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John Wesley Poteat

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WILDWOOD – Decades after a brutal crime in a Wildwood bar, one of the two defendants continues to try overturning his conviction of felony murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, conspiracy and more.

Most recently, two Superior Court judges upheld the latest rejection of an appeal by John Wesley Poteat, who sought a new trial. He and another man were accused in a deadly late-night robbery in 1996. After a 1997 trial, Poteat received two life sentences.

According to a 2009 story in the Herald (https://bit.ly/2T4v9Yu), published 13 years after the crime, two men walked into the Firehouse Tavernshortly after 2 a.m. May 10, 1996. Poteat and Frederick Simmons walked out with $700 and a six-pack of beer, according to the news story, but only after the brutal murder of the lone patron of the bar and the savage beating of the bartender.

The patron recognized Simmons as he entered the bar. Simmons stabbed the man several times in the neck, while Poteat beat the bartender with a club, according to the report. They fled the scene, only to be picked up hours later by Wildwood police.

Both men were convicted in separate trials. Simmons was reportedly under consideration for the death penalty, but also received life in prison. Both men sought to see their convictions overturned. 

According to the most recent court decision, a trial court denied Poteat’s petition for post-conviction relief in 2006, and another effort in March 2014 was also denied as untimely. In July 2018, he moved for a new trial, citing newly discovered evidence.

He argued the prosecution withheld evidence of his mental health issues, according to court documents. He also argued his attorney did not properly represent him, cited a lack of DNA evidence, and said statements he made at the police station should have been inadmissible because he was intoxicated. He also said he was denied food and water to coerce a statement.

According to the most recent decision, an attorney was assigned to Poteat “but did not supplement defendant’s handwritten submission.”

In July 2018, Judge Michael Donohue reserved a decision in the matter. On Aug. 9 of that year, he denied the motion. Donohue has since stepped down from the bench and practices law in Cape May County. 

A June 2 decision from Appellate Court Judges Mary Gibbons Whipple and Lisa Rose praised Donohue’s reasoning, citing his statement in the ruling that “defendant has pursued the full panoply of post-conviction litigation…”

Donohue found the claims could not be considered newly discovered evidence and denied the request for a new trial. The Appeals Court agreed.

To contact Bill Barlow, contact bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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