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Farewell, Madison County
Change is good, but it's not always easy, at least for me.
Gov't should get out of welfare business
The political correctness people have now jumped into the "Faith
and Community Based Charity" debate.
Directions to Area Schools
Senior League all stars win district but bow out at state
Madison County's senior league all stars became the only squad
from the recreation department to advance to state tournament
play after beating Toccoa 11-8 Thursday to secure the district
Inmate firefighter program suspended
Amidst allegations of arson, improper behavior, access to inappropriate
materials and prohibited family visits, the inmate firefighter
program between the Jackson County Correctional Institution and
the Banks County Fire Department has been temporarily suspended.
Anti-nuclear pilgrimage to come through county Sat.
Two Buddhist monks will be leading an anti-nuclear pilgrimage
through Banks County on Saturday, July 21.
MTV goes to Arcade looking for 'ugly' people
A Los Angeles, Calif., film crew for MTV came to Jackson County
over the weekend looking for "ugly" people to feature
in a music video.
Tanger calls for vote on liquor by the drink
Tanger Factory Outlet Center manager Mark Valentine asked the
Jackson County Board of Commissioners Monday night to consider
calling for a vote on liquor by the drink in the Banks Crossing
The Madison County Journal
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Tracy Lea Fortson
to life for killing Doug Benton
Stories on the Fortson Trial
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.
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.
Madison Co. planners
deny rezoning for Booger Hill Road restaurant
County planners faced a "standing room only" crowd
at Tuesday night's public hearings of the planning and zoning
The majority of those present were there to oppose the rezoning
of a home on Booger Hill Road for a proposed restaurant.
The home's new owners, George Nenes and Jean Long, want to rezone
a portion of a 9.92-acre tract from R-R (rural residential, two-acre
minimum) to B-1 (commercial) in order to subdivide the property
to provide a lot no larger than 2.5 acres for a restaurant and
a business office in the existing older home, known as the Sorrells
The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend denial
of the request to the board of commissioners after hearing from
a number of neighbors to the property who expressed concerns
over increased traffic and other anticipated problems that could
be caused by zoning the home to a business designation.
Nenes and his wife, Gail, told the commission they want to open
a restaurant that will serve breakfast six days a week, dinner
three evenings a week, and a Sunday lunch.
The Nenes also want to house outreach ministry offices on the
Construction to convert the home has already begun, although
the building permit was obtained for "residence purposes
only," according to zoning administrator Kim Butler.
The BOC will have the final say on this and other zoning matters
at their public hearings next Monday evening.
In a separate controversial matter, the commission voted unanimously
to approve a request by Frank Strickland, representing Thomas
Michael Gearing, to rezone a 5.31-acre parcel from A-1 to R-R.
Gearing, who recently purchased 2.77 acres of the tract, wants
to build a home there.
County attorney Mike Pruett advised the commission to "apply
only the criteria always considered" in their recommendation,
and not to consider a restraining order and lawsuit to prevent
construction that is currently involved in the division of the
"We have done this (approved rezones) in several cases like
this before. This request is the same as ones we normally have
approved before in this area," commission member Roy Gandy
said. "On our attorney's advice, we can have nothing to
do with the lawsuit, or with what was done in the past."
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County
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The investigation of former Comer principal Mac Almond is ongoing
with no clear end in sight.
Bill Malueg of the Athens post of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation
said Tuesday that the GBI hasn't been able to complete the investigation
of Almond because of a heavy caseload.
"We would like to have been through with it by now, but
we've had too many things come up," said Malueg, who had
no estimate on when the investigation would be done.
He said the Almond issue is not among its most pressing matters
"It's not on our top priority list," said Malueg.
The agent said the GBI has been looking into Almond's bank records.
Almond, Comer Elementary's principal for 26 years, resigned this
past spring amid allegations that he illegally used school funds
for personal gain, that he disposed of records that might have
incriminated him, that he falsified leave records for himself
and for teachers, that frequent absences left him unable to perform
his duties and that he failed to obey the school system's policy
prohibiting admission of out-of-county students.
His supporters maintained that the allegations against the principal
were politically motivated.
The school system's investigation of Almond was handed to the
District Attorney's office, which turned the matter over to the
GBI. Malueg said that the GBI's findings will be presented to
Road may be widened next year
Madison County leaders plan to widen Commerce-Neese Road next
year from Hwy. 106 to Hwy. 98 by two feet - one foot on each
side of the road.
The project will cost an estimated $490,000, with $290,000 coming
from the state Department of Transportation.
BOC chairman Wesley Nash told commissioners Monday that the road-widening
project will use up all of the funds promised to the county by
the DOT for 2002. Commissioners recently met with DOT head Tom
Coleman and were informed that Madison County is supposed to
receive approximately $140,000 per year from the DOT for local
projects - this does not include work to state roadways, such
as Hwy. 98.
However, the state agreed to fund an extra $150,000 next year
for the widening of Commerce-Neese Road. Leaders say the widening
is needed because the road is heavily traveled and very narrow,
creating dangers for motorists.
Nash and the commissioners talked about the proposed project
during a Monday meeting on county roads. The group took no action
on the matter.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison Coounty