In a unanimous opinion released Monday, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed John Woods’ murder conviction and ordered a new trial in the Berrien County case.
Justice P. Harris Hines wrote that the trial court failed to instruct jurors on the law of self-defense before their deliberations, as the defense attorney had requested.
The ruling states that Woods told his father he had killed Travis Sauls in self-defense and disposed of the body in the fall of 2009. He gave a general statement to law enforcement that he had shot Sauls because he feared for his life, the court ruling states.
In an Oct. 5, 2009, interview with law enforcement officers, Woods gave more details of the crime, “stating that while Sauls was washing his truck, Sauls said if anyone ever crossed him, he would kill the person,” the court’s opinion states.
“John said he feared for his life as Sauls began circling him, moving his hands and looking ‘bug eyed,’” the court opinion states. “John went into his house, got his gun and concealing it in a Tom’s Potato Chips bag, came back outside and shot Sauls in the back at least twice,” the court ruling states.
In the opinion released Monday, the court found that the trial court failed to instruct jurors on the state’s self-defense laws before they began their deliberations.
“Absent such an instruction, the jury was not provided with the proper guidelines for determining guilt or innocence,’” the opinion states.
It wasn’t immediately clear when a new trial might be held. A district attorney in the region that covers Berrien County did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.