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Mario Stinchcomb

Other Fulton County, Georgia exonerations
In the early morning hours of November 6, 2002, police were called when the body of 22-year-old Jakesha Young was found by the side of Mayland Circle in Atlanta, Georgia.

On November 8, based on information from a confidential informant, police arrested 22-year-old Mario Stinchcomb and 23-year-old Michael Woolfolk on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

They were accused of shooting Young following an argument at 1029 McDaniel Street in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta.

In April 2004, the men went to trial in Fulton County Superior Court. The prosecution’s theory was that Stinchcomb, Woolfolk and Max Stevens were hanging out at the second-floor apartment of Randy Harris. The apartment building was known in the neighborhood as the “Pink Store.” Years later, the intersection would be described as “The corner of Fear and Mayhem” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution because of the numerous shootings and other crimes that occurred there.

Harris testified that in the early morning hours, Young came to the apartment. Minutes after her arrival, she and Stinchcomb quarreled and Stinchcomb slapped her. Harris said that Young then said, “I’m going to get my s—t” and ran downstairs to a waiting car. Harris said everyone understood that Young meant she was going to get a gun.

Harris said he and Stinchcomb were watching from a second-floor porch as Young pointed a gun up toward them and fired. Stinchcomb then ran to the bedroom to get his own gun. According to Harris, Young was walking back to the waiting car and by the time she got there, Stinchcomb and Woolfolk, who also had a gun, were shooting out of the apartment window.

Harris said that Young “made it to the car. That’s when [Stinchcomb and Woolfolk] started shooting …and I saw her get in the car and close the door.”

Harris said that the man waiting in the car handed her the gun.

Harris was inconsistent. At first, he testified that Young was not shooting when she got to the car because the window was up, but then he testified that the windows could have been rolled down. He testified that he did not know if Young was still shooting when the car took off and then later said the shooting was over when the car sped away. But he also testified that the gunfire was still going on when she got into the car.

Harris admitted that he went back into the apartment when Young shot at them and as a result he did not see a lot of what occurred. He admitted that he did not know who or what Young was aiming at—only that she aimed in his direction and was standing directly beneath the apartment window when she shot. He said he went to the front door and saw Young get in the car.

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy said Young was killed by a single bullet to the head. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation firearms analyst testified that the bullet removed from Young’s head was fired by a nine-millimeter pistol that Woolfolk had dropped when he ran in an attempt to avoid being arrested. In addition, a nine-millimeter shell casing found outside the apartment was linked to the same gun. The analyst also said that two .45-caliber shell casings found outside the apartment were linked to a .45-caliber pistol that police recovered from Woolfolk’s father’s home.

The prosecution presented evidence that the driver of the car had been identified as Jamario Ford. Police found blood on the front passenger seat of his car. DNA tests confirmed that the blood came from Young. Ford was charged with concealing a homicide. He was not called as a witness at the trial. A detective testified that Ford could not be located and was believed to be dead.

Woolfolk testified that he fired once in self-defense. He said he was crouched down under the windowsill and fired without aiming. He said he never told Stinchcomb to shoot. He told the jury that Stinchcomb fired shots in the air, not at Young. He said that he and Stinchcomb left the apartment later and had no knowledge that Young had been hit. He said he didn’t think anyone had been hit at all.

The prosecution contended that Young fired into the air, not at anyone in the apartment.

On April 16, 2004, the jury convicted Stinchcomb and Woolfolk of murder and aggravated assault. They were each sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The convictions were upheld on appeal.

On August 10, 2018, represented by the law firm of Shein, Brandenburg & Schrope in Decatur, Georgia, Stinchcomb filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial in Fulton County Superior Court based on newly discovered evidence. The motion was based on an affidavit from Ford—who was not dead as the detective had said at trial. Ford said in the affidavit that Young was not firing in the air, but at Stinchcomb and Woolfolk because she was angry at them.

“It was dark but I could hear there were two people arguing and Ms. Young was screaming,” Ford said. “I told her to come on down so we could leave as I could see the situation was escalating as Ms. Young kept arguing and would not leave, though I could hear the person on the balcony asking her to leave in a loud voice.”

“At one point, it looked like the person she was arguing with pushed her,” Ford said. “Ms. Young got mad and returned to my vehicle where she retrieved a firearm from her purse and shot once in the direction of the balcony. She was still yelling at the man on the balcony.”

Ford said Young was not retreating when she was shot—she had just leaned out the window and fired at the apartment.

“I kept telling her I was leaving and to get in the car,” Ford said in the affidavit. “She got in the car and leaned out the window over the car to shoot again. She shot at the person on the balcony a second time.”

He said that as he was speeding away, a shot rang out. It pierced the roof of his car and hit Young.

The prosecution opposed the motion and on June 25, 2019, the Fulton County Superior Court entered an order denying Stinchcomb’s motion without hearing testimony from Ford.

In July 2019, attorney Leigh Schrope filed a motion for permission to file a discretionary appeal. That motion was granted, and an appeal was filed with the Georgia Supreme Court. On June 1, 2020, the Georgia Supreme Court ordered that an evidentiary hearing be held to allow Ford to testify.

The court noted that Ford’s testimony would cast “significant doubt” on the prosecution’s theory of what happened and at the same time provide “strong support for Woolfolk and Stinchcomb’s justification defense.”

“Ford’s testimony shows not only that Young fired two shots in Stinchcomb and Woolfolk’s direction, but that she fired the second shot from the car, either shortly before the car sped off or as it was speeding off,” the court said. “This testimony is consistent with and lends credence to Woolfolk’s testimony that Young shot twice in what appeared to be his and Stinchcomb’s direction and that Woolfolk did not fire his weapon until after Young’s second shot. Moreover Ford’s testimony, taken with Harris’s testimony, tends to show that only a matter of seconds passed between Young’s second shot and Woolfolk’s return fire that killed her—a showing that cannot be made without the benefit of Ford’s testimony.”

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), headed by Aimee Maxwell, the former head of the Georgia Innocence Project, began reinvestigating the case. As part of that investigation, Ford was interviewed. He confirmed that he saw what happened that night. He said that Young was “extremely drunk” and reached into her cosmetic bag and fired directly at the men in the apartment. Ford was “very clear that Ms. Young was the person who started firing directly at the individuals in the house and she had not retreated at the time they defended themselves,” the CIU concluded.

On April 12, 2021, a joint consent order granting the extraordinary motion for a new trial was filed by Schrope and Maxwell. The order said that “the CIU determined that this newly discovered evidence is reliable and exonerates Mr. Stinchcomb.”

On April 14, Superior Court Judge Shukura Millender signed an order dismissing the case. Stinchcomb was released almost exactly 17 years after he was convicted.

Stinchcomb praised Maxwell and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. “They have been the greatest,” Stinchcomb told the Journal-Constitution. “Ms. Willis gave me a chance when she looked into it. She saw we were telling the truth.”

On May 17, Maxwell and Woolfolk’s lawyer, Alvin Kendall, filed a joint motion to vacate and dismiss Woolfolk’s conviction. The motion was granted and Woolfolk was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/6/2021
Last Updated: 5/22/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:2002
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No