FULTON COUNTY — In a murder case with Forsyth County ties, a man who pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering another man over a $250 drug debt will have a second chance to argue that his conviction should be thrown out.
Attorneys for Michael B. Lejeune claimed his plea was invalid because he did not enter it voluntarily. The case will return to further proceedings after the Georgia Supreme Court, in a split 4-3 decision, overruled a number of prior decisions related to how courts decide whether a person’s guilty plea was voluntary.
According to the facts of the then-high-profile case provided in Justice Keith Blackwell’s majority opinion, Lejeune fatally shot 39-year-old Ronnie Davis on Dec. 27, 1997, in Fulton County.
His girlfriend, Rekah “Kelly” Anana, testified against him in exchange for the state’s dismissal of the murder and aggravated assault charges she faced.
According to her testimony, Anana helped Lejeune drive the dismembered body to Forsyth County, where they buried it in a cemetery.
They ended up keeping the head, she testified, because the bullet was still in it. They put the head in a bucket, poured cement over it and dumped it into Lake Lanier.
The head was never recovered.
In 1999, the state announced it would seek the death penalty for Lejeune after indicting him for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and concealing the death of another.
Lejeune’s first trial ended in a mistrial “due in part to the [Fulton County] courthouse shootings by Brian Nichols.”
He entered a negotiated guilty plea halfway through his second trial to the count of malice murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In September 2009, he petitioned for habeas corpus, a civil proceeding that allows prisoners to challenge their conviction on constitutional grounds. His argument was that he did not “knowingly and voluntarily” enter into his guilty plea.
A criminal defendant must fully understand that by pleading guilty, all constitutional rights to a trial by jury are waived. Lejeune’s argued that no one advised him that if he went through with the trail, he could not be forced to incriminate himself on the stand.
He appealed to the state Supreme Court after his petition was denied in November 2011.
The majority opinion, published last week, removed the burden of proving the petitioner’s rights were violated from the state to the defendant, meaning Lejeune’s case should be looked at again.
Presiding Justice Harris Hines’ dissenting opinion aimed to keep the precedent of having the burden of proof on the state.