News from Madison County...

July 11, 2001

Madison County

Madison County

Madison County H.S.

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Georgia weekly newspapers
by the Georgia Press Association

June 29, 2001

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Zach Mitcham
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.

Frank Gillespie
Celebrating 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

Madison Co. all star action kicks into full swing
Nine of the Madison County Recreation Department's all star teams kicked off action this week.

Neighborhood News...
Wetland 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.

BOC 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.

News from...
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 Emil Beshara.

Rogers 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
Danielsville, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056

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Faye Schmittou is the grand marshal for the 2001 Colbert Fourth of July Parade.

Fortson stands trial for murder
DA, defense give opening arguments, call first witnesses
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 said.
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 Bridges.
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, 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 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.

'Giving Spirit'
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 festival parade.
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 so friendly."
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 these days.
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.
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," Faye said.
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 Marine.
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 deceased.
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 busy."
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.

Danielsville 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' signatures.
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 year.
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 Road.
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 discourage speeders.

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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 the fee.
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 Journal.

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 ext. 304.

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.

Fortson trial won't be televised by Court TV
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 be privileged.
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 it would.
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 the media."
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.