By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled to uphold the conviction and sentencing of Donald Justin Lee, 26, a Morgan County man convicted of aggravated assault in relation to the death of a baby boy.
“This was a tragic, gut-wrenching case,” said Stephen Bradley, the district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit who presented the overview of the State’s case against Lee in 2016.
After Lee was convicted, he appealed the courts for a new trial, but that motion has been denied.
“The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled there is no error in the case that justifies having it reversed,” explained Bradley.
Lee was originally loaded with seven charges, including murder, in relation to the death of 9-month-old Brantley Garrett Farmer, who died in June of 2014, after being in the sole care of Lee, the then boyfriend of the child’s mother. However, Lee was found not guilty on multiple murder charges by the jury, but was only convicted of aggravated assault instead, receiving a 20-year jail sentence, issued by Morgan County Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution maintained that Brantley Farmer died as a result of violent shaking at the hands of Lee. Bradley argued that the baby’s crying prompted Lee to fly into a rage for interrupting his video games and cooking a “Hot Pocket”
for lunch. “He’s guilty,” said Bradley during the 2016 trial. “We know he is a liar…He’s the only person who could have caused these injuries to this child.” The prosecution maintained that Lee violently shook the baby and possibly threw the baby down, causing the child’s death.
The defense admitted Lee briefly shook the baby, but argued that the shaking was not severe enough to harm the child. The defense maintained that Lee tripped and fell while carrying a wide-awake and alert Farmer and accidentally dropped the baby on his head.
The prosecution emphasized that Lee initially lied to police, when he first told authorities that the baby had fallen off a couch. Lee eventually admitted to shaking the baby and said he tripped and fell, causing him to drop the baby afterwards. The defense argued that Lee was terrified, knowing that shaking the baby at all was wrong, but that the baby’s death was not caused by it.
“It’s a sad case, but not every tragedy is a crime,” said Bob Rubin, one of Lee’s defense attorneys. “The truth of this case is that Justin Lee is not guilty of these charges…It was an accident.”
But the jury would not clear Lee of all the charges, though they were not persuaded to convict Lee of murder. The jury convicted Lee of aggravated assault and the Georgia Court of Appeals officially upheld that conviction on Tuesday, July 9.
“I hope this finally brings the family some closure,” said Bradley.