The woman taken into custody by sheriff's investigators this morning at the Dawson County courthouse for allegedly lying under oath was released on a signature bond.
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said he was disturbed by the abrupt arrest of Wendi Lee Howard, who said she overheard a conversation between an elderly man and a juror as she entered the courthouse just before 9 a.m. Monday.
"That's not how our system works. We don't arrest somebody just because they have a different version than we have, without evidence," Deal said. "My concern is that what happened today has chilled the ability for anyone to feel like they can come forward to share any information."
According to Howard, the man, later identified as Lewis Darnell of Cumming, told the juror, "Do me a favor, find him guilty."
Howard was at the courthouse for the trial of her neighbor, Herman James "Bo" Seppenfield VII, who is charged with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
He is accused in the 2014 shooting death of 37-year-old Brandon Weaver.
Both Darnell and the juror, whose name is not being released at this time, deny the conversation ever happened.
"If I had to guess, there was probably a misunderstanding of what was said," Deal said.
Deal had some choice words for the two Dawson County deputies that made the arrest inside his courtroom.
"I don't know exactly why the decision was made, but if the only basis for arresting Ms. Howard was what happened in this courtroom, that's not enough," he said. "I don't like the way this was handled. I don't care which side of the case you're on."
Both Sgt. Jennifer Wright and Inv. Travis Greene were called in to testify during Howard's bond hearing, just about two hours after she was taken into custody.
They said the decision was based on Howard's testimony and the belief that she had perjured herself under oath.
Dawson County Public Defender Rob McNeill represented Howard during the bond hearing and asked that she be immediately released on her own recognizance, which was granted.
Conley Greer, Northeastern Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney, who is trying the state's case against Seppenfield, agreed with McNeill.
"She needs to be released," he said.
As of press time, a warrant for Howard's arrest had not been obtained and she had not been booked in the Dawson County jail.
According to Wright, investigators were working to obtain video surveillance of the entrance to the courthouse where the alleged conversation occurred.