Author: Renee Starzyk, CBS 46, WGCL-TV Atlanta
ATLANTA (CBS46) – Some legal experts said while Beverly Hall did not testify during the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial, the death of the former superintendent could affect the jury.
A dozen educators are on trial, accused of changing answers on standardized tests so students would pass.
Hall died Monday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was too ill to testify.
“I think as a juror you’re sitting there thinking the alleged mastermind is no longer here, so why would I convict all these folks?” said Zahra Karinshak, a former prosecutor now turned defense attorney.
Jurors heard months of testimony from dozens of witnesses during the trial. Many said they felt unspoken pressure to get students to pass the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). Karinshak said Hall’s death may be an opportunity for defense attorneys to ask for a mistrial or that some of the charges be dropped.
“It’s an opportunity for the defense to go on the offensive,” said Karinshak. “If I were a defense lawyer, that’s what I would be doing right now. I’d be staying up late figuring out what to do about the death of Dr. Hall.”
One school activist and mother with children in APS said she is said to hear about Hall’s death but said she has not forgiven the former superintendent for the cheating culture she allegedly created while leading the district.
“Yes, Dr. Hall is gone but her legacy continues, and her legacy is the demise and the criminalization of children, particularly poor children, in Atlanta,” said Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, who testified during the trial. “And that’s the shame of it.”
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin March 16.