The past year has seen numbers fluctuate where law enforcement is concerned. The number of murder victims is down from 2008’s eight to only five in 2009, but the number of people charged with the crime has increased in the county. But while violent crimes may be down, robberies have gone up. The year also saw several murder cases put to rest when their murderers were officially tried and punished for their crimes. And one notorious convicted murderer was laid to rest, but not without protest. What follows is a brief look into crime and courts in Newton County for 2009.
Timothy Clements was many things. He was a father, a husband, a friend and a successful businessman, but in June his life ended tragically, making him the first murder of the year in Newton County.
On June 12 at around 4:30 p.m., a fisherman stumbled upon the 53-year-old’s body, wrapped in material and dumped in Snapping Shoals Creek off Ga. Highway 212. Clements, a landscaper from Conyers, had been reported missing by his family earlier that day.
In less then a week four people had been arrested and charged with Clements’ murder. Pablo Fernando Maldonado, 23, the alleged ringleader and former employee of Clements, along with Christian Perion Caldwell, 18; Brittney Michelle Beasley, 17; and Katria Luche McClain, 17 — who was a juvenile at the time of the murder and was charged as an adult — are facing charges that they kidnapped Clements and then killed him, stole his truck and his money and fled to Alabama where they were later arrested. The state recently announced plans to seek the death penalty against Maldonado and multiple requests for bail in the other three accused have been denied by Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson, Jr.
Calvin Kentrell Banks
Shots rang out in a home in the Cedar Creek subdivision the morning of June 29, and when deputies arrived at the residence, they found three people shot. Calvin Kentrell Banks, 34, died later that day.
When deputies arrived at the home, they found portions of it in disarray, a front bedroom window with the screen knocked out and the blinds mangled and partially pulled out into the front yard and three people shot.
By mid-July, two men had been arrested and charged with Banks’ murder. Larry Grison Jr. of Lake Charles, La, was located at the Dollar General Store less than a mile from the home on Appia Way. There was a large amount of marijuana reportedly found in the same area as Grison when he was arrested. Though not initially charged, he has since been charged with murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and cruelty to children in the second degree. Also charged in the murder is Ricky Lamont Matthews, 28, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is facing the same charges as Grison.
Following an argument outside his home in Newton County, 21-year-old William Okafor was reportedly struck in the head with a brick, resulting in an injury that later led to his demise.
Roland Lebron Wilson Jr., 23, has been charged with murder, aggravated battery and aggravated assault; he reportedly turned himself in the day the Okafor died.
Wilson is being accused of going to 21-year-old William Okafor’s home, along with three other young men, knocking on the door and luring Okafor outside of the home. Oliver said that Okafor’s parents allegedly heard arguing on the side of the house and a relative of the victim reportedly told investigators that they witnessed Wilson striking Okafor in the head with a brick.
Okafor was transported to an area hospital where he died Aug. 1 from injuries sustained in the fight. The other three suspects are still being sought by investigators.
Tajuana Lashawn Stroud
Shot and killed at her home just south of Porterdale, the motive in the death of 36-year-old Tajuana Lashawn Stroud has yet to be made public.
Her alleged killer, 44-year-old Ricky Lewis Smith, is accused of not only killing her, but of also shooting his brother, 42-year-old Steven Cadet Smith, the night of Nov. 8.
The investigation into Stroud’s murder continues.
Robert Andrew Nichols
A deer hunter found the body of 38-year-old Robert Andrew Nichols on the afternoon of Dec. 7 just outside Social Circle. Since that time, four men have been arrested and charged with the Covington man’s murder.
Michael Scott West, 31, Chad Ashley Allen, 30, Robert Vincent Lambert, 35 and Sam Dumas Dawkins, 44, have all been charged with felony murder in connection with Nichols’ death.
Investigators are still actively working on the case and more arrests could be pending as could more charges on the men currently incarcerated.
Antonio Marvette Bell
In the beginning of July, authorities began the search for an unknown man who was robbing local businesses with a sawed-off shotgun. They eventually located 18-year-old Antonio Marvette Bell who was arrested in Alabama after being arrested for felony possession of a short barrel firearm and receiving stolen property there.
He was also accused of a carjacking in DeKalb County and of possibly being involved in a robbery in Conyers as well. While in jail in Ala., he reportedly beat a corrections officer with a mop handle, rendering the man unconscious in an alleged effort to escape.
Bell will have to face charges first in Alabama, for which he has been denied bond, before he can be returned to answer for charges in Georgia.
Willard Anthony Montgomery
Willard Anthony "Tony" Montgomery, age 52, was arrested Nov. 19. Montgomery was reportedly pulled over at the intersection of Ga. Highway 162 and Ga. Highway 81 and arrested without incident.
The arrest stemed from an incident on the afternoon of Nov. 9 when an older man wearing a disguise robbed the United Bank by allegedly informing a teller that the black plastic box he had placed on the counter was full of explosives.
The suspect discarded a wig, baseball cap, glasses, dust mask and a walking cane just outside of Wal-Mart. He also left behind the black plastic box, causing the store to be evacuated and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Bomb Squad to be called in as a precaution. The building was shut down for roughly two hours and treated as a crime scene.
Several pieces of evidence were collected, according to Fowler, and the GBI Crime Lab was able to identify Montgomery through this evidence.
The motive, according to detectives, simple desperation.
Christian Hopkins, Travarius Jones & Michael Jackson
Three men were arrested and charged with the armed robbery of a popular local eatery on Nov. 28.
According to detectives with the Covington Police Department, 21-year-old Christian Hopkins was arrested at an apartment in Atlanta and later that day 21-year-old Travarius Jones came to the apartment and was arrested as well. Michael Jackson, 21, has been in the Newton County Jail on charges related to the robbery since Nov. 29.
Jackson, Hopkins and Jones are all being investigated by Fayette and DeKalb counties for similar crimes, and although Jackson has only misdemeanor charges in his criminal background, Hopkins and Jones have a lengthy criminal history.
Franklin Elliott Benson was found guilty of murdering 49-year-old Leslyan Williams and dismembering her body two years after a Newton County woman came home on the eve of Halloween to find a human foot on her porch.
The trial itself would stretch for several days and jurors would take their time viewing mountains of evidence before rendering their verdict. Family members and friends took the stand both for Benson and against him as both the prosecution and the defense fought for their clients, and in the end, the prosecution was victorious.
Allegations of drug deals and several inconsistencies, as well as minor DNA evidence and major video evidence was enough to convince jurors, even without all of Williams’ body, that Benson was guilty of her murder. He was sentenced by Superior Judge Horace J. Johnson, Jr. to life plus 11 years.
As Leslyan Williams’ family began to make their way out of the courtroom they each made a point to stop and hug the attorneys and GBI agents that had worked on her case.
"I am pleased for the family," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon. "This has been a long process for them, many of them traveled a long way to be here for the trial, but I think they needed some closure."
Williams’ only son, Charles, was pleased with the verdict and the sentence.
"On behalf of my entire family I want to say thank you to Newton County, he said. "We believe that finally justice has truly been served."
Rick Ray Breedlove
It took a Newton County jury less then an hour to convict 56-year-old Rick Ray Breedlove in the death of his girlfriend Pamela Spencer. Judge John Ott then sentenced him to life in prison plus five years for malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
On Nov. 6, 2007, a call came in to Newton County 911. No one spoke on the tape, but what could clearly be heard were three piercing screams from Spencer and then two loud gunshots. After there was silence, save for the heavy breathing and groaning coming from Breedlove who had, according to prosecutors, shot Spencer and then himself.
Breedlove and Spencer had been involved in a romantic relationship for roughly two years prior to her death. The couple was living together, but evidence was presented that showed the jury Spencer wanted out of the relationship and was scared for her life.
"She wanted him gone," said Assistant District Attorney Melanie Bell. "She wanted to end the relationship but he wasn’t going to let her go."
Spencer’s sister gave a victim impact statement, saying "my sister Pam was full of life… Not only did he take her life but he stole a piece of all our lives. We ask for the maximum sentence so at least we know he may never harm another person again."
Christina Renee Crowe was found guilty in the death of 7-year-old Bobby Joe Couch Thursday afternoon and sentenced by Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. to serve at least 10 years of a 25-year prison term.
Crowe chose to have a bench trial, allowing the judge to hear the case and to decide her sentence. The 29-year-old sat between her attorney’s from the Public Defenders Office, Deepa Patel and Chief Public Defender Anthony Carter, while the stipulated facts of the case were presented to the judge. Crowe was charged with loosing control of her vehicle on Nov. 7, 2008, while driving on Ga. Highway 162 and crashing the car into a tree shortly before 12:40 p.m. In the car with her at the time was her 7-week-old daughter and two little boys, Bobby Joe and his 5-year-old brother, Crowe’s cousins by marriage. "It’s amazing that someone had to be killed for someone else’s life to change," said Joseph Couch, Bobby Joe’s father, looking at Crowe who refused to look at him.
"An admission of guilt would have been easier to take then just sitting over there doing nothing," he said.
While the defense requested five years in prison with the remainder spent on probation, Johnson agreed with the prosecution, and along with her jail time and probation, she must also pay a multitude of fines and surcharges to the court, as well as restitution to the Couch family. Crowe was immediately taken into custody, sobbing as she practically ran out of the courtroom.
"Today was a tough day for everyone involved," said Kurtz. "Justice was certainly done and I am pleased with the judge's decision. While this conviction cannot ever make up for the loss of Bobby Joe Couch, I hope that in some small way it can provide the Couch family with closure."
Ulys Randall Riner
A former Covington man pled guilty in October to selling unregistered promissory notes as securities, bringing to a close a case that has been going on for several years.
The charges against 61-year-old Ulys Randall "Randy" Riner stemed from when he was owner and president of Express Factors, a factoring company that was originally based in Covington in the late 1990s.
Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr., accepted the negotiated plea and sentenced Riner to 20 years on probation, the first three to be served in prison. According to District Attorney Ken Wynne, if Riner can pay $125,000 in the next 60 days he can avoid prison time, however. He is also required to spend the next two years on work release and to pay restitution in excess of $2 million at $2,000 a month. If Riner comes into money during that time (wins the lottery, receives an inheritance, etc), that money is required to go toward restitution.
Johnson agreed to allow Riner to use first offender status but if he were to get in any other trouble he could face up to 85 years in prison for this crime.
Riner made a short statement following his sentencing, telling the families in attendance and the court that he was grateful for the opportunity to speak and sorry for all that had transpired.
"Words cannot express how deeply sorry I am for the financial loss and the pain I’ve caused so many," he said, breaking down. "For all that’s happened I want to apologize and I pray that someday they [the families affected] will find forgiveness in their hearts for my mistakes."
Courtney Courtmentez Thornton
After more than a year, the trail against Courtney C. Thornton began June 2 with Judge Eugene Benton presiding. Thornton, 26, is accused of shooting 39-year-old Dennis Rogers in the back of the head.
Thornton pled not guilty to the crime, but the district attorney’s office alleged that, based on the evidence, Thornton was in the back passenger seat of a 2001 Jaguar S-class driven by Edwin Wynn, seated behind Rogers when the trio went in search of a small bag of marijuana.
On the way back from purchasing the drugs Thornton is being accused of putting a .38 Special revolver to the back of Rogers' head and pulling the trigger, rendering Rogers brain dead immediately. Rogers did remain breathing for several days before dying in an Atlanta hospital. The driver of the vehicle allegedly fought for his life against Thornton, who attempted to shoot him as well and rob him of $110.
After nearly five hours of deliberation that stretched into two days, the jury reached a verdict of guilty on each charge. Thornton shook his head slightly after each utterance of the word "guilty." Thornton was sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years.
Darrell Antonio Crowder pleaded guilty to malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony Monday in connection with the 2008 killing of his estranged wife, 43-year-old Catcilia.
The 49-year-old received life plus five years and must serve at least 30-years before being eligible for parole.
Lanny Barnes Dies & Protests Ensue
Lanny Perry Barnes, the man convicted of killing 2-year-old Avery Nicole King in 2006, died June 24 at Augusta State Medical Prison — nearly three years to the day when the attack on the Casola and King families took place outside the McDonald’s restaurant on U.S, Highway 278.
Barnes was charged in King’s death, as well as causing injuries to Stephanie Casola — the child’s aunt, and her two children, Isaac and a Jacob and King’s mother Anita, who was pregnant at the time of the attack. Witnesses said that Barnes smiled and laughed as he struck the family and proceeded to run over them several times.
"I’m glad to see there is finally an end to this tragedy," said Covington Chief of Police Stacey Cotton. "Maybe now the community can move on."
Barnes was buried in Newton County the afternoon of July 2. Stephanie and Anita, along with others, held a demonstration outside of the church during the funeral, holding signs with messages such as "Today the world is a better place" and "Child Murder," along with a large banner with pictures of Avery King.
On the morning on July 3 officers from the Covington Police Department responded to Westview Cemetery to meet with family members of Barnes. They had called because someone had placed two signs of a protest nature on Barnes’ grave. No damage was done to the grave or the grave marker. Officers removed the signs and reassured the Barnes family that the family of Barnes’ victims would be contacted and advised not to return. Officers determined that no criminal offenses had occurred.
But the Barnes family feels that the protest was not only grossly inappropriate but also illegal, and they have alleged that several laws were broken by the King and Casola families and the Covington Police Department during and after that July 2 protest.
After a month of unanswered inquiries into the protest and the CPD’s actions, Manetta Barnes-Clemons, Barne's sister, decided she would finally bring the issue directly before the city’s leaders.
"We therefore still stand before you today with no report, no justice, no arrests. A grieving family allowed to be harassed, embarrassed, disrespected, violated and left with feelings of extreme mental anguish as officers of the law watched and stood guard protecting those committing criminal acts against us," Clemons said.
The Newton County grand jury considered charges of disruptive conduct at a funeral service, criminal trespass and unlawful placement of signs against Anita King and Stephanie Casola.
After considering all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the events of July 2, as well as the applicable law, the grand jury decided not to return any indictments in the case.
For the Barnes family, who had contacted the NAACP about the situation alleging their civil rights had been violated, the situation is not over despite the grand jury’s decision, according to NAACP representative Edward DuBose.
The sister of Barnes continues to allege that Anita King, Stephanie Casola and the Covington Police Department broke several city ordinances and federal and state laws during the protest of Barnes funeral. However, the City of Covington and District Attorney Ken Wynne said for them the case is closed.