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Those barefoot summers
This summer reminds me so much of the summers of my childhood
- not extremely hot (so far at least) but muggy, almost tropical.
Suit could change ballot access
A major lawsuit against Georgia's election laws has been filed
in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, an event that has been totally
ignored by the state's media.
Directions to Area Schools
Junior American Leaguers eliminated despite furious rally
Facing elimination, desperation fueled a frantic rally for the
Junior American League all star squad Saturday, but the heroics
still weren't enough to keep their postseason run alive.
Homer council proceeds with new town hall plans
Mayor Leon Ray asked Jason Bond and other members of the Homer
Fire Department Tuesday night to figure out what kind of space
the department will need in the new town hall and fire station
Movie theater proposed for Banks Crossing
A movie theater company wants to open a business in Banks County.
The theater group, which has been talking to the county about
moving in, has expressed a need to add an additional 790 parking
spaces which required a change in the ordinances.
3 Rabies-Related Incidents Reported
A trio of incidents in and near Commerce have officials concerned
about rabid animals.
Maysville man charged in Commerce murder
A Maysville man has been charged with "malice murder"
in the Friday stabbing death of Ralph Douglas Stockton, 56, of
68 Chestnut Street, Commerce.
The Madison County Journal
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Past Stories on the Fortson
Fortson sentenced to life for killing Doug Benton
BY ZACH MITCHAM
Jeff Bennett and Jerry Alexander spent an agonizing hour in Madison
County Superior Court Thursday as attorney Tom Camp tried to
pin the murder of their friend, Doug Benton, on them. The lawyer
said the two killed their buddy then tried to frame Tracy Lea
Fortson for the crime.
But the jury didn't buy this conspiracy theory, finding the former
Oglethorpe County deputy guilty on all counts against her - malice
murder, felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and attempted
Judge Lindsay Tise sentenced Fortson to life in prison on both
murder charges, 20 years in confinement on both assault charges
and 10 years in jail for attempted arson. He said the assault
charges would run concurrent to each other, but consecutive to
the life sentences.
Fortson received the
punishment for shooting Benton in the head with a 22 caliber
rifle last June in his Colbert home as he slept, then stabbing
him, wrapping his body in two shower curtains, putting his body
in a water trough, filling it with cement, using a rope or cable
tied to a tree to pull the entombed man off the back of her pickup
in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County, then going back to his
house and dousing his living area with kerosene in a failed attempt
to burn it down.
District Attorney Bob Lavender told the jury that she committed
the horrid act out of spite over a breakup with the victim after
a rocky eight-month relationship.
"She was angry," said Lavender. "She was going
to get this SOB cause he kicked her out."
As the verdict was read and the sentence issued, Fortson's shoulders
shook hard once as she appeared to restrain sobs.
Others in the court were emotional too, but for different reasons,
some mourning the loss of Fortson's freedom, others remembering
the man they loved and lost.
"Overall, there's still just total sorrow because everybody
loses," said the victim's brother, Scott Benton, after the
The verdict followed three days of testimony, with all witnesses
called by the prosecution. Surprisingly, the defense called no
one to the stand. Instead, Fortson's attorney used cross examinations
to try to convince the jury that investigators had botched the
case by not checking leads and not considering every angle.
"This is a case based solely on circumstantial evidence,"
said Camp. "In order to convict on circumstantial evidence,
then you must exclude every reasonable theory....The state has
not met that burden."
The defense attorney maintained that the prosecution was "trying
to make things fit." He questioned why no search warrants
were issued for the homes of Alexander and Bennett.
But the DA said there was never any evidence to suggest the guilt
of anyone other than Fortson.
"There is no evidence that points to anybody else,"
Camp told jurors during his closing argument that Fortson was
a religious woman who loved animals. He said she was not "the
type of person who would have killed Doug Benton, taken him off
in a metal container and left his animals (exotic birds) there
Then the attorney attempted to show that Fortson was an "innocent
victim," presenting the theory that Benton's friends - Bennett
and Alexander - framed Fortson.
As the lawyer wove the tale, the victim's brother patted Bennett
on the back, a show of support in the face of what they said
was an atrocious deflection of guilt.
And the jury, too, believed that the yarn spun by Camp only stretched
so far. Because Lavender presented a mountain of evidence showing
that Fortson acted alone in the murder and the gruesome disposal
of Benton's body in a cement-filled water trough.
The prosecutor presented a chilly picture of the defendant, showing
the jury a devotional book in which Fortson had written herself
a note dated June 10, 2000 - a week after the murder and a week
before the discovery of Benton's body.
"Presented to myself by myself on the occasion of his absence
from my life," read Fortson's note to herself.
Lavender said Fortson conceived a "good plan" which
she would have gotten away with were it not for a couple of "fortuitous"
events - a kid's flat tire on a four-wheeler leading the property
manager to the remote area where the body was found. There was
also the failed attempt to burn the house down. Had the candles
Fortson left ignited the kerosene in Benton's home, the case
may not have been solved, the DA said.
Lavender showed that Fortson had purchased the cement and water
trough on June 4, the apparent day of the murder. He said Fortson
hunted on the property where the body was found. He said she
knew no one would be going near the body because it was on hunting
grounds and it was not hunting season.
"She knew people weren't going to be back there," said
There was also cement found in her truck matching the cement
in the water trough. A piece of the bag of quick-dry cement was
found in the trough, the same name brand purchased by Fortson
at an Athens store on June 4. A neighbor saw Fortson at Benton's
house on that date and said she heard a gunshot that night but
didn't think much of it because gunshots aren't so unusual in
rural areas - Camp questioned the credibility of the neighbor,
wondering why she came forward with the news of the gunshot late
in the investigation.
The prosecution also argued that Fortson forged a note from Benton
to Alexander, which asked the victim's friend to look after his
truck while he was gone. The DA said the former deputy stuck
the note to Benton's truck with fingerprinting tape, which is
used almost exclusively by law enforcement officers.
Green, black and khaki paint used on the water trough in an attempt
to camouflage the entombed body was shown to be similar to paint
found at Fortson's home and on her camouflaged mailbox.
After Tise sentenced Fortson, he asked the victim's side of the
courtroom to exit first, then the defendant's side, keeping the
two groups from mingling at such an emotional time.
Outside the courtroom after the trial, Bennett said he was happy
with the verdict, saying he would have to move if Fortson was
"I feel justice has been done," said Bennett. "I
can't say there will be closure other than knowing my safety
is no longer in jeopardy."
He added that Benton was "the best friend I've ever had
in my life."
Scott Benton said his brother embraced life and overcame tough
times. He said he'd like people to remember his sibling's Herculean
strength, how he attained recognition as one of the strongest
men around, holding the state of Georgia bench press record in
his weight class at 500 lbs.
"He worked his butt off to get it," said Benton.
Randee Bettis (R), 5, and Sydney Anderson, 6, were just two
of those who rode in the parade as part of Joy Baptist Church's
float entry during Colbert's Independence Day celebration. The
parade was the largest one ever this year, lasting more than
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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.
Comer man survives
pellet gun shot to the head
A Comer man was reportedly shot in the head with a pellet pistol
as he was standing in front of Springfield Baptist Church on
Hwy. 72 in Comer last Saturday evening.
The man told police that he was standing in front of the church
when a "light gold Isuzu Rodeo pulled up and someone said
'........snitch.' They then pulled out a black handgun and opened
fire, hitting the victim in the head."
According to the report, the victim sustained wounds above and
behind the left ear, in the right clavicle and in the right anterior
portion of the upper arm. The report also states that Madison
County EMS workers called to the scene were advised that the
weapon was a gas-powered pellet pistol.
The victim named a suspect, but when police made contact, the
suspect's family told police he had not left his residence all
day. A search of the suspect's vehicle failed to produce a weapon.
The incident remains under investigation.
denies rezoning request
The Comer City Council has refused a request to rezone a 30-acre
tract on Willow Street from rural residential to residential.
The request by K. Brahmbhatt would have allowed a more dense
development on the site.
The rural residential zone requires at least two-acre lots. The
R-1 zone cuts lot size to one-half acre or more.
Brahmbhatt said he wants to build homes in the $100,000 to $150,000
price range. He said that the homes will be built gradually,
allowing time for infrastructure improvements to keep up.
A number of area residents opposed the action. Bill Usery was
worried that wetlands and wildlife habitats would be damaged.
William Burrough asked if the city has easements to widen and
improve the street into the proposed subdivision. Johnny Bridges
was concerned about increased traffic. Several others expressed
City public works director Gerald Kemp told the council that
planned additions to the city's sewer system will push the water
treatment facility to its limit. He was concerned that another
subdivision would exceed the system's capacity.
Brahmbhatt will still be able to develop the tract, but he will
have to keep lot sizes at two acres or larger. That reduces the
number of homes he can build from up to 60 to 14 or less. He
is not sure what he will do with the tract without the new zone.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.