A male nurse convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting sedated female patients, including children, was released from prison earlier this year under murky circumstances.
Paul Serdula turned himself in to authorities Wednesday afternoon. But his release raised questions about how the Georgia Department of Corrections allowed him to walk free.
Serdula was sentenced to life plus 25 years by Cobb Superior Court Judge Reuben Green and was serving his time at Wheeler Correctional Facility, a private medium-security prison in Alamo, Ga.
That conviction was vacated in February, but he still faced charges and had been denied bond. But rather than turning Serdula over to Cobb authorities, Wheeler staff released him.
“It seems that somebody should have realized that this guy should not just be released,” said Jim Fleissner, a Mercer University law professor since 1994 and former federal prosecutor. Fleissner said Serdula’s legal status is tenuous at best.
“Here’s a guy convicted of extremely serious crimes meriting a life sentence,” Fleissner said. “He’s not guilty, but he’s not not guilty.”
The Department of Corrections issued a statement acknowledging that Cobb County authorities had requested Serdula be released directly to them. When Wheeler began running its “normal release process” on Serdula, “they found no detainers and no legal authority to hold him.”
“They did, however, overlook the request that had been made by Cobb,” it added.
At Serdula’s sentencing seven years ago, prosecutors called him a “serial pervert” who assaulted and took lewd photographs of women and girls after he had drugged them — sometimes during childbirth and sometimes during dental procedures.
“I was horrified,” one alleged victim testified. “How do you explain what that feels like?”
Another said she was so traumatized she couldn’t bear the thought of starting a family with her husband.
There’s a possibility these alleged victims and others could end up having to go through a whole new trial.
An Appeals Court found that Green handled a motion to recuse himself inappropriately by failing to disclose that then-District Attorney Patrick Head had served as treasurer on Green’s 2010 campaign for State Court.
The Appeals Court judges ordered the case sent back to Cobb so that a different judge could rule on the recusal motion. If a judge rules that Green should have recused himself, a new trial could take place. If that judge rules that Green can remain on the case, the convictions against Serdula will be reinstated.
It’s not the first time Green, a former prosecutor, has been challenged about his relationship with the DA’s office.
In 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated three murder convictions in his court over his relationship with Head and failure to recuse himself.
Green could not immediately be reached for comment.
When the case comes back to Cobb Superior Court, it will be argued by Floyd County prosecutors. Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds, who was not in office when Serdula was convicted, recused his office from the case. Reynolds is a former law partner of an attorney who has represented Serdula in the past, Jimmy Berry.
A message left for Berry at his office was not immediately returned Wednesday. Case filings show that in May 2017, Serdula was represented by the law office of Nathanael Horsley.
But a person who answered the phone there Wednesday wouldn’t say whether Horsley still represents Serdula.
—Channel 2 Action News’ Chris Jose contributed to this report