Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Judge Cites Conflict, Steps Aside Unrelated Suit Hangs over '98 Slaying Trial

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

St. Johns Judge Cites Conflict, Steps Aside Unrelated Suit Hangs over '98 Slaying Trial

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Schoettler, Times-Union staff writer

A St. Johns County judge has removed himself from a murder case after saying he thought his role would conflict with an unrelated lawsuit he has filed over an accident involving the same officer who helped engineer the release of an inmate charged in the slaying.

The recusal of Circuit Judge Robert K. Mathis is the latest in a series of changes in the case against Bobby Batson and James Stanford, who are charged with the November 1998 slaying of Jerry Amerson. Police said Amerson, 22, had his throat slit and was shot in the head during a soured drug deal. Amerson's family has said he was lured to his death as part of an alleged contract hit that police failed to take seriously.

Batson and Stanford, both 38, have pleaded not guilty and blame each other. The case is already on its fourth prosecutor, while Stanford is working on his third attorney. It is set for trial in January.

Mathis, the original judge, issued an order recusing himself after being contacted last week by the Times-Union regarding a potential conflict with the case and a $1 million lawsuit he filed in August against the federal government. The Times-Union, the prosecutor and defense attorneys obtained a copy of Mathis' order yesterday.

The suit involved neck injuries Mathis received when accidentally shot with a blank during a mock hostage exercise in his courtroom in October 1999. Mathis was hospitalized, had surgery and suffered nerve damage and other permanent injuries, the suit said.

Eric Fowler, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent who shot Mathis, is among a handful of police officers who engineered the release of Batson from jail so he could become an informant against a St. Johns family long investigated for drug dealing.

Batson, a career criminal in jail without bail on a burglary charge, was released despite telling the police that he was offered a contract by the same family to kill Amerson. Batson promised he wouldn't hurt Amerson and said the contract had been called off. …

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