Opposite outcome with Zimmerman defense for area truck driver

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 08:00 AM

Ten years ago, truck driver Leonard Giddens of Davidson County faced making a split-second decision — one eerily like the case of George Zimmerman.  

The circumstances were different. Giddens was along the side of a Georgia highway instead of the common area of a Florida residential complex. But just as Zimmerman pulled a handgun, fired and killed Trayvon Martin in a matter of moments, Giddens — then nearly 60 years old — grabbed a shotgun, raised the weapon and shot and killed a 35-year-old man threatening him with a metal pipe outside his tractor-trailer. 
But in Giddens’ case, the racial components of the confrontation were reversed. He’s a black man, while the truck driver who approached him along Ga. 16 in Carroll County, Ga., was white. Not only that, Giddens said the man hurled the N-word at him during a CB radio argument prior to their confrontation along the shoulder of the highway.
And the biggest difference between Giddens and Zimmerman is the outcome of the trials. Zimmerman, in one of the highest-profile cases in the nation’s recent history, was acquitted of all charges by a Florida jury last Saturday. Giddens, in a case that garnered little attention at the time outside of coverage by The High Point Enterprise, was convicted of aggravated assault. He drew a 12-year sentence.
Giddens served five years in a Georgia state prison before being paroled in February 2008, returning home to Davidson County. Giddens, who continues to appeal his case to the Georgia State Supreme Court, remains under parole supervision until 2015.
The father of four, who started his career as a trucker in 1959, spends his time staying in shape and working on legal filings to clear his name. He’s followed the Zimmerman trial closely, and doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions.
Giddens contends that, had he been white and the man he confronted been black 10 years ago, the case probably would have never come to trial.
“It’s sad to say it, but that’s the way it is,” said Giddens, who has lived in Davidson County more than 30 years.
Prosecutors in Georgia have defended the case against Giddens, telling the Enterprise in previous years that the shooting met the standard of a deadly assault. They’ve also denied that race played any role in the decision to prosecute Giddens.
Just after the confrontation in March 2003, Giddens called 911 to alert authorities and remained at the scene, according to 911 transcripts reviewed by the Enterprise. At the time, Giddens didn’t expect to be charged because he believed he shot the man approaching him with a metal pipe in self-defense.
Giddens said the CB radio argument began when he warned the other truck driver about his erratic driving. After being called the N-word during the argument, Giddens said he pulled to the side of the highway and hoped the driver would pass him. Instead, the other driver stopped and approached Giddens’ tractor-trailer. As the man reached the cab of his truck and raised the pipe, Giddens fired at him in the midsection.
Giddens has followed the Zimmerman trial closely, especially since he raised the same self-defense argument as Zimmerman’s attorneys.
“They jailed me without a bond — dangerous man to society,” said Giddens, now 70.
Giddens, who owned his own small business trucking operation starting in 1971, didn’t try to restart his career when he was let out of prison at the age of 65.
“Today, I keep myself busy in the yard. I’ve got a regular routine,” he said. “No one is going to give me a job. I’m a convicted felon. They don’t want to be liable for hiring a man who’s been in prison for shooting somebody.”
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528


Timeline of a confrontation

• March 31, 2003 – Leonard Giddens, nearly 60 at the time, of Davidson County, is driving his truck along Ga. 16 near Carrollton, Ga., west of Atlanta. He has an argument over the CB radio with truck driver Winford McGatha, 35, of Cedartown, Ga. The two men stop along the highway. McGatha approaches Giddens’ truck, brandishing a pipe with a hook on the end. Giddens steps out of his truck and fatally shoots McGatha with a shotgun.
• June 16, 2003 – Giddens is charged with felony murder, voluntary manslaughter and one count of aggravated assault.
• Dec. 11, 2003 – After a two-day trial, a jury acquits Giddens of murder and manslaughter but finds him guilty of aggravated assault. He’s sentenced to 12 years in prison.
• Nov. 14, 2005 – The Court of Appeals of Georgia denies Giddens’ appeal of his conviction.
• June 23, 2006 – A writ of habeas corpus hearing sought by Giddens is held at Calhoun State Prison in Morgan, Ga., on his possible release. The writ seeking his release was denied.
• Feb. 28, 2008 - Giddens is released on parole. He continues the appeal of his case, now seeking a hearing before the Georgia State Supreme Court.