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Posted: December 30, 2008 9:39 p.m.

Year in review...Newton logs 9 murder cases in 2008, technology improves

Though 2008 opened with homicides coming at a breakneck pace, the crime rate leveled off as the year progressed. The county also enacted a long-awaited radio system conversion for all the public safety agencies and passed the baton from one generation of public safety leaders to the next.

Murders

The county opened 3,598 total cases this year, compared to 3,626 cases last year, according to the District Attorney's office. Of those, nine cases were homicides - seven handled by the Newton County Sheriff's Office and two by the Covington Police Department - compared to 10 homicides in 2007, four in 2006, one in 2005 and two in 2004.

The first murder occurred within hours of Jan. 1, as Courtney Thornton allegedly shot Dennis Rogers, 38, in the back of the head in a green Jaguar S-class. Rogers died later in the hospital and Thornton was arrested in Atlanta a few days after the shooting.

That was quickly followed by the fatal shooting of Catcilia Crowder, 43, by her estranged husband, Darrell Antonio Crowder, as their 16-year-old daughter slept nearby, and the double murder of Jeffery Nevels, 40, and Rachel Buser, 30, at Buser's Freeman Drive home. That case remains unsolved.

In March, the city of Covington saw a case of a botched drug-deal-turned-homicide that benefited from the use of new technologies. Ashley Obryant Vinson, 20, was shot in the head at close range in the back of a Buick LeSabre after a marijuana deal dispute. Cecil Allen and Julian Holloway, the alleged perpetrators, apparently panicked and drove the car to Holloway's parents' house.

Using databases, officers were able to pull up Holloway's home address. When they were finally let in, officers found the car with Vinson's body in the garage.

One of the more gruesome cases occurred at the end of March when Rodney Renia Young, 40, of Bridgeton, N.J., allegedly killed Gary Lamar Jones, a one-time correctional officer and boxing amateur, using a hammer.

Jones' mother discovered her son's body as she came home from work March 30, according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office. There were reportedly signs of a forced entry. Young was arrested in Bridgeton and charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary.

The District Attorney's office is pursing the death penalty against Young - a case that might come to trial in 2009. The one other pending death penalty case, that of Cobey Wade Lakemper, for the alleged murder of hotel clerk Wendy Carter during an armed robbery on Aug. 18, 2005, might also come to trial in 2009.

Investigators are still looking for Porfirio Guanchez/Roman, 27, who allegedly killed his estranged wife, Carmen Guanchez in August. His truck was found at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Social Circle also had one homicide, the first faced by the city's police department since its inception in 2005, when Cynthia Lundy, a former Newton County teacher, was shot by her brother, Bret Grant, 20, on July 25 following a dispute.

Trials

This year saw the bizarre trial of Christopher "Big Boy" Rozier, 20, and Xavier "Pretty Boy" Dyer, 20, and Willie "Scooter" Dyer, 19, for the 2007 shooting death of Rufus Tony Richardson, 55.

The defendants were accused of putting rat poison in Richardson's crack pipe and, when that didn't work, taking him to the woods and shooting him.

Rozier and Xavier Dyer were found guilty of all counts, including malice murder and felony murder, and sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years. Willie Dyer was found not guilty.

The case of Thomas Francis, a onetime deputy accused of fatally shooting his wife Denise Michele "Shelly" Francis in 2006 at their home in Social Circle, also came to trial this year.

Thomas Francis was found guilty of all counts against him, including malice murder, murder and the obstruction of an emergency call. He was sentenced to life plus seven years.

Transitions

This year also saw Sheriff Joe Nichols step down after more than decade as the county's top cop.

A number of other prominent law officials quietly stepped down after years of service. Judge Billy Waters retired from the bench after 11 years as the juvenile court judge to practice law at his former law firm. Sheri Capes Roberts was appointed as the new juvenile court judge.

Coroner Bob Wheeler also announced his retirement after 20 years in the position. Assistant Coroner Tommy Davis ran unopposed in November's elections for the office.

Radio Conversion

Newton County finally saw the fruition of its long-awaited radio conversion project this year, aimed at getting all of the county's public safety and public works agencies on the same wavelength.

"We are now far better prepared than most counties and agencies in the country that if we should have some type of disaster we can get everybody coordinated easily since we're on one radio system," said project coordinator Mike Smith, director of the 911 center.

The project and new system, which cost more than $4.5 million and was funded in part by a 1-cent sales tax approved in 2005, was initially scheduled to be complete around 2007 but was delayed when an alternate site needed to be found for the construction of the seventh radio tower.

Special Investigation Unit

The Special Investigations Unit was formed out of the Covington Police Department and the Newton County Sheriff's Office after the close of the East Metro Drug Enforcement Team (EMDET) in late 2007.

"SIU is better equipped to handle different types of crimes," said SIU head Lt. Philip Bradford, acknowledging the new technologies acquired by SIU.

He pointed out a county-wide round up of drug dealers in late April following a four-month investigation that netted 44 arrests mostly for cocaine. Of those arrests, all but two have pled guilty, he said.

Another large SIU case was the bust of a cross-country marijuana distributing ring that included the house of Demetres Jackson, 34, and Jackson's business, Express Mailbox, on Salem Road.

From January to December of 2008, SIU made 141 arrests and handled 112 cases.

 

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