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 June 28, 2000


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OPINIONS
Madison County Letter
Former mayor speaks out about water dispute

Dear editor:
Regarding recent statements concerning the water line contract dispute with Athens-Clarke County (ACC) and the city of Hull, the facts are as follows...

Zach Mitcham
Violence is never the answer

The murder of Douglas Benton has grabbed the attention of people across the state. The details of his death are shocking and repulsive. Yet still we clamor for more.


SPORTS
Madison Co. summer squad nabs four wins

The Madison County High School summer baseball team continued its winning ways this past week, earning victories in four of six games. The team defeated Oconee County 8-7 Tuesday...


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
BOC chair candidates address growth
One candidate called for keeping Banks County as rural as possible, while another said leaders need to work on a long-term plan to handle growth.
Banks County Board of Commissioners incumbent chairman James Dumas...

Fireworks display planned July 4
The traditional Homer 4th of July fireworks display will get under way around 9:30 p.m. next Tuesday night.


News from...
JACKSON COUNTY
City Lights' to be on this weekend
Commerce will turn on the City Lights this week. The City Lights
festival, that is. It grew from a 40th anniversary celebration to an annual benefit concert and, starting Thursday, the City Lights Festival has become a three-day event...

Independence Day festivities ahead this weekend
The Fourth of July will be celebrated a little bit early in Jackson County this year, with festivities planned this weekend in both Jefferson and Commerce.


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HORRIBLE DISCOVERY

A property caretaker in Oglethorpe County discovered this cement-filled water trough last week that held the body of Douglas Benton.

Investigators believe Tracy Fortson committed murder, cover-up without help
Investigators believe Tracy Lea Fortson acted alone in murdering her ex-boyfriend Douglas Benton in his Colbert home, encasing him in cement in a water trough and leaving the body in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County.
And she allegedly removed the trough from her truck with no feat of strength, just simple physics.
"She tied a rope or cable to a tree and tied it to the tank, then drove off," said Madison County sheriff Clayton Lowe.
Why she allegedly did this is still a mystery.
"She's probably the only one who knows why," said Lowe, who added that investigators are considering several motives, including robbery.
Lowe said an unspecified sum of Benton's money was missing, along with his wallet and gun.
The sheriff said Fortson, 35, bought the cement and water tank in Athens from a business that had no knowledge of her plans. She allegedly mixed the cement in the back of her truck.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Bill Malueg agreed that Fortson, a body builder, apparently acted alone.
"Everything that we believe occurred, from removing the body from the house to removing the vault from the truck could have been done by one person," said Malueg. "It took some effort, but as strong as she is, it's certainly possible."
Fortson allegedly shot Benton in the head and stabbed him before encasing him in cement. The GBI searched Fortson's home last week, finding evidence connecting her to the crime, but Malueg would not specify what was found. No murder weapons had been recovered as of Monday.
According to Malueg, investigators found blood in Benton's residence and determined someone attempted to clean up the murder scene. He said there was also the scent of kerosene in the house, which is located on John Sharp Road, a narrow dirt path off Jack Sharp Road, located off Hwy. 72.
Investigators also believe Fortson left a forged note in the victim's truck to help conceal her alleged murder. Benton's truck was found at the home of Jerry Alexander in Lexington with a note reading, "Take care of my truck...I'll come back for it."
Malueg said the note, which he described as "short and cryptic," has not been scientifically analyzed, but it appears that it was not written by Benton.
"We suspect she (Fortson) wrote it," said Malueg.
Malueg said Rodney Sturdivant, who owns the property where the victim was found, is not a suspect in the case and neither is Alexander.
Fortson, a former Oglethorpe County patrol deputy with a teenage daughter, is being held in the Jackson County jail, since Madison County currently has no facilities to house women prisoners.
On Thursday, Madison County Magistrate Judge Harry Rice transferred her bond hearing to Superior Court, but no date for that hearing was available as of Tuesday.
Fortson, who was employed by the Oglethorpe County sheriff's department for about 18 months, was a "good employee," her bosses said, until about three months before she left the job in February without giving a two-weeks' notice. She later filed for unemployment compensation and claimed she was sexually harassed at the job.
"She was a pretty good worker," said Oglethorpe County chief investigator Mike Smith. "Then the last three months she changed. She was more quiet. There was just a change in attitude."
(Read last week's story.)


Colbert July 4th celebration set for Tues.
Colbert is planning a day of festivities and fun Tuesday, July 4. The events will begin with a parade at 10 a.m. with the Grand Marshals this year being Rev. Don Fuller and wife, Sandra. Fuller, who has served as pastor of Colbert Baptist Church for 30 years and has been a supporter of Colbert's Independence Day celebration during its 31-year history, has announced his retirement this year.
Following the parade, the keynote speech will be offered by Congressman John Linder. Following the ceremony, the Colbert Fire Department will be offering their famous barbecue at lunch, and there will be many other food concessions. A large lineup of arts, crafts and historical exhibits is planned.
An afternoon of live entertainment from the stage under the big oak trees will feature, among others, Ben Johnson and The Pioneers, a Georgia-based group that has performed for President Carter and President Reagan, as well as guest soloists for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. They perform bluegrass, standards, jazz and Dixieland. The group recently completed a 10-day tour of Japan. Along with the Pioneers will be the bluegrass sounds of the Blue Ridge Ramblers, Danny Anthony, Dennis Troy, The Wright Family Gospel Singers, The Johnsons and Roscoe Pucannon, who will emcee the show along with a few tricks of his own.


Candidates face off in first political forum
A full house turned out Tuesday for the county's first political forum of the year to get an up-close look at the slate of candidates facing opposition in the July 18 primary.
Most of the questions at the forum were directed at those running for commission seats and centered around each individual's experience and qualifications and what their chief concerns were.
Nash said he felt his seven and a half years as District 2 commissioner has prepared him for the chairmanship as well as his experience in managing a large farming operation.
He expressed a particular interest in the volunteer fire departments and the continued expansion of the recreation department, saying that if elected, he would recommend a 10 percent increase in funding for the 11 fire departments.
Nash said the county needs both a water and sewer system to encourage retail growth.
Akin said he felt qualified for the job because he had served as a plant supervisor for a number of years. He cited water as his chief concern.
Scott, whose fellow Democratic candidates did not attend the forum, said he was qualified for the District 2 seat because of his 29 and a half years of managerial experience and a previous seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
For the coroner position, the most contested seat in the county, qualifications and availability were the chief concerns.
Dickinson pointed to her 30 years of experience as a registered nurse in a variety of settings as well as three years as a volunteer with an Emergency Medical Service, serving as an EMT, ambulance driver and on the Board of Directors. She told the audience that she has no outside employment that would interfere with her duties as coroner, and would choose her deputy coroner with care.
Crane stressed his experience working as an EMT and paramedic with both the Madison and Oglethorpe County ambulance services. He also said that he has been working closely with the Oglethorpe County coroner to learn more about the duties of coroner. He committed to working out a schedule with a deputy coroner so that someone would be available at all times to respond to calls.
Scarborough also listed his years of ongoing experience as an EMT, First Responder and paramedic with Madison County and as a full-time fireman and EMS coordinator with Athens Clarke County. He committed to being available whenever possible and also to having a reliable deputy coroner to answer calls when he cannot, adding that the deputy coroner would be "a direct reflection" on him when performing his duties.
Three more forums will be held after the primary and prior to the November general election: one for state representatives, one for board of commissioners posts and one for constitutional officers (coroner, clerk of court, probate judge).


Westbrook back in minors
Madison County's Jake Westbrook was sent back to the minor league Columbus Clippers Friday after making his second start for New York in a 4-2 Yankee loss to the Red Sox Thursday.
Westbrook gave up four runs, six hits and two walks, while striking out one in two and two-thirds innings in Fenway Park.
In his first start Saturday, Westbrook gave up six runs and seven hits in one and two-thirds innings versus the Chicago White Sox. He pitched two and one-third innings of scoreless relief against the White Sox last Sunday.
Westbrooks compiled an 0-2 record and a 13.50 earned run average in three big league appearences.

 
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Lopez murder
trial opens

Was it murder, self defense or something in between? A Madison County jury is being asked to decide.
On Saturday night, October 9, 1999, two young men were left alone in a mobile home in Hull following an evening of beer, games and arguments. Around 10 p.m., two deputy sheriffs were dispatched to the area to investigate a report of a blood-covered man in the street. Upon arriving, they followed blood stains to the mobile home at Lot 16, Louise Drive where they found the badly beaten and stabbed body of Juan Alvarez-Crispin on the floor. An old bumper jack, the apparent murder weapon, was found lying on the body.
Some time later, Eleazar Lopez, a 24-year-old Hispanic male, was spotted riding a bicycle in the Pinewood Estates Mobile Home Park off Hwy. 29 in Clarke County. He fit the description of an individual spotted leaving the scene of the crime by deputies. He was arrested and charged with murder.
Lopez's trial began Monday, June 26, with jury selection. Tuesday morning was filled with pre-trial motions, with opening statements beginning at 1 p.m.
District Attorney Bob Lavender opened the trial with a description of events leading up to the crime. He described a party involving beer, games of chance and dancing. He said evidence will show that an argument occurred between the victim and defendant during which Lopez obtained a large knife and threatened to kill Crispin.
Lavender described the body lying in a pool of blood, having been "beaten to a pulp" with the bumper jack by the defendant, who then went to the kitchen, returned with a knife and stabbed the body repeatedly.
Defense attorney Chris NeSmith opened by informing the jury that this is his first murder trial and only the second time he has appeared before a jury. He asked the jury not to hold any mistakes he might make against his client. He then asked that the jury "resist the temptation to rush to judgment before all evidence is presented." He urged the jury to "pay attention to the witnesses and evidence you do not hear or see."
NeSmith said evidence will show that everyone involved was drunk, that the knife taken from the defendant was not involved in the attack, and that Alvarez-Crispin was the first to attack Lopez. He suggested that Lopez's actions were due to "great passion induced by great fear."
The first day of testimony involved the deputies who found the body and witnesses who were at the party prior to the crime. Testimony was slowed due to witnesses who spoke little or no English, requiring repeated questions and at times an interpreter.
Neither side would predict the length of the trial.
According to NeSmith, the jury will be given the choice of voluntary manslaughter or murder. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
Keith Layman of the state medical examiner's office testified Wednesday morning that the victim suffered multiple blunt injuries to the head, six stab wounds to the chest, as well as injuries to his forearms and hands - typical of a person trying to shield himself from blows.


Tolbert injury puts Indians deal on hold
A deal between Scott Tolbert and the Cleveland Indians will have to wait as the Madison County standout recovers from a strained nerve in his pitching arm. The Indians drafted Tolbert in the ninth round but informed the former Raider Monday that they would wait on sealing a deal until his arm is healed. Tolbert, who is undergoing physical therapy for the injury, said his doctor expects him to be recovered in five to eight weeks.