New trial scheduled for murder case

LAWRENCEVILLE — A new trial is scheduled to begin this week for a Lawrenceville man convicted of murder in 2008.

Christopher Benjamin Roesser, 29, was sentenced to life in prison plus five years for the Dec. 2006 shooting death of 25-year-old Keith Price outside a Lawrenceville business. According to prosecutors in the original trial, Roesser killed Price 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. on Old Norcross Road.

Because of a pair of technicalities, he will now face Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner a second time.

“There was as erroneous jury instruction that was given (in the 2008 trial) that took away Mr. Roesser’s self-defense claim,” defense attorney Brian Steel said in a brief phone conversation Friday.

Assistant District Attorney Chuck Ross will prosecute the case and acknowledged that claim, saying that Judge Conner told the jury that, because Roesser was engaged in a felony drug transaction, he was not entitled to the defense of self-defense.

Also in play is the recent United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Presley v. Georgia, Ross said. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment — which guarantees defendants the right to a speedy and public trial — also meant that anyone who wished to observe a trial should not be excluded, even during jury selection.

Ross said that in the past some family members had been asked to leave the courtroom during jury selection because of the sheer number of people in the room, the Roesser case included.

“You actually have to make arrangements even if it means calling in less jurors in the court room at one time,” Ross said.

According to court records, the motion for a new trial was placed in August of 2009. Steel did not represent Roesser in the original proceedings.

On the stand in 2008, Roesser claimed that the victim tried to rob him during an exchange involving a PlayStation 3 and that he opened fire in self-defense. The prosecution contended that Roesser shot Price after a disagreement about the price of two pounds of marijuana and evaded capture for six weeks following the incident.

Roesser was ultimately convicted of murder, felony murder, and drugs and weapons possession. The five years added to his life sentence stemmed from firing a gun during the commission of a felony.