News from Madison County...

January 24, 2001


Madison County
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OPINIONS
Frank Gillispie
Zell Miller-a Southern gentleman

A Southern Gentleman now occupies the seat of senator from the state of Georgia. When Democrat Zell Miller assumed the seat vacated by Republican Paul Coverdale, he promised to serve in Coverdale's spirit.

Zach Mitcham
Is the Super Bowl about football?

I've come to believe that the Super Bowl is not really about football. It's about commercials.


SPORTS
Lady Raiders look for consistency after erratic weekend play

A team described by their coach as inconsistent this season couldn't have experienced a more erratic weekend.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
BOC finalizes contract for ambulance billing
The Banks County Board of Commissioners finalized a contract Friday morning with Alpha and Omega to provide ambulance billing services to the county.

Stolen vehicles found in Banks
Two stolen vehicles were found in Banks County last week, according to incident reports filed at the Banks County Sheriff's Office.


News from...
JACKSON COUNTY
New housing permits, property sales soar
For the first time ever, the total of new housing units permitted in Jackson County climbed above the 1,000 mark for a one-year period.

Airport expansion on hold
The Jackson County Airport expansion will have to wait until the airport authority and the board of commissioners can figure out how to get $2.3 million to close on 78 acres of land.


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'MISS RAIDER'


Aiyana Hunter was named Madison County's "Miss Raider" Friday night. She is pictured with her escort Preston Fortson.


Change of venue sought in Fortson case
The attorney for accused murderer Tracy Lea Fortson filed a motion Jan. 15 to have the high-profile case moved out of Madison County.
Attorney Thomas A. Camp of Athens has asked that the case be moved "beyond a radius of 150 miles from Danielsville."
No ruling on this matter had been filed as of Monday.
Fortson pled not guilty in November to malice murder, felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and attempted arson. She is accused of killing her ex-boyfriend, 38-year-old Doug Benton of Colbert, and leaving his body encased in cement in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County, before attempting to burn down Benton's house to destroy evidence.
Camp said the media coverage in the area has "severely prejudiced prospective jurors" against Fortson, who was transferred from the Jackson County to the Franklin County jail Jan. 19. The accused is being held on a $500,000 bond.
Other motions filed by the attorney show how Fortson's defense is taking shape. Included in the Jan. 15 defense actions was a motion for dismissal. Camp said Fortson was never "afforded the opportunity to have a preliminary hearing" prior to her indictment on Oct. 18.
"(T)o deny defendant her right to a preliminary hearing in this matter, with all the safeguards guaranteed her under the law, would be to deny her a valuable right at a critical stage of the criminal processes, and as such would constitute a denial of due process and equal protection," wrote Camp in his motion for dismissal.
Camp also filed a motion to suppress evidence collected at Fortson's house on Smithonia Road in Winterville "on or about June 21, 2000." The house was searched by the Oglethorpe County sheriff's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Camp said the application for a search warrant of the home submitted by GBI agent Ben Williams to Oglethorpe Magistrate Judge Gail Smith "did not provide probable cause for the issuance of the warrant."
"Furthermore, the warrant contained incorrect and false information, was based upon uncorroborated hearsay, and is otherwise wholly deficient," Camp wrote, adding that the magistrate receiving the application for the warrant was not "informed as to the credibility of any of the individuals providing information to the affiant personally or through others."
"This omission is fatal to the affidavit," Camp wrote.
The attorney also wants to suppress evidence taken from Fortson's Ford F150 truck.
Camp voiced the same objections to the search of the truck as for the house, claiming that the warrant for the search was illegally obtained.
"(T)here was no legitimate reason, much less probable cause, to seize the defendant's vehicle," Camp wrote. "Furthermore, the vehicle was pre-searched prior to the warrant being obtained."
Camp has also asked for all medical, psychiatric, psychological and mental health records pertaining to Benton, who was born Christmas day, 1961.
The attorney filed a motion "to inspect, examine and test physical evidence" related to the crime. He filed a "motion for disclosure of Brady materials, specifically felony record of state's witnesses." He seeks permission for an "in-depth juror questionnaire." And he has asked that prospective jurors be questioned individually, with other potential jurors out of the courtroom.
The case is expected to go to trial sometime in the next several months, perhaps in May, though no trial date was available from the District Attorney's office as of press time.




BOC approves raises for county zoning board
Madison County planners will receive $50 more per month thanks to action taken by county commissioners Monday.
The board of commissioners agreed to raise the pay of representatives on the zoning board from $100 to $150 per month. The planning commission chairman's pay will go up from $200 to $250 per month.
The raises were recommended by District 4 commissioner Melvin Drake, who said zoning board members put in a lot of time researching zoning issues.
"They (the planning commission members) do a tremendous job," said Drake. "These people need something else to help them out, to show our appreciation from the county."
In other business, the board heard from zoning board chairman Pat Mahoney, who informed the commissioners of the planning commission's proposed changes to the zoning ordinance concerning cell towers. The most notable amendment requires that a cell tower must be set back from the nearest property line at a distance equal to or greater than the height of the tower. The board agreed to have the new county attorney consider the issue.
REZONING APPROVED
The BOC approved by a 3-2 vote a request by Ben Rhodes for owner Timothy W. Rhodes to rezone 4.3 acres on Parham Town Road from A-2 to R-R. Bill Taylor and Johnny Fitzpatrick voted to deny the request, while Melvin Drake, Youngblood and Bruce Scogin voted in favor of the measure. Two people spoke against the action, saying the rezoning could leave the area overcrowded and that the new zoning would create a "spot zoning" situation. Fitzpatrick said the board "could be opening a can of worms" by approving the rezoning. He said the area is mostly zoned agricultural. Taylor agreed. But Scogin said the area already includes small properties and that the rezoning would only be "spot zoning" if it were "in the middle of large tracts."
NAMED TO POSTS
The commissioners approved Donny Evans and Mike Hudmon to the citizens' committee assisting commissioners in determining the feasibility of a county drug counseling program.
The board approved Robert W. Trevena to the planning commission and Doug Epps to the recreation department advisory board.
The BOC reappointed Victor Johnson and John Dunleavy as the county's representatives on the Oconee River Resource Conservation and Development Council.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.



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County jail completion set for November
Completion of the new Madison County jail is expected for late November.
Madison County Board of Commissioners chairman Wesley Nash said that construction on the jail will start sometime next week and the project is expected to take 308 days.
The commissioners approved a contract Monday with Boatwright Construction Company for $3.15 million to build the jail.
The new jail will be located off Hwy. 98 across from the county recreation department. It will be a 60-bed facility with room for expansion, which officials say will likely be needed in years to come.
The current Madison County jail has an official capacity of seven and consistently ranks as the most overcrowded county detainment facility in the state. The old prison also has no facilities for women.
Madison County currently loses thousands of dollars every year housing out prisoners due to lack of bed space. The new jail is expected to end that problem.
The county will pay for the project with the $2.3 million in sales tax money approved by county voters in 1998 and with borrowed money.


New county attorney named
Michael Pruett of Athens is Madison County's new attorney.
The Madison County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Pruett as their legal representative after a brief closed session meeting Monday.
An attorney for the past 10 years, Pruett is a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia Law School. He also received his bachelor's degree from UGA.
Pruett has never served as a county or city attorney, but he has worked with county governments as part of McLeod, Benton, Begnaud and Marshall, which represents Clarke, Oconee and Walton County school districts.
Pruett has worked for the Athens law firm since January of 1996.
His experience with the company includes handling a Madison County zoning case for former county attorney Rick Brittain.
"I'm very happy that the board of commissioners appointed me," said Pruett, who grew up in Bethlehem in Barrow County.
The new attorney replaces John McArthur, who resigned recently, saying his caseload outside of the county was too heavy to handle the position.