eluded authorities for seven weeks after fatally shooting Snellville resident Keith Price, 25, Ross said.

Prosecutors had argued that Roesser killed Price in December 2006 with a bullet to the wrist and chest following an argument over the price of marijuana in the parking lot of trucking company Averitt Express Inc., where Roesser worked.

Steel contended that Price and another man, Roger Epstein, met with Roesser to sell him a PlayStation 3, which were in short supply and selling for $600 in stores. When Roesser entered their vehicle, Price attacked Roesser and held a plastic gun to his face, hoping to make off with the $2,000 in his pocket.

Roesser felt he had no choice but to flee the car and open fire, Steel said.

A jury in 2008 convicted Roesser of murder and related charges, and he was sentenced to life in prison plus five years. The following year, Conner granted a retrial after an erroneous jury instruction and other missteps in the first trial surfaced.

Neither attorney gave a timeframe Tuesday on when the case might be back in court.