WE WILL STAND
I imagine at some point this week you thought, if only for a moment, that the world was unraveling. We listen for the daily count of those that are infected and those that have died. Plans with our friends and family are being cancelled indefinitely. We worship behind computer screens. We aren’t supposed to hug our parents or our children.
Many of you have lost your job, or you show up each day to your job with the fear that the next day you will be your last with a paycheck. Many of you who have finally retired, after a life of hard work, and are watching your retirement accounts wither. Even the most optimistic among us must admit that we live under a shadow.
But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? In 1917, our young men sailed across the ocean to stop foreign imperialists. In 1929, the economy collapsed. In 1941, we entered a war to decide whether we would live free or serve fascists. Young men died in the fields of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam to answer the question of whether the great experiment of Democracy could survive the spread of Authoritarianism. Throughout all these wars, mothers and daughters nursed the wounded, worked in factories, and served their country at home. And we still stand.
In the 1990s we fought against a despot in the Middle East. From the crumbling of the Twin Towers until today, we’ve fought countless battles against terrorists who have sought to annihilate the very fabric of our Country with fear and radicalism. While our young men and women fought and died in the sand thousands of miles away, the economy faltered yet again in 2007 and we saw good, hard-working people without homes and without prospects. And we still stand.
Even in times we thought were peaceful, our loved ones stood ready by land, sea, and air to protect us from the next great threat. Here, at home, law enforcement officers have faced, and will continue to face, danger as they protect our communities from the evil at hand. And we still stand.
And in these past 100 years, we’ve fought polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid fever, HIV, H1N1, SARS, and now Corona Virus. Doctors, scientists, pharmacists, nurses, EMTs, firefighters, and every other manner of first responder have fought against these silent killers, conquering and controlling each one as best they could. And we still stand.
The history of this great country, and of this community, is one of immense challenge and remarkable perseverance. I have seen it in my own time on this Earth and in the calloused hands and wise eyes of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. We sacrifice, we overcome, and we stand.
I cannot tell you when this crisis will be over. But as I’ve reflected over these strange times, I came across a slogan the British used as they were ramping up for war in 1939. It gave me some comfort, which I hope it will give you. The government encouraged its citizens, who eventually suffered nightly bombing attacks by the Germans, to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” No one could ever excuse me of having a British “stiff upper lip,” I am from Thomaston after all, so the best I can do is encourage you to “Settle Down and Don’t Quit.” We are all in this together. We will prevail, and we will stand.
So how do we Settle Down and Don’t Quit? For my small part, the offices of the District Attorney will continue to protect you by prosecuting crimes and pushing the wheel of justice forward as we move past these disruptions. Our office will be open, and this time of uncertainty will not be an opportunity for evildoers to take advantage of this difficult situation.
As for the rest, be kind to those around you. Get takeout from your favorite restaurant. Check on that senior citizen who is staying at home. Tell your friend who works in health care how much their hard work means to you and your family. Be a good neighbor. You know what to do. Stay healthy, this too shall pass, and we, as Americans, will stand.
Today, Cameron Jones pled guilty to Malice Murder and Aggravated Assault in front of the Honorable W. Fletcher Sams. The defendant was sentenced to serve life in prison for malice murder, followed by 20 years for the aggravated assault. Chief Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder (recently appointed to succeed Ben Coker as District Attorney) and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin prepared the case for trial. The trial was scheduled to begin on March 9th. The defendant entered a guilty plea this morning on what was scheduled to be a motions day. The family and law enforcement were in agreement with the guilty plea.
Jones pled guilty to the murder of Roderick Crawford, a Lamar County resident. Kiera Williams, a co-defendant, pled guilty to Malice Murder on a previous court date and was sentenced to life in prison followed by 20 years. Both Jones and Williams will now face charges in Clayton County. Williams and Jones shot and killed Crawford at an abandoned house in Upson County.
"On December 29th of 2018, Roderick Crawford, a beloved father, husband, brother, cousin, and son, went missing from Lamar County." Broder said. "Agencies immediately began to work together to find him and happened upon a modern day Bonnie and Clyde story." Broder continued, "our office worked with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Lamar County Sheriff's Office, the Upson County Sheriff's Office, Thomaston Police Department, Clayton County District Attorney's Office, Clayton County Sheriff's Office, Clayton County Police Department, Forest Park Police Department, and the Towaliga District Attorney's Office to apprehend Cameron Jones and Kiera Williams who were responsible for a multi-county crime spree involving five different men. These crimes would have never been solved but for the diligent efforts of the incredible men and women in these agencies. They put in countless hours to apprehend these dangerous criminals and bring them to justice. Let this plea and sentence be a message to those that seek to do unspeakable harm to upstanding people like Roderick Crawford. Upson County and the Griffin Judicial Circuit will not tolerate crime such as this in our community."
On October 30, 2019, a Spalding County jury found Armed Cortez Clemmons guilty of aggravated child molestation, two counts of child molestation, sodomy, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, enticing a child for indecent purposes, pimping for persons under 18, and computer pornography. The Honorable Scott L. Ballard sentenced the defendant to a total of Life plus 30 years in prison.
District Attorney Benjamin D. Coker and Assistant District Attorney Morgan Kendrick tried the first sex trafficking case ever successfully prosecuted in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. The victim took the stand and testified at trial. The defendant was convicted of placing advertisements for the victim, who was 14 years old at the time, and transporting her to different locations to engage in sexual acts with multiple men. The case was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
ADA Kendrick said, “I hope today’s verdict sends a strong message to our community that this behavior will not be tolerated in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. Children deserve to be protected, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure all children are safe from predators. I’m incredibly thankful for the hard work and dedication of our team, especially our victim advocate Denise Miller, investigator John Wright, legal assistant Jessica Smith, and GBI Special Agent Trisha Cannon. I would also like to thank District Attorney Coker for his steadfast courage in prosecuting these cases and protecting the children of our Circuit.”
Beginning on September 9, 2019, Assistant District Attorney Kate Lenhard, Assistant District Attorney Donna GoPaul, and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin tried the State of Georgia vs. Antorio Parker. The defendant was charged with multiple counts of Child Molestation, Aggravated Sexual Battery, and Incest for multiple sexual acts he committed against his step-daughter over the course of a year. The jury convicted the defendant on September 16, 2019. On October 21, 2019, Chief Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards sentenced the defendant to Life in prison followed by 40 years to serve in prison.
"Because of the courage of a young girl, a predator will no longer be able to prey on other children," said Assistant District Attorney Kate Lenhard. "I am extremely grateful for the service of our Spalding County jurors in this case. Justice was served."
Assistant District Attorney Dan Hiatt prepared to try the case of the State of Georgia vs. Andrew Magnuson this week in front of the Honorable Christopher Edwards. This morning, the defendant entered a guilty plea to two counts of Enticing a Child and one count of Attempted Kidnapping. The defendant was sentenced to 50 years with the first 30 years to be served in prison followed by 20 years on probation. The case was back in court after the defendant was granted Habeas Corpus relief.
On October 29, 2000, the defendant approached an 8 year old and a 9 year old boy in Three Ponds Park in Peachtree City. He gave them a ride on his golf cart, discussed inappropriate sexual subjects, urged them to come over to his house, and exchanged information with one of the victim children. On October 30, 2000, now Assistant Chief Stanley Pye and other officers were performing surveillance in the vicinity of Oak Grove Elementary school when they encountered the defendant on his golf cart. The defendant had a knife, rope, and duct tape. He later admitted in an interview that he was planning to abduct a child forcibly if necessary. He also admitted to the incident the day before with the two boys.
In 2002, the defendant entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to confinement. During the course of his prison sentence, the defendant applied for Habeas Corpus relief, meaning that he believed he was illegally detained. In 2015, a court granted his petition for Habeas Corpus, and the case was placed back on a trial calendar.
Assistant District Attorney Hiatt diligently prepared this case for trial despite the difficulty in trying a 19 year old case. District Attorney Coker said of the resolution, “[t]his sentence is another reflection of my office’s commitment to the prosecution of those who prey upon children. Even in the face of adversity, my office, law enforcement, and the victims persevered, and justice prevailed in the courtroom today.”
On Monday, August 19, 2019, Rodriguez Kemp entered a guilty plea to the following felony offenses: Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, Use of a Sawed-off Shotgun during the Commission of a Crime and Fleeing and Attempting to Elude. For these crimes, Chief Judge Christopher C. Edwards sentenced the defendant to 35 years with the first 21 years to be served in prison without parole. These crimes occurred on December 21, 2018 when Kemp led officers on a dangerous multi-county, high-speed, car chase on Georgia Highway 85, which ended in Fayette County. Kemp fired a sawed-off shotgun at Fayette County Sheriff’s Lieutenant, Cody Benslay when the chase concluded. District Attorney Ben Coker, represented the State, Lt. Benslay and other members of law enforcement were present in court for the plea.
District Attorney Coker said of the plea, “[f]irst and foremost, I am very thankful that no members of law enforcement were seriously injured as the result of Rodriguez Kemp’s actions on December 21, 2018. Law enforcement officers suit up for duty every day to protect us, and this case is an example of the very real danger they face. I cannot thank them enough for what they do. Let this sentence send a message to those who assault a law enforcement officer in my circuit. Violence against law enforcement will not be tolerated, and the punishment for said acts will be severe.”
This morning, a Spalding County jury convicted Versaches Evans of Aggravated Battery for fracturing his infant daughter's ribs. His daughter was 12 weeks old when the injuries were discovered. He was charged with additional counts; however, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on those counts. On the Aggravated Battery, Senior Judge Matthew Simmons sentenced the defendant to 20 years with the first 12 years to be served in prison. Takiah Wilson, the biological mother was also charged with the crimes. The jury acquitted Wilson. Chief Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder and Assistant District Attorney Ashton Fallin tried the case for the State. The case was presented over 3 days and included testimony from law enforcement and medical doctors from local hospitals and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
District Attorney Ben Coker said, "child abuse cases are exceptionally difficult to prosecute and difficult for juries to consider. I respect the jury's decision in this case. My heartfelt thanks goes out to law enforcement, Dr. Messner from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and my staff, especially Marie and Ashton, for their fight for this helpless victim."
On Monday, January 28, 2019, agents of the DEA and local law enforcement executed a search warrant at the medical office of psychiatrist Dr. Ginari Price known as Psycare, LLC located at 101 Devant Street, Unit 504, Fayetteville, Georgia. A search warrant was also executed at the home of Dr. Price and her husband Michael Price. Four individuals were arrested that day, Dr. Ginari Price, her husband Michael Price, Nurse Practitioner Ngozi Okoro and Nurse Practitioner Marie Pierre. Evidence was discovered during the investigation that during several months while Dr. Price was absent from the practice and not seeing any patients, the four worked together to continue issuing prescriptions for controlled substances in Dr. Price’s name to both former and new patients. These individuals were each charged with Unlawful Distribution and Dispensation of controlled substances, Conspiracy to Commit Unlawful Distribution and Dispensation of controlled substances, Practicing Medicine without a License, and Conspiracy to Commit Practicing Medicine without a License. Since Dr. Price held a medical license, she was charged as a party to the crimes related to practicing medicine without a license for assisting others in commission of those crimes.
Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Warren Sellers and Investigator Saul Alter assisted the DEA in the investigation.
This week, in Spalding County, Assistant District Attorneys Morgan Kendrick and Ashton Fallin tried the case of State of Georgia v. Bret Alan Smith. The defendant was charged with aggravated sexual battery, two counts of child molestation, and one count of cruelty to children in the first degree. The evidence showed that the defendant had molested more than one victim for several years and in several different counties, including Spalding County. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, and the Honorable John C. Carbo sentenced the defendant to a total of life serve 30 years.
District Attorney Coker said of the trial, “children are one of the most vulnerable groups in our community. I am grateful to my office for the hard work that they do to put those that prey upon children behind bars. I am especially thankful to Ashton and Morgan for their work this week, the witnesses that testified, and those from Colquitt County who came up to testify on the case. As a team, they made sure that this predator will never hurt another child.”
The Spalding County District Attorney’s Office presented the case of the State of Georgia vs. Dexter Lamar Boyd and Victor Lee Warner this week in front of a Spalding County jury. The Honorable Christopher Edwards presided over the case. The jury convicted Boyd and Warner of Armed Robbery, two counts of Aggravated Assault, Theft by Taking, Possession of Firearm During the Commission of a Felony. Warner was also convicted of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. District Attorney Ben Coker and Assistant District Attorney Donna Gopaul tried the case. Warner was sentenced to Life in prison for his actions, and Boyd was sentenced to 20 years with the first 12 years to be served in prison for his involvement. Another co-defendant, Timothy Ragland, entered a guilty plea and testified against the other two co-defendants at trial. He received a sentence of 20 years with the first 10 years to be spent in prison.
The defendants were convicted of taking cellular phones from the T-Mobile store located on North Expressway on July 31, 2018. They forced two employees working at the T-Mobile store into the back and ordered them to dump cellular phones into bags. Unbeknownst to the defendants, one employee placed a tracking device into the bag. That tracking device allowed law enforcement to track the defendants into Henry County where they proceeded to engage law enforcement in a high speed chase. They were apprehended after their vehicle wrecked.
“It was an honor to fight alongside ADA Gopaul and law enforcement in obtaining a conviction in this case. Thank you to my office, law enforcement, and the brave witnesses who testified in this trial. Armed robberies are a horrific crime that have a lasting impact on victims. We as a society cannot accept or condone the idea that ‘you have it, I want it, I’m going to take it.’ My offices will continue to work hard to make sure that this idea is eradicated from this community. This sentence should be a message to those that violently take what is not theirs. We are tired of it.”