‘She’s Not Ready’: Progressive Georgia District Attorney Steps Down from Laken Riley Case After Criticism

Deborah Gonzalez and Laken Riley
Deborah Gonzalez, Esq./LinkedIn, Laken Riley/Facebook

The Democrat district attorney of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, has stepped down from the Laken Riley murder case after critics pointed out she has never secured a single guilty verdict in a jury trial.

District Attorney (DA) Deborah Gonzalez announced Monday that Special Prosecutor Sheila Ross would take over the murder trial for illegal immigrant Jose Antonio Ibarra, who is accused of killing the 22-year-old Augusta University nursing student on February 22.

Ibarra, 26, is a Venezuelan national whom multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies have arrested and set free since he illegally passed through the country’s southern border in 2022. 

Jose Antonio Ibarra (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)

Just a few months before allegedly murdering Riley while she was on a run near the University of Georgia (UGA) campus in Athens, Ibarra was arrested and released after allegedly shoplifting from a local Walmart with his brother, also an illegal immigrant. 

Diego Jose Ibarra (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)

Since Gonzales became the DA in 2020, her office has failed to prosecute a whopping 46 percent of criminal charges and has pleaded 130 felonies down, according to an 11 Alive report.

Three victims also filed lawsuits against the prosecutor, claiming that her office skirted legal procedures by not informing them before their respective offenders were offered plea deals or had their cases dismissed.

Gonzalez also faces a civil lawsuit “claiming she’s failed to manage her office properly to maintain the staff and caseload needed to fulfill the duties of the DA’s Office.”

Local trial attorney Kevin Epps told WSB-TV that Gonzalez does not have the necessary experience to try this case properly. 

“Gonzalez has failed to achieve one guilty verdict in a jury trial involving any type of criminal case,” said Epps, who is suing Gonzales on behalf of an Athens bar owner “who claims she is unwilling to do her job.”

“We currently have a district attorney that has a complete inability to prosecute this case appropriately,” he added.

Georgia State Rep. Houston Gaines (R) also called out the DA in multiple social media posts, pointing out that she said on her first day in office that she would “take into account collateral consequences to undocumented defendants” in her decisions.

“She’s also repeatedly failed to secure convictions in murder and rape cases and has only a handful of attorneys left in the office due to mass resignations,” Gaines added.

The Republican lawmaker also highlighted Gonzalez’s goal of ending the death penalty.

“The death penalty should be sought for Jose Ibarra. But Athens District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez has said she won’t seek the death penalty,” Gaines wrote on X. 

“I sincerely hope she reverses course.”

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) also warned Gonzalez before she handed the case over to Ross.

When asked by a reporter on Monday if he had confidence in the DA’s ability “to bring this case, this suspect, to justice,” Kemp had a stern response.

“Well, she best do that,” said the governor, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. “Because the whole country and the world is watching this case. Small crimes, we see it every day, lead to big crimes. And that’s what we’ve seen in this instance.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address on the House floor of the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (AP Photo/Alex Slitz)

Gaines, whose district borders the area where Riley’s body was found, also told reporters Monday that “she’s not ready to handle this case.”

Ross, on the other hand, is described as a “veteran prosecutor with some of Georgia’s most high-profile murder trials under her belt” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gonzalez claimed that the criticism against her is politically motivated in a statement from her office after Ross’s appointment to the case:

I want to express my gratitude to my colleagues from across Georgia who have supported our circuit during this tragic event at our flagship institution. We will not allow this or any other case to be used for political gain. Our top priority is the safety of every citizen, and we are fully committed to ensuring that justice is served for the loss of every life. Sheila Ross from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council (PAC) will return to the Western District. We welcome her back as a knowledgeable and well-respected trial attorney with the expertise ready to bring justice on behalf of Laken Riley. In preparation, this office and our law enforcement partners have maintained constant communication throughout the investigation. We will provide further updates once the case is turned over to our office. From day one, our office has worked diligently to keep this community safe from anyone who seeks to do it harm. This includes those who believe that violence is the answer. We will ensure that such individuals are brought to justice. Our hearts and our work are with the victim’s family and friends during this difficult time. We will provide additional comments once more information becomes available.

Ibarra has been charged with felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping, and concealing the death of another in relation to Riley’s death.

It is believed that the nursing student did not know her alleged killer and that she died of blunt-force trauma to the head by an unknown object.

The murder has shaken the Athens community, as well as the student bodies of UGA and Augusta University. 

Protesters interrupted Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz’s Wednesday morning remarks on public safety, shouting and holding signs that read, “Blood on your hands” and “Make Athens safe again,” Breitbart News reported.


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