Free Matthew Dunagan sign now

Free Matthew Dunagan


To: All Concerned Parties

We the undersigned, oppose the wrongful conviction and sentencing of Aaron Matthew Dunagan.

The small town of Rome in Northwest Georgia was the scene of a tragic accident in 2004 and an equally tragic injustice in 2006.

Aaron Matthew Dunagan and Candice Wilson Bendek were involved in a collision on February 17, 2004 at the intersection of Hwy. 53 and Burlington Road in Floyd County. The accident left Bendek, 21, in a coma for weeks. She also lost her unborn child. Candice is still confined to a wheelchair.

Mr. Dunagan was immediately labeled as a drunk driver in the community. There was a massive amount of media coverage surrounding the accident. The community rallied around Candice. "Pray for Candice" bumper stickers and billboards appeared throughout the community. Pictures of Candice and the words "Pray for Candice" were seen at grocery stores, restaurants and drive-thru windows throughout Rome. There were fundraisers and a web site was created on Candice's behalf. Mrs. Bendek's vehicle was put on display in Rome at local businesses, churches and schools with the words to the effect of "This is the result of drinking and driving". Nonetheless, the trial was still held in Floyd County.

Matthew Dunagan was indicted for Reckless Driving, DUI, Running a Red Light and Serious Injury by Vehicle. He was ultimately found guilty of all charges except DUI and sentenced to an extraordinarily long term of 17 years, 10 years to be served in confinement.

As tragic as Mrs. Bendek's condition is, it is becoming clear that she actually caused the accident by failing to yield the right of way. In short, Mr. Dunagan could not avoid hitting her because she made a left turn without yielding to oncoming traffic. This is substantiated by the testimonies of three witnesses. The prosecution continues to maintain that Mr. Dunagan ran the red light. (However, if this were true, then Mrs. Bendek also would have run the red light by turning left.)

This case has several disturbing inconsistencies, which are outlined below.

h Two witnesses, Mr. Don McDonald and Mrs. Edna Janice Turner have come forward since the sentencing of Matthew Dunagan because they felt a grave injustice had occurred. Their descriptions of the accident show that Mrs. Bendek failed to yield the right of way. In the case of Mr. McDonald, the investigating office failed to take his statement. In the case of Mrs. Turner, the police refused to take her statement.

h The only witness for the defense at the time of the trial, Joshua Dunagan, had his testimony essentially disregarded because he is the brother of Matthew Dunagan. Now that two other witnesses have stepped forward, their accounts validate Mr. Josh Dunagan's testimony, which was that the traffic lights were green on Hwy. 53 and Mrs. Bendek failed to yield the right of way.

h The police report was incorrect in stating that Mrs. Bendek was traveling West on Burlington Drive. According to witnesses, she was traveling North on Hwy. 53 and made a left turn onto Burlington Drive.

h When the state's witnesses were originally deposed, their stories did not coincide. However, when the trial began their stories became very similar.

h One of the state's witnesses was employed by Candice Bendek's father after the accident and during the trial.

h There is an affidavit from Floyd County 911 Administration that the 911 tapes from the day of the accident were not available due to "technical difficulties." One of the witnesses first on the scene, Mr. Don McDonald, probably could have been located had the tapes been available.

h The defense attorney, Mr. Steve Lanier, requested a change of venue due to the fact that there had been two years of pre-trial publicity in favor of Mrs. Bendek. This publicity included billboards, bumper stickers, a web site and fundraisers. Mrs. Bendek's wrecked vehicle was also displayed in Floyd and Gordon Counties with a sign that essentially stated that this was the result of a drunk driver. Mr. Lanier's request was denied.

h Mr. Dunagan was not charged with Reckless Driving at the scene of the accident. This charge was later added during the indictment process.

h The presiding judge, J. Bryant Durham, was a member of West Rome Baptist Church in the years 1983 and 2003, along with the Bendek family. This did not cause Judge Durham to disqualify himself from the trial.

h Judge Durham would not allow evidence regarding the dangerous intersection in the trial. Between January of 1997 and March of 2005 there were 78 accidents at this intersection. Five of these accidents resulted in fatalities.

h Matthew Dunagan received a sentence of 17 years, 10 to serve in confinement and 7 years probation, after being found guilty of Serious Injury by Vehicle due to Reckless Driving, Reckless Driving, and Running a Red Light. The average sentence for these charges is 4.5 years. Another accident occurred at the same intersection and involved a fatality. The driver at fault was given probation.

Even with the new evidence that this was an unavoidable accident on the part of Matthew Dunagan, Judge Durham refused to grant a retrial. He also denied bond.

There has been a huge public outcry because of Matthew Dunagan's fate. Concerned citizens have posted facts about this case on a web site www.mattfairtrial.com and have signs displayed around the county that say "Free Matthew Dunagan."

At this time Matt is waiting for his appeal. However, based on the evidence, this case merits a complete dismissal and warrants further investigation into the Floyd County judicial system. Meanwhile, Matthew Dunagan waits in jail.

Please take a stand with us and help fight this injustice. This is an opinion petition and as such can be signed by any person of any age living in any state of country. If you agree, please sign this petition and forward it to as many others as you know.

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Virgil HensleyBy:
HealthIn:
Petition target:
Governor Sonny Perdue, Atlanta GA.

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