The prominent criminal defense and family law attorney died after a battle with cancer at Northside Hospital-Forsyth.
Funeral services will be held today at 11 a.m. at Canton First United Methodist Church, with the Revs. Jim McRae, Ed Towers and Dr. C.R. Hill officiating.
Cannon will lie in state at the church for 30 minutes before the funeral begins. Internment will take place at Cherokee Memorial Park.
The 65-year-old has practiced law in Cherokee County for the last 30 years and is most notable for his work in establishing the county’s indigent defense program, which has evolved over the years and influenced the way the state began handling defense cases for the less fortunate.
Cannon, who lived in Waleska, worked on several high-profile cases throughout the years.
Along with attorney Daran Burns, he represented Ryan Brunn, who pleaded guilty to the killing of 7-year-old Canton Elementary School student Jorelys Rivera before killing himself in January.
He also defended Johnathan Heath Elkins, who in 2006 was found not guilty on charges of assisting in the rape and murder of a Cherokee County teenager, Katie Hamlin, in 2002.
Born Feb. 4, 1947, the Waleska resident served on the Georgia Indigent Defense Council representing the Ninth Judicial Administrative District, which includes Cherokee, and served as Holly Springs’ municipal court judge for 13 years.
The Canton native first graduated with a business degree from the University of Georgia in the 1970s and did not immediately enter the law profession. He later graduated from the University of Georgia and Woodrow Wilson College of Law in 1982
He served as president and vice president of the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit Bar Association, formerly the Cherokee County Bar Association.
He actively practiced law until June when he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke.
Cannon’s son, Superior Court Judge-elect David Cannon Jr., said his father’s death was unexpected as he continued to run his father’s office this summer, expecting him to soon return. However, Cannon Jr. said his father didn’t respond to the treatments.
Cannon Jr. said his father was well-respected by everyone in law enforcement, even though his father was always on the other side of the courtroom.
“He treated everybody with respect and professionalism,” Cannon Jr. said. “I think that’s his legacy as a lawyer and it’s something that’s really missing these days.”
Lt Jamie Gianfala, who began with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in 1993, agreed.
“He cared so much that things got done right by the law,” Gianfala said. “Not a lot of attorneys do that. There was always a mutual respect between us and with other law officers.”
Lt. Jay Baker, spokesman for the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, said one of the first times he testified in court, Cannon was the defense attorney.
“That experience taught me that I better have my ducks in a row when making a criminal charge,” Baker said. “ I will never forget it.”
Gianfala, who works with the criminal investigations unit, said Cannon often gave him tips and pointers after the verdict was decided.
“When I first started out, I didn’t know everything and made some mistakes,” Gianfala said. “He made it a learning situation for me. Not a lot of lawyers would do that. He really taught me a lot.”
Sheriff Roger Garrison said Cannon was one of the few remaining Canton attorneys who has practiced since Garrison entered law enforcement in the 1980s.
“Everybody in law enforcement has tremendous respect for David Cannon Sr.,” Garrison said. “He loved the community… Even though he was defending a lot of people we were putting in jail, he always made sure we were putting up good cases and keeping the community safe in the process.”
Gianfala described Cannon as approachable, knowledgeable and fair; and win or lose, he and Cannon would continue to go to lunch and greet each other with handshake and a smile every time they saw one another around the downtown court buildings.
“He’s a cornerstone of that courthouse,” Gianfala said. “Everywhere you turn, there was Senior.”
Gianfala also described “Senior” as a firecracker in the courtroom.
“He’s nice and calm, easy going, but once you light his fuse, he’s like dynamite in a small package,” Gianfala said. “It takes a lot because he’s so easy going, so smart…he can quote the law without even looking. He’s a legend. To me, he’s a legend in law enforcement. ”
Cannon Jr. said his father prided himself in being the best at his craft, often taking the minimum required stipend from defendants and kept his name on the volunteer list of lawyers willing to work as court-appointed lawyers.
“The (limited) resources of the state and what people are up against when they are being criminally prosecuted is significant and he took that job seriously,” Cannon Jr. said. “If he thought he could help them, he would help them.”
Cannon Jr. said his father worked hard to impress his high standards in the rest of the bar association. Attorney Eric Ballinger said Cannon was his greatest mentor.
“He was my very good friend,” Ballinger said. “I didn’t get to know my father growing up. He died when I was very young. David Cannon Sr. is exactly what I would want my father to be.”
Ballinger compared Cannon to Atticus Finch with his honesty and passion for the truth, regardless of the consequences.
“When I was a brand new lawyer, I saw him coming into the courtroom very stern—you knew he meant business. I wanted to emulate that as soon as I saw him,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger said watching Cannon head to court was like watching a soldier go off to battle.
“He was armed with knowledge and details about the law—all the subtle nuances of how these cases worked and applied just amazed me,” Ballinger said.
Cannon’s son said what most affects him about his father’s death is that he won’t be able to see him take his seat as Cherokee County Superior Court Judge in January. Cannon Jr. stepped down as solicitor general earlier this year to run for the seat.
“He’s going to get to see it from above, but not walk the halls of the courtroom, which I was looking forward to,” Cannon Jr. said.
Cannon is survived by wife Michelle Cannon of Waleska; son David Cannon Jr. of Canton; daughter Deanna Adkins of Canton; brother James E. Cannon of Flowery Branch; sisters Judy Bishop and Linda Bailey, both of Canton. He is also survived by four grandchildren.