News from Jackson County...

May 9, 2000


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OPINIONS
Time to abolish planning commission
We have discussed the problems surrounding the Jackson County Planning Commission in this space numerous times.

Plan For New Road Needs Tweaking For Safety
State and county officials designing a road to relieve congestion and remove unsafe conditions at Benton Elementary School are on the right track...


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Four to seek commission chairman's seat
Qualifying ends with four of five BOC district posts contested
Three Madison County Democrats seeking the county commission's chairman's post will face each other in a July primary, with the winner taking on Republican incumbent Wesley Nash in November.

Danielsville approves contract for sidewalk project
The Danielsville City Council approved an $80,000 contract for the installation of sidewalks this summer down portions of Hwy. 29 north, Crawford W. Long Street and Madison Street.

Relay for Life 2000 set for this weekend
Madison County's Relay for Life is scheduled for May 5 and 6 at the Recreation Department track.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Sheriff faces seven challengers
Six seek probate judge post
After the dust settled Friday, eight candidates had qualified in the sheriff's race and six for the probate judge seat.

Peachy Clean Day has big turnout In Baldwin
For the past three years, the citizens of Baldwin have committed one Saturday as "Peachy Clean Day" to clean up the city as part of the Great American Clean-up.

BOC mulling budget requests
More budget hearings slated for Friday
An increase in salaries is expected to make the biggest difference in next year's county budget.


SPORTS
Gary, Perry Win Region Titles For Tigers

Commerce's McFadden To Run At State Meet In 3,200, 1,600
Before Commerce High School sends its two Region 8-A champions to the boys' state meet a week from Friday...

Three Lady Dragons head to Albany
Three members of Jefferson High School's varsity girls' track team will participate in the state all-classification meet this week in Albany, after qualifying last Wednesday in the region 8-A meet at Greater Atlanta Christian School.

Panther boys send three
Birdette, brothers Kubiak lead team
Tim Birdette and brothers Chuck and Chris Kubiak led the Jackson County boys' track team to a fourth-place finish in the region 8-AAA boys' track meet Saturday and Monday at Panther Stadium.

Gridiron Slate Set For 2000
Area teams have finalized their football schedules for the upcoming season.


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Nicholson family 'butchered' in Monday evening murder-suicide
A Nicholson mother and her two young children were brutally slain Monday evening, stabbed multiple times by the woman's estranged husband, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. The man, Calvin Barney Griffin, 32, then took his own life with a gun, said authorities.


Sheriff Stan Evans and investigator David Cochran
look over the scene of Monday's murders.

Killed were Laury La Sharon Griffin, 25, Ryley Drake Griffin, 6, and Joshua Tyler Griffin, 5. Jackson County Sheriff Stan Evans said it was the most brutal murders he had ever seen in his 16 years of law enforcement. Chief investigator David Cochran said the family had been "butchered," although no clear motive for the killings had emerged. Neither official could recall any other triple murders in the county's history nor any domestic murders that involved children.
The killings took pace sometime between 6:30 and 7:20 Monday evening in the family's mobile home on Hawk's Court in Nicholson, a dead end dirt lane off J.S. Williamson Road. A neighbor reportedly saw the woman lying partially on the front stoop of the home and called the JCSD to check the scene. When a deputy arrived at 7:39 p.m., he found the bodies lying in the living room of the home.
Authorities said they had not found any earlier reports of domestic violence at the residence. Laury Griffin had been separated from her husband for about a month and was living with her sister, said authorities. She worked at Baker & Taylor in Commerce. Calvin Griffin was disabled, partially blind, and wasn't employed.


The killings took place inside this mobile
home on Hawk's Court near Nicholson.

The two youngsters were students at Benton Elementary School, Ryley in kindergarten and Joshua in Pre-K. They apparently road the bus after school Monday and were at the home when their mother arrived around 6:30 p.m.
Authorities said Calvin Griffin had apparently called the woman at her sister's residence and asked her to take him to the doctor. It wasn't clear, said authorities, if the killings were planned, or if they took place in a fit of rage.
Tuesday morning, Sheriff Evans and investigator Cochran were back at the crime scene, still shaken from the brutality of the killings. As two dogs barked in the fenced back yard, they looked around the home, noting a blood stain on the wooden front stoop.
Cochran pulled out little Ryley's school notebook in which the youngster had drawn pictures of his family, labeling each person by name and with the words, "I love mommy" and "I love daddy."
"This really shakes me up," said Cochran.
"They were cute little boys," said Evans. "Any man would have been proud to say they were his sons. This just makes you want to rush home and hold your own kids."


Countdown to $325 million
Jackson County residents join
the hopefuls for Big Game money
By Jana Adams
Linda Minor and Lidia Gillespie, both of Jefferson, stepped up to the counter and penciled in their favorite numbers. With a wish for luck and a couple of dollars, the two ladies joined the hopefuls counting down the hours until 11 p.m Tuesday and the Big Game drawing with its millions - 325 of them - in jackpot winnings.

"If I won $325 million, I would get us a new church (for Bush River Baptist Church), a home, a new car and I would give to the needy," said Gillespie. After a second's thought she changed her mind, "No, I guess I would probably die and they would have to bury me."
Minor said simply, "If I won $325 million, I think I would do just about everything I ever wanted to. I would buy a church, though, and I would buy a big Cadillac."
Minor and Gillespie aren't the only ones buying tickets in Jefferson and Jackson County. At Tabo's Monday afternoon when the two were picking their numbers, ticket sales continued briskly alongside them.
According to the Georgia Lottery, Tabo's has sold the most tickets in Jefferson.
For example, said Amyn Meghanie, Big Game ticket sales alone totaled $1,900 by the store's close on Friday, a big drawing day when the then $220 million jackpot went unclaimed.
Across the state, ticket sales at the 7,000 businesses that sell lottery tickets had jumped to more than 12 million by the beginning of May, with people crossing the state line to purchase tickets for the Big Game in Georgia, as well as in participating states Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia. Retailers make five cents for every $1 ticket sold to these ticket buyers.
The $325 million jackpot is a record-setter for the United States, far surpassing the $295 million won in a Powerball game in 1998.


Jefferson appoints civic center committee
BY TIM THOMAS
The Jefferson City Council appointed a five-member committee at Monday's monthly meeting to explore the possibility of constructing a civic center at the current site of Jefferson City Park. The project would be a joint effort with the Jackson County government.
The committee consists of one member from each Jefferson voting district. Members (pending their acceptance) are: Ronnie Smith, Chris Randolph, Glenda Blackstock, Faye Law and Judy Hopkins.
The council also allotted $1,000 to the Jefferson Day Camp program, an increase over the $500 originally budgeted, but short of the $2,000 requested by program director Hilda Corbett.
Council member Jim Joiner made a motion that the intersection of College Street and Church Street be made a four-way stop. Joiner said morning school traffic from the east has made the intersection dangerous, as students use the route in avoiding the town square. City attorney Ronnie Hopkins also said that he had exerienced a number of near-misses at the intersection. The motion passed unanimously.


County moves on airport expansion
BY TIM THOMAS
The county government is ready to move forward with expansion of the airport in Jefferson.
During a called joint meeting last week, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and Jackson County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) agreed to enter into a joint expansion project with the Jackson County Airport Authority (AA).
The planned Jackson County airport expansion project is to be carried out in three phases. The BOC voted during the meeting to purchase 25.42 acres with county funds for phase one. The AA has been applied for a grant that will fund 90 percent of the land acquisitions associated with the project.
Upon acceptance of the funds, the AA will reimburse Jackson County for the land purchase. The county will absorb 7.5 percent of the cost, with the IDA picking up the tab for the remaining 2.5 percent.
Jackson County will hold title to the property until the funds are reimbursed, at which time the title will be transferred to the IDA.
The IDA and BOC discussed the project during a 35-minute closed session prior to adopting the resolution.

CHECKING OUT
ALL THE ANGLES

Donald Lord, Maysville, a participant in the DARE car show held Saturday in Jefferson, is shown checking out Doug Westmoreland's 1936 Ford Coupe. Lord said that he grew up with many of the older cars featured in the show.
Photo by Travis Hatfield

Egypt Artists

Deborah Watkins' fifth grade art students at Commerce Elementary School completed a study of Egyptian art with their own projects. Melanie Upchurch, Katie Klassen and Quentin Vultaggio show off the Sphinx and two mummies they created out of papier-mâché.


Moon found guilty of voluntary manslaughter
BY ANGELA GARY
A Jackson County jury deliberated for almost four hours Tuesday afternoon before finding a Jefferson man guilty of one count of voluntary manslaughter.
Rufus Moon Jr., 65, had been charged with felony murder in the case and the jury apparently debated whether he was guilty of that charge, or voluntary manslaughter. One hour before the verdict was reached, the jury asked Judge T. Penn McWhorter to again give them the definition of the two charges.
Moon was charged in the September 1999 death of Ellis David Harper, 40, Commerce. The jury also found Moon guilty of obstructing an emergency phone call, two counts of battery and one count of aggravated assault. He was found not guilty of two counts of felony murder and another count of voluntary manslaughter.
Judge McWhorter announced after the verdict was given Tuesday that sentencing would be at a later date. Moon was taken into custody. More than 20 family members of Moon and Harper attended the two-day trial. There was no reaction from either side of the courtroom when the verdict was given.
Harper died from a gunshot wound to the head following a dispute at the Magnolia Avenue residence of Moon's 30-year-old girlfriend, Brenda Denise Williams. According to Williams, Moon came to the residence the morning of the incident after she had earlier paged him. She said he paid the rent at the mobile home and sometimes stayed there. Williams said that Moon knocked on the door, pushed by her when she opened it and went into the den where Harper, a friend from her workplace, was sitting on the couch. She said Moon began hitting Harper in the head with a gun. She testified that she didn't know if he pulled the trigger or the gun accidentally went off. She said he went outside and then came back inside the trailer and began hitting Harper again with the gun, which she said again fired.
Moon's attorney, Joe Booth, read the written statement Williams gave to investigator Robert Larocque and asked her why there was only one reference to a gunshot in it.
Williams said that Harper did not hit Moon and repeatedly tried to leave the residence.
"I saw blood and the gun went off," she said. "Ellis said, 'Man, just let me leave.'"
She said she asked Moon if he had shot Harper and he said he had not.
"So, he didn't know he had done it?" Booth asked her.
"I guess not," she replied.
Williams also testified that when she went to a back bedroom to call 911, Moon came into the room, pulled the phone out of her hands and hit her across the face with it. He apparently didn't know that the call went through. A 911 supervisor later testified that it did, but that the dispatcher only heard a woman scream. Two Jefferson police officers were at the residence within five minutes of the hang-up call. The 911 dispatcher also called the residence back, but didn't get an answer.
Williams said Moon later hit her across the face with his fist, breaking her nose and bruising her eyes. She said he had the pistol in his hand when he hit her but she doesn't know if it was the gun or his fist that struck her face. Photographs of her bloody face taken after the incident were shown during the trial.
Williams said Harper was a friend from work that she had only known for a short time. She said they were not romantically involved and he had a fiancee. She also said his last words to her were to call 911 because he wasn't going to make it and to call his fiancee. Williams said Harper was at her residence the morning of the murder to look at her car which was torn up. She said her dad had also been over earlier to look at the car while Harper was there.
Moon also testified during the trial and presented a different version of the events leading up to Harper's death. He said that when he entered the mobile home, he saw Harper in the back bedroom putting his clothes on. He said Harper hit him after he asked him to leave. Moon said he began hitting him over the head with the gun to defend himself.
"I did not intend to shoot him," he said. "It was accidental."
When assistant district attorney Brad Smith asked if he pulled the trigger, he replied: "I don't know. When you're fighting, you don't know what you do."
Sgt. Jon Ward of the Jefferson Police Department testified about the statement he took from Moon after the murder. Ward said that Moon didn't say anything to him about Harper hitting him or about finding him in the bedroom putting his clothes on. Moon insisted that he told Ward, a 19-year law enforcement veteran, those details but he didn't put them in his report. Ward said that Moon told him that Harper "made a move toward him" and he hit him. The officer said he removed the gun from Moon's pocket and it had bullets in it and two spent cartridges.
Jefferson patrol officer Troy Rowell also testified about comments he heard Moon make after he was taken to the police department. Rowell said he was sitting nearby where Moon was taken and heard him making comments about finding a man in the bedroom, hitting him and the gun going off. Rowell said that Moon didn't say anything about the man hitting him first.
Officer Trent Morgan testified about the time he spent with Harper at the residence before the ambulance arrived. He said Harper was very disoriented and he couldn't understand what he said. Morgan applied gauze to the side of his head to stop the bleeding from the gunshot wound.
Dr. Andrew Falzon with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab spoke on the autopsy he performed on Harper. He said there were two wounds where a gun had hit and both had characteristics of "entrance wounds." The doctor also said there was no sign on the head of any blunt force trauma. He did say the autopsy was difficult because Harper had undergone surgery after the incident.
Chris Robinson, a fire arms expert with the crime lab, testified that the .22 caliber revolver used in the murder will not accidentally fire. He said it has a manufacturer's block and was functioning properly. He performed accidental discharge tests on the gun.
During questioning by Booth, he said that it is his opinion that the bullet fragments he investigated came from the same bullet.
Others to testify during the trial were several character witnesses for Moon, including Rebekah, South and Alex Bryan. The two men told of how Moon, who worked for their family, was a "father figure" to them after their father died.
"He did more than yard work and cooking," S. Bryan said. "He raised us. He taught us a lot...I've always thought of him as an honest, intelligent, hard-working individual."
Another character witness was Elaine Rucker who said she had a 32-year relationship with Moon that ended in February, 1999. They have three children together.
She said he was a "good man" but told Smith that she didn't know he had another girlfriend until their relationship ended last year. Moon had earlier testified that he had been involved with Williams for five or six years.
Additional reporting by Tim Thomas and Adam Fouche.




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It's Daisy Festival Time In Nicholson
NICHOLSON -- The annual Nicholson Daisy Festival will be held Friday and Saturday.
Booths will be set up at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon. A 14-team softball tournament will begin at 7 p.m., as will a cake walk, and a "Tribute to Elvis" will be featured at 9:30.
Also, any of the local candidates for office who wish will be allowed to speak for five minutes Friday afternoon. Those interested should check with the emcee.
"There will be entertainment all Saturday afternoon. The big thing will be the auction starting Saturday night at 6:00," reports Dwain Smith, one of the organizers. "We have a whole truckload of stuff from dolls to vases to wrought iron, Wizard of Oz dolls and concrete products."
The softball tournament will be held throughout the festival and will conclude Sunday. The Nicholson Volunteer Fire Department will again sponsor the chicken barbecue Saturday. Plates, for $6, include a half of a chicken, slaw, bread, chips, a drink and dessert.
There will be rides and games for children both days.
An antique car show will also be held Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. First, second and third place trophies will be given in each class. Judging will be at noon.
"The way it looks, we're going to have a good many entries," said Smith.
The event is co-sponsored by the Jackson County Volunteer Rescue and the Nicholson Fire Department. For more information, call Smith at 367-5202.


Benton Traffic Plan Worries Nicholson Officials
NICHOLSON -- City officials here expressed concern Monday night about plans to divert traffic flow around Benton Elementary School.
County and state officials propose cutting a new road into the school from Georgia 335, a road that would bring traffic right to the north door of the elementary school. While officials applaud the effort to correct traffic problems, including safety concerns, they have a few concerns of their own.
The proposed State Route 1007 would start at the Brockton Road, which would be widened from U.S. 441 west to the intersection with the new road to allow for turn lanes. SR 1007 would go straight to the school, passing on the west side of the Harold S. Swindle Public Library. It would also connect with Birch Street, which now leaves U.S. 441 and dead-ends about a quarter mile to the west.
State and county road officials observed traffic at the school and found a number of concerns, including cars and buses having to back up.
"Well, you sure can't open a school door on a street," noted Council member Margaret Ward, referring to the proximity of the road to the northwest end of the school.
City Clerk Dana Wilbanks worries that people will use the road, which will make a 90-degree left turn in the school parking lot and terminate on U.S. 441, as a cut-through to avoid the intersection of 334 and 441.
In addition, she pointed out, the change will put the fire department and city hall right on the new state road. It will also require the relocation of parking for the library.
Mrs. Wilbanks reported that the DOT wants to have the project completed before widening of U.S. 441 begins so it can use the road to route traffic around some of the construction.
Mayor Steve Wilbanks had met with county and state officials about the project in late March and had proposed that the new road go around the school and enter U.S. 441 below the school. The officials rejected that proposal.
The state will acquire the rights of way and do the paving. Jackson County will be responsible for the grading.
Two nearby property owners, Michael and Hayden David, reportedly oppose the project. The road cuts right through their land.
"They are very upset about it," Mrs. Wilbanks stated. "They don't feel it's necessary."