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Closing arguments in the Tracy Lea Fortson
murder trial were scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Fortson is charged with the 2000 murder of ex-boy friend Doug
Benton of Colbert whose body was found June of last year encased
in cement in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County.
The prosecution, which opened their case at approximately 2 p.m.
Tuesday, rested shortly after lunch at 1:50 p.m. Thursday.
After the prosecution closed their case, defense attorney Tom
Camp asked that the case be thrown out due to insufficient evidence
against Fortson.Judge Lindsay Tise denied the request and the
defense then rested their case without calling any witnesses.
In the afternoon before closing arguments, District Attorney
Bob Lavender called Madison County Sherrif's Investigators Cody
Cross and Buck Scoggins to the stand. Scoggins said they arrived
at Benton's house June 17 and found Benton's pet birds dead and
also found tire marks near the deck of Benton's home. Scoggins
also testified that he interviewed Forston who told him that
she and the victim had broken up.
During the morning hours, Lavender called four witnesses to the
stand. Among those providing testimonies were Benton's best friend
Jeff Bennett and GBI special agent Ralph Stone.
Bennett said Fortson and Benton were "having problems"
in their relationship and that he advised his friend to break
up with Fortson.
Agent Stone testified that he believed the murderer had committed
"staging" at the crime scene in order to throw police
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Wednesday testimony in Fortson murder trial
focuses on expert analysis
Wednesday- the second day of testimony
in the Tracy Fortson murder trial, got
underway with a parade of law enforcement and forensics experts
who presented a battery of evidence to the jury on blood, DNA,
handwriting, cement samples and other items involved in the state's
case against Fortson.
Forston is accused in the June 2000 murder of
her former boyfriend, Colbert resident Doug Benton, whose body
was found several weeks later encased in a cement watering trough
in a remote area of Oglethorpe County.
The most damaging evidence of the day came from two employees
of Southern States, an Athens farm and garden supply store, who
testified that Fortson purchased a galvanized steel watering
trough, two feet deep, two feet wide and six feet long, along
with ten 80 pound bags of ready mix cement on June 4, the last
day anyone reportedly saw Doug
Store manager Sherry Michael, who knows Fortson and has ridden
horses with her in the past, said Fortson told her she wanted
the cement to build a pad for a dog pen and was asking questions
about how much she would need for such a project.
Dr. Jeffrey P. Smith, a forensic pathologist with the Georgia
Bureau of Investigation's crime lab in Decatur, testified that
he performed an autopsy on Benton's decomposed body on June 20,
when it arrived at the crime lab still embedded in cement and
wrapped in various material inside a metal trough.
Smith testified that the body was 71 inches long and weighed
a mere 113 pounds, due to its state of "moderate to severe
composition." Smith said the body
had ten stab wounds to its lower portion, including the abodmen,
buttocks and legs, and a single close range gunshot wound to
the top of the head. He retrieved a "small calibur bullet"
from the Benton's brain.
On cross examination from Fortson's attorney Thomas Camp, Smith
said, in his opinion, the wounds which were caused by a sharp
object, such as a knife, were inflicted "at or near the
time of death," and not caused, at Camp had suggested, by
the attempted extrication of the body from the trough at the
time of its discovery.
He said death was caused by "a combined effect of stab wounds
and the gunshot." GBI firearms expert
Bernadette Beatty testified that a rifle belonging to Fortson
was most likely the weapon that fired the bullet found in Benton.
The bullet also matched ammunition recovered from Fortson's home.
Other expert witnesses also testified about blood stains found
on the couch and other areas of the home as well as liquid stains,
such as kerosene and a "kerosene odor" noticed in the
home and burned out candles near the couch where Benton is believed
to have been shot.
GBI handwriting expert Arthur T. Anthony said a note found on
the victim's truck was not written by Benton. After analyzing
samples of Fortson's writing, Anthony said he came to the conclusion
that "Tracy Fortson probably prepared the writing."
Camp attempted to throw suspicion away from his client by repeatedly
asking witnesses if they had examined, searched or analyzed material,
possessions, blood or handwriting from Jerry Alexander or Jeff
Bennett, two of Benton's close friends. The last witness of the
day was Alexander, who testified that he discovered Benton's
truck parked in the yard of his home in Lexingon on Tuesday morning,
June 6, with a note attached to the driver's side window. He
said the note stated "don't call me, I'll get in touch with
you."On cross examination from Camp, Alexander denied having
anything to do with Benton's disappearance or murder, or that
he had deliberately attempted to throw suspicion to Fortson from
the beginning. "I loved Doug with all my heart, we were
real close friends," Alexander said.
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.
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.
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Fortson trial won't be televised by Court
Cable television's Court TV was denied
permission Tuesday to tape the Fortson murder trial for broadcast
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.