Austin Ford’s mother sentenced for taking photos of jurors

Posted at 1:12 PM, August 16, 2023 and last updated 9:13 PM, August 16, 2023


LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (Court TV) – The mother of a man tried twice for murdering his best friend will serve time herself after she took photos of jurors in court during her son’s trial.

A woman in a striped shirt and blue jacket sits at a microphone in court

Sheila Holley, seen here on Aug. 9, 2023, was charged with contempt after she was seen taking a photo of jurors during her son’s murder trial. (Court TV)

Austin Ford, 21, was tried in April and August on murder charges in the death of his friend, 18-year-old Tori Lang. After two mistrials because juries were unable to reach unanimous verdicts, prosecutors announced Wednesday that they would not seek another trial against Ford.

“Unfortunately, there was a lack of direct evidence speaking affirmatively to which person pulled the trigger,” Gwinnett District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson said in a statement shared with Court TV. “The circumstantial nature of proving that Ford fired the shot that killed Tori, and [the medical examiner’s] inability to rule out suicide made this a particularly difficult case to prove.”

READ MORE: GA v. Austin Ford: Best Friend Murder Retrial

On Aug. 9, the second day of Ford’s retrial, his mother, Sheila Holley, caused a disturbance in the courtroom when she was seen taking a photo of the proceedings with a cell phone.

A Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Deputy reported to the court that she saw Holley appear to be recording video. The phone was seized and Holley testified under oath that she used the phone to take a photo of jurors in the jury box. The phone was immediately seized. Holley was charged with criminal contempt as a result.

In court documents filed in Holley’s case, Judge Deborah Fluker, who also presided over Ford’s case, said that all observers in the courtroom were “repeatedly notified” each day that all cell phones needed to be turned completely off.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Fluker rendered Holley guilty of two counts of indirect criminal contempt of court, and sentenced her to serve three days at the Gwinnett County Detention Center, to be served immediately. She is scheduled to be released on Saturday, Aug. 19. The sheriff’s department was ordered to retain custody of the phone until her release, at which point it will be returned.

While Ford will not be re-tried on murder charges, he was convicted on two counts of theft and of concealing the death of Tori Lang at his first trial in April. Fluker sentenced Ford to 20 years and attached conditions to the first 10 years that included not having contact with Lang’s family.