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Supreme Court orders Lawrenceville man free of manslaughter charges

Christopher Roesser

Christopher Roesser

Two years after a Gwinnett County jury deadlocked on the fate of Christopher Roesser, the Georgia Supreme Court cleared the Lawrenceville man on grounds that retrying his case would be double jeopardy.

Roesser had served five years of a life sentence after he was found guilty in 2008 of a 2006 murder of a Snellville man, Keith Price, who was 25-years-old, after a sale of two pounds of marijuana went bad. Roesser was charged with murder, felony murder, drugs and weapons possession, and firing a gun during the commission of a felony.

A jury in 2008 convicted Roesser, 31, of murder and related charges, and he was sentenced to life in prison plus five years. The following year, a Superior Court judge granted a retrial after an erroneous jury instruction and other missteps in the first trial surfaced.

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.

Brian Steel, Roesser’s attorney, argued 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 $2,000 in his pocket.

In his appeal, Roesser argued that when the jury acquitted him, it determined he acted in self defense which precludes a subsequent finding that his actions constituted voluntary manslaughter.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday, Justice Carol Hustein wrote a unanimous opinion that retrying Roesser on “any issue decided by the jury’s acquittal at the previous trial” would constitute double jeopardy, which is prohibited by the United States and Georgia constitutions. The trial court previously ruled Roesser be retried on the voluntary manslaughter charge, and on appeal the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s refusal to bar the retrial.