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to Jackson County
to Banks County
leaders show improved relations
The Madison County commissioners and chairman recently told Colbert
Mayor John Waggoner that they all plan to ride together in the
city's annual Fourth of July parade.
a 'lost cause'
This week we celebrate the birth of a nation that no longer exists.
Our ancestors had a specific plan of governance in mind that
was based on specific principles.
Directions to Area Schools
Co. all star action kicks into full swing
Nine of the Madison County Recreation Department's all star teams
kicked off action this week.
site planned by DOT for 85 acres in Banks County
Banks County is the location of one of the Georgia Department
of Transportation's re-created wetland sites.
approves new position for 911 department
The Banks County Board of Commissioners agreed Friday to spend
$1,730 for a computer server to back up files and a new employee
to cut down on overtime at the 911 dispatch center in Banks County.
to pitch animal control plan to towns
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners took the first step
Monday night toward bringing animal control to the county. The
BOC unanimously agreed to approach the nine municipalities in
the county with a proposed animal ordinance presented by commissioner
seeking earnest funds in home sale effort
Country music star Kenny Rogers believes he should get the $634,250
in "earnest money" for the purchase of his Oglethorpe
County home, Beaver Dam Farms.
The Madison County Journal
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Faye Schmittou is the grand marshal for the 2001 Colbert Fourth
of July Parade.
trial for murder
DA, defense give opening arguments, call first witnesses
BY FRANK GILLISPIE
The Tracy Lea Fortson murder trial got under way Tuesday afternoon
with District Attorney Bob Lavender presenting evidence linking
Fortson to the murder of Doug Benton of Colbert. But defense
attorney Tom Camp described his client as "an innocent victim
who was wrongly accused."
See More on Fortson Trial
Fortson, a former Oglethorpe
County deputy sheriff, is being tried for the murder of Benton.
She is accused of shooting and stabbing him, encasing his body
in cement and trying to burn his house to hide evidence. She
faces charges of malice murder, felony murder, and two counts
of assault and attempted arson.
Lavender told the jury of 10 women and four men, including alternates,
that Fortson killed Benton in his home, shooting him in the head
and stabbing him several times. He said Fortson then hid the
body in a horse trough, filled it with cement and dumped in on
a remote farm in Oglethorpe County. Lavender said that evidence
will show that Fortson was familiar with the location where the
body was found, that she purchased the horse trough and cement
at an Athens farm supply, that bullets of the same type that
killed Doug Benton were found in her home and that damage to
trees at the farm matched damage to her truck.
Lavender said cement splatters and potting soil identical to
that used to hide the body were found in Fortson's truck and
that one of the shower curtains used to wrap the body was similar
to one she purchased at an Athens store. He said that paint used
to camouflage the horse trough was identical to paint found at
Fortson's home, and on her mailbox.
He said that Benton's truck was left at a friend's house with
a note taped to the windshield saying he would be gone for a
while and asking the friend to take care of the truck. He said
the note was attached to the windshield with fingerprint tape
used by law enforcement personnel.
But Camp said the investigation was blotched from the beginning
and that investigators "failed to follow obvious leads"
that would have implicated other people. He said that all evidence
against Fortson was circumstantial and contained gaping holes.
Camp asked the jury not to form opinions about the evidence offered
by witnesses until he had a chance to cross-examine them.
"I have a disadvantage because I have to go second,"
He insisted that no witnesses saw Fortson kill Benton. No one
saw her place the body in the horse trough. No one saw her dump
the body in Oglethorpe County.
The first witness, Larry Bridges, lives across the road from
Benton's house near Colbert. He reported last seeing Benton on
June 4, 2000, and that Fortson's truck was present at Benton's
house that evening. He said that after not seeing Benton for
several days he went to the house on June 17 to check and found
a number of Benton's exotic birds were dead in their cages. He
called the Madison County Sheriff's office.
On cross-examination, Bridges said he did not see any unusual
objects in Fortson's truck at that time.
Officer Thomas Lutz of the Madison County Sheriff's office responded
to the call. He checked the house and found it secure. He started
a missing person investigation that included conversations with
Bridges and his live-in girlfriend Lisa Watson. He called Fortson
to ask if she knew of his whereabouts and found her to be cooperative.
She gave him several people to contact. During a later call,
he asked her about an argument with the victim and she became
angry and refused to talk.
Lutz responded to a report that Benton's truck was located at
the home of his friend Jerry Alexander near Lexington. He retrieved
a note that had been taped to the windshield and had the truck
removed to the Madison County Sheriffs office.
Under cross-examination, Lutz said that his first call to Fortson
was very satisfactory, but she was not cooperative on the second
call. He acknowledged that Alexander was upset at the removal
of the truck from his property without Benton's approval. He
said he could not be100 percent sure that the tape on the note
was fingerprint tape.
Lisa Watson was called and confirmed the statements of Larry
She added the information that she had heard a gunshot come from
the direction of Benton's house on the last day he was seen and
that Fortson left about an hour later.
She admitted to defense attorney Camp that she had not reported
the gunshot until much later. She said she did not think much
of it at the time because people shoot guns in the area often.
She said she did not see any things in the back of Fortson's
truck that day but that she could not see the back of the truck
from her house.
Rob Postin, manager of RSE Farms near Stevens, Ga., told about
going to rescue a damaged four-wheeler on the back of the farm
and spotting the trough. He described efforts to open the trough
with a tractor, punching holes in the trough. Liquid and a strong
odor came from the trough, causing him to suspect a problem.
He called the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's office. Investigators,
including a GBI agent, used a mallet and screwdriver to open
one corner of the trough and discovered the body inside.
On cross-examination, Postin said that Fortson often hunted on
the farm and he would have recognized her truck if he had seen
it. He agreed that punch marks on the bottom of the trough made
by the screwdriver were located where Benton's buttocks and legs
were lying. That is the same area that stab wounds were found
on the body. He admitted that he had moved the tank from its
original position before calling the sheriff's office.
Mike Smith, former chief investigator for the Oglethorpe County
Sheriff's Office said that he and a GBI agent responded to the
call. He said they were unable to open the trough and called
for EMS agents to help. They managed to open the trough and found
the body. Smith said he recognized the victim because of a tattoo
on his arm.
Smith told the defense that he saw the trough in the woods and
that it was moved by the tractor during efforts to break up the
cement. He also agreed that the punctures in the trough were
where Benton's legs and buttocks were located. He acknowledged
that the GBI crime scene expert was not called to the site until
well after the body and trough was removed.
Testimony was scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.
Photos Now Available to Order Online
MainStreet Newspapers Inc. announces that photos
from its four newspapers available for the ordering of prints
on-line at its website, mainstreetnews.com. Based in Jefferson,
MSN owns The Banks County News, The Commerce News, The Madison
County Journal and The Jackson Herald.
"We get a lot of demand from readers
in all three counties to have prints made," said Mike Buffington,
editor of The Jackson Herald and one of the owners of MSN. "This
service allows readers to access an on-line catalogue that shows
thumbnails of each photo. From that, prints of various sizes
can be ordered."
In addition to photos that run in the four
newspapers, companion photos from events that are not published
are also available on-line.
"For example, we may not have printed a photo of your daughter
at a basketball game, but she may be in another photo that was
taken, but not published," Buffington said.
Access to the photos catalogue will be available
from a button on the mainstreetnews.com web site. The photos
are hosted by DotPhotos Inc., a firm which specializes in making
prints from digital photographs and which manages photos for
a number of newspapers across the country.
There will be around a one week delay between
the time photos are published and their availability at the on-line
site. Click HERE
to view photo albums.
Colbert's July 4th grand marshal believes in giving
a hand to those in need
Faye Schmittou's eyes light up when she talks about her beloved
husband, Marine Veteran Joseph M. Schmittou, who died in 1997,
as well as when she talks about the work she does as volunteer
coordinator for the Helping Hands Clothes Closet.
Faye, also a Marine veteran who served from 1944 - 1947, is this
year's grand marshal for the annual Colbert Independence Day
She has been a Colbert fixture since 1975 when she and her family
moved to Madison County from Clarke County.
"I just love it, I really do," Faye, a Pennsylvania
native, says of Colbert, her adopted home. "Everyone is
She says she is honored to have been chosen as this year's grand
marshal. "Mayor (John) Waggoner just told me about it -
he didn't ask," she says, laughing. "He just said,
'Oh, by the way, you're this year's grand marshal.'"
Faye is probably known best to most folks in Colbert for her
years of operating Helping Hands two mornings a week out of the
old Colbert Elementary School auditorium.
She operates the facility, along with the help of other volunteers,
to benefit low- income families, nursing home residents, victims
of fire and other disasters and anyone else in need of clothing.
"The Lord sends us what we need," Faye said, adding
that the facility operates strictly on donations of clothing
and other items - no money is involved.
Several women in the area helped her get the clothes closet started,
and two, Louise Campbell and Weyona Steed, assist her with it
The highlight of each year for Faye is when Helping Hands collects
new and used toys to distribute at a Christmas party for children,
hosted by Madison County High School FCCLA students and junior
and senior 4-H Club members.
She has collected many memories of the people - particularly
the children - she has met over the years.
But she worries that the auditorium is in a "severe state
of disrepair" and she doesn't know how much longer they
can use it.
TOUR OF DUTY
She met Joseph, an instructor at the officer's candidate school
in Virginia, during her own tour of duty.
"He was 'John Wayne' on the outside, but he had a soft spot
on the inside," Schmittou says of her husband of 51 years,
who died after succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease.
"He was my hero from the time I met him - and he still is,"
And beginning just last month, honor student graduates of the
Marine division of the Navy School in Athens will each have their
name added to a Joseph M. Schmittou plaque, sponsored by the
Marine Corps League, in honor of her husband, a decorated career
Joseph received a number of medals during his 30 years of service
- including a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Presidential
Unit Citations. He was active during World War II in the South
Pacific, in the Guadalcanal conflict and the Korean War.
Faye says he was a "seagoing Marine" who was present
at the christening of the original ship, the Enterprise, and
served onboard it for three years.
"He wanted to go during Desert Storm, but they wouldn't
let him," Faye said, shaking her head.
"He had a love for both animals and people," she remembers.
She and Joe had two daughters, Nancy Joe and Linda Lee, both
Nancy Joe was murdered by an acquaintance in Athens in 1983 and
Linda Lee, an oncology nurse, died of breast cancer in 1988.
She has three granddaughters.
Faye says she retired from the Navy School, where she had worked
for 28 years, the same year as her daughter's murder, and got
involved with Helping Hands "to have something to keep her
This was not her first time to be involved in such work - while
living in Virginia she used to gather clothing from her neighbors
to distribute in the poorer sections of town. "I'd just
drive down there and ask people walking by if they needed clothing,"
she remembers. She thinks it would be too dangerous, particularly
for a woman alone, to do such a thing nowadays.
to try speed 'humps' for Madison St.
In an ongoing effort to remedy school traffic problems on Madison
Street, the Danielsville City Council voted unanimously Monday
to equip the road with speed humps (not bumps), if they can receive
approval from property owners on the street.
The council said they would present a petition to the residents
and go forth with the plans to install the eight-foot wide, 22-foot
long, speed humps, if they can obtain 70 percent of the homeowners'
The council agreed to initially install two humps and consider
adding more if needed. Speed humps are wider than speed bumps
and do not jar a vehicle as much when passing over them.
The speed humps are the latest suggestion to control the street's
traffic problems before and after school hours during the school
Council members said speed breakers are needed on the road due
to potential accidents that could occur on the highly congested
area during school months.
The council pointed to the intersection of Madison Street and
Colbert-Danielsville Road as the main danger area. The council
said speed needs to be reduced along Madison Street to give more
time to those who are pulling onto the street from Colbert-Danielsville
In February, the council voted to put two speed "bumps"
on the street to try and fix the problem, but removed the devices
after only a month due to residents' complaints that the bumps
caused increased noise as motorists drove over them.
The bumps were also blamed for school traffic jams.
Since that time, Danielsville Police Chief Joe Merk monitored
the school traffic during the morning and afternoon hours to
Go to Madison
Public Meeting Dates
Auto Parts &
Retail Stores & Outlets
Ila considers legal
action to collect license fee
The city of Ila may soon be forced to take a business to court
for refusing to purchase a business license.
The business has been in operation since April and has so far
not paid the $30 annual business license fee, despite several
requests by the council and city attorney Pat Graham.
Graham said Monday night that the town has little recourse except
to file a civil suit in Madison County Superior Court.
Graham said he will delay the action until Tuesday, July 10,
in order for council members to make another attempt to collect
If the suit is filed, the business owners will be required to
pay all legal costs involved in the matter.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County
Police seek help
in identifying body
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is attempting to identify
the decomposed body of a person found in a wooded area off Old
Hull Road near the Athens Bypass. This person is a white male,
approximately 5'10", medium to large build, strawberry blond
hair. The male is believed to be middle aged or older. The male
was wearing an "Adventure Club" sweatshirt size regular
medium. The blue jeans were "Scandia Woods" brand size
36x32. The body was found on May 30, 2001, and had been in the
woods for two weeks to several months. Anyone with information
on this person is asked to contact Det. Newton at 706-613-3888
To read more about the local events in
Madison County, including births, weddings, sports news and school
news, see this week's Madison County Journal.
won't be televised by Court TV
BY FRANK GILLISPIE
Cable television's Court TV was denied permission Tuesday to
tape the Fortson murder trial for broadcast later.
Judge Lindsay Tise ruled Tuesday against the allowance of cameras
in the courtroom. The judge held a hearing Monday morning to
receive comments from attorneys for the TV company along with
prosecution and defense attorneys.
Attorney Jack Dalton of Troutman and Sanders of Atlanta stated
that Court TV would use one special camera that does not require
additional lighting and operates silently. It would be mounted
at a fixed location and not moved around the courtroom. He said
that the producers would not picture the jury, or any witness
the judge feels needs to be protected. He told Judge Tise that
editing of the program would be under his direction.
District attorney Bob Lavender expressed his concern for a fair
trial. He worried that the camera would have a chilling effect
on people involved in the case. He strongly objected to the suggestion
that microphones be placed at the prosecution and defense desks,
saying that many discussions between him and his staff would
Defense attorney Tom Camp agreed with Lavender's assessments
and added his "vehement" opposition to microphones
at his desk. Camp argued that Court TV is a for-profit operation
and that he has not given permission for his or his client's
image to be broadcast on commercial television.
He said that the right of individuals to control the use of their
image is a serious concern. He was also concerned about the impact
TV would have on the children of the victim and the accused.
Judge Tise asked Camp what his responsibility in the courtroom
was. Camp responded that he has to be aware of everything going
on in the courtroom. Judge Tise asked if the TV camera would
affect how he did his job. Camp responded that in some cases
Mr. Dalton responded that "the public has a right to know,
that the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that with the presiding
Judge's permission, the camera has a right to be in the courtroom
and that the public has a full right to witness a trial through
Judge Tise asked Dalton if he had tried cases with cameras in
the courtroom. Dalton said that he has. Judge Tise asked him
what was on his mind during the trials. Dalton responded that
his full attention was on the judge and witnesses.
"Were you aware of the camera?" Judge Tise asked.
"Not after the first day," Dalton responded.
Judge Tise said that his concern is that "this defendant
has a fair
trial." His primary concern was whether the camera will
have an effect on witnesses.