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Judge questions release of evidence in 25-year-old murder case

July 8, 1997

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) _ It took 25 years to bring Jan Barry Sandlin to trial on charges he murdered his infant stepson and framed the boy’s toddler sister.

It took just one day to raise the threat of a mistrial when the judge questioned whether potential jurors were influenced by sealed witness statements printed Monday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

``Let there be no misunderstanding, I’m extremely troubled by what’s happened,″ said Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller. ``And it may have a very serious effect on the state’s ability to prosecute this case.″

Jury selection was to continue Tuesday, but Fuller said he would declare a mistrial if he found the pool of 70 potential jurors had been prejudiced by pretrial publicity.

Prosecutor Lee Anne Mangone apologized to the court for releasing the documents.

``It shouldn’t have been done. It was done through a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings,″ Mangone said.

Sandlin, 46, was indicted in December on charges he killed 4-month-old Matthew Golder in 1971.

At the time, Sandlin said Matthew’s 2-year-old sister, Tracy, climbed into her brother’s crib and threw him out. The coroner ruled the boy’s death an accident and no autopsy was conducted.

The case was revived after Tracy Golder, now Tracy Rhame, questioned why there had been no autopsy. Also, doctor’s reports indicating physical abuse before the baby’s death were never investigated.

After Matthew’s body was exhumed, an autopsy indicted the baby died from multiple blunt force trauma to the head that is inconsistent with the theory that the toddler threw her brother out of a crib.

Sandlin’s attorneys requested a mistrial or change of venue Monday after the newspaper printed a transcript of a telephone conversation between Mrs. Rhame, of Savannah, and her mother, Kathy Almon, of Atlanta. In the conversation, Mrs. Rhame tells her mother that Sandlin wrote her a letter implying that Ms. Almon’s silence allowed him to hide something.

``He said that I should be asking you what happened to Matt. That it takes two to tango and he couldn’t have walked away or something,″ Mrs. Rhame said.

Ms. Almon had left the baby alone with Sandlin while she and Tracy did laundry. When they returned, Sandlin sent Ms. Almon to get the laundry out of the car before letting her see her son.

``What bothered me about it all those years was in my mind I kept going back over and over and over him not wanting me to check on Matt before I got the clothes out of the car,″ Ms. Almon said in the transcript. ``That always bothered me. It always has. It always will.″