Justin Chapman was convicted eight years ago of burning down his own house in Bremen, Ga., and killing the elderly woman who lived next door. It was the kind of thoughtless, heartless crime that should land you in prison forever. Unless you didn’t do it. Welcome to “Breakdown: railroad justice in a railroad town.”
The jury deliberated for 40 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. And at 27 years old, Justin Chapman was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 30 years.
The investigation was also brief, and the trial lasted only a few days. It was swift justice in a quiet little town that is unused to murder: Bremen, Ga., population 6,300, lies about 50 miles west of Atlanta near the Alabama line.
The prosecutor remains certain to this day that he got the right man, and Chapman may well be guilty of the crime that killed Alice Jackson, 79. But his case is also an example of repeated breakdowns at nearly every level of the criminal justice system in Georgia.
BREMEN – Alice Jackson, aging, alone, uncertain, was marooned in the little apartment on Sharp Street.
She was nearing 80, a widow without a car. Neighbors knew her as “Miz Alice,” a sweet and gentle woman for whom they sometimes ran errands. She was at least mildly intellectually disabled – sometimes fearful, continually on the phone with the police and her pastor and others.
Bremen is a small town that sits on the border of Haralson and Carroll counties, about one hour west of Atlanta. This map identifies where the events of June 20, 2006, took place, according to witness statements and court testimony.