July 15, 2007
They hope to present a petition and resolution urging Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams to set bail for Noel Chua, who has been jailed without bail since his arrest on murder and drug charges in September.
Chua is charged in the drug overdose death of his 20-year-old housemate and patient, James B. Carter III, who was found dead in the doctor's home in December 2005. A Camden County grand jury charged that Carter died from drugs prescribed by Chua and that none of the drugs were for a legitimate medical purpose.
"We're not asking for anything special. Just give him a bond," said Mercedes Chapman, a former patient of Chua's who helped organize the petition drive. "We just don't understand why he's still there."
Her son, Tom, owner of a St. Marys computer store, created and maintains a "Free Dr. Chua" Web site that includes the online petition and the "resolution on behalf of Sheriff ... Smith and the Camden County Board of Commissioners."
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had 188 signatures from as far away as New Zealand. At least a third of the signatures are from Camden County.
Carter's family and friends launched their own online petition Friday to keep Chua in jail. It had 56 signatures Friday afternoon.
"I don't want him back out on the street," said Kathy Hendrix of Nahunta. "I don't want to see this happen to another kid."
A case for freedom
Sheriff's Office spokesman William Terrell confirmed Smith would be at the meeting but wouldn't discuss his reasons for attending. He said the sheriff would be happy to talk to a reporter after the meeting but not before.
It wouldn't be the first time Smith has pushed for bail for Chua. Court records show he visited Williams in her chambers after Chua's arrest to ask about bail.
"I do not issue bonds in murder cases," the judge said she told him, according to a transcript obtained by the Times-Union of a bench conference she had with lawyers in the case. "If that's a problem with you, then I am telling you now I'm not going to do it. I'll get you another judge."
Later, she told lawyers concerning a bail hearing, "Because he [Smith] doesn't want me to hear it, I'm not going to hear it."
A week later, Superior Court Judge James Tuten, the chief judge of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, denied Chua bail. He agreed with prosecutors that Chua was a flight risk.
The bail resolution isn't on the commission's Tuesday agenda and hasn't been filed with the county, according to the clerk's office. Commission Chairman Preston Rhodes said he had heard about the petition but no one has approached him about it. He said it could be presented during the public comment period of Tuesday's meeting.
The sheriff's relationship with Chua has been an issue in the murder case since Chua's arrest. Smith has said he doesn't believe Chua is guilty, and he has confirmed he traveled to China with the doctor between the time of Carter's death and Chua's arrest. Smith said the trip's purpose was to seek alternative treatments for his son, who is paralyzed from a car crash.
Court records show prosecutors cited the sheriff's friendship with Chua as reason for having him jailed initially in neighboring Glynn County. Chua's lawyers eventually won him a transfer to the Camden County Jail.
Prosecutors couldn't comment on the petition and resolution because of a gag order, Assistant District Attorney Jackie Johnson said.
Tuesday's commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the county annex building.