Doug O'Neal, Terry Dailey,
Perry Dalton and Lori Thompson, personnel with Banks County Fire
and Emergency Medical Services, are working to make Christmas
brighter for a Banks County family and children at Better Place
Boys Home. Lee Burks is not pictured but also helped with the
Photo by Sherry Lewis
Public safety workers
collect funds for needyGuilty verdict
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Christmas will be a little brighter for some Banks County children
thanks to the fire department and emergency medical services.
Lee Burks, training director, spearheaded the effort to provide
gifts for area children.
"We were glad to help," he said. "No child should
have to go without at Christmas."
The departments raised $500 among themselves and then sought
donations from local retailers, he said. They bought some food
items and gift certificates for clothing and toys. The departments
are also working to get propane donated to those in need.
This is not the first effort by the department. Each year, Terry
Dailey, an employee with the emergency medical services, makes
a hope chest, and raffle tickets are sold. This year, $700 was
raised and that money again will be used to buy clothing and
personal items for "A Better Place" boys home in Homer,
according to EMS director Doug O'Neal.
Wilbanks, Kozachyn brothers found guilty
in Thurmond home invasion
BY SHERRY LEWIS
A Nicholson man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for
his part in the home invasion of a Banks County home, while two
others were given long-term sentences.
A Banks County jury found Bobby Wilbanks, Michael Kozachyn and
Paul Kozachyn guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment, aggravated
assault with a deadly weapon and burglary. They are charged in
the April 8 home invasion at the residence of Sam and Georgia
Wilbanks, who has been convicted in another armed robbery, was
sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the armed
robbery charge. He was given a total of 70 years on the charges
of kidnapping, false imprisonment, aggravated assault with a
deadly weapon and burglary.
The Kozachyn brothers were also found guilty on all charges and
were sentenced to life in prison, plus 70 years. A life sentence
with parole means at least 14 years in prison before being eligible
for parole. As for the 70 years on the other charges, they will
likely serve 90 percent of this sentence due to the severity
of the crime, according to officials with the state parole board
District attorney Tim Madison said he was pleased with the decision.
"I thought the jury's verdict was based on the evidence,"
he said. "They did a thorough job and spoke the truth."
He was also pleased with the sentence handed down by Judge David
Motes following his recommendation.
"It was the proper sentence due to the seriousness of the
crime," he said. "These three people are a menace to
The jury deliberated for four and a half hours and asked to hear
the 911 tape and the testimony of a confidential informant for
a second time before rendering a verdict around noon on Friday.
The trial had started Tuesday afternoon.
Randal Vaughn, the fourth suspect, made a deal with the district
attorney's office to plead guilty and testify against the others.
Two months ago, P. Kozachyn had agreed to testify against the
others, but later changed his mind. Just before the trial began,
charges were dropped against a fifth suspect, Glynn "Tootsie"
Boswell, the Thurmonds' nephew.
One of the key pieces of evidence was testimony from a confidential
informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His testimony
centered on an incident where he wore a wire and had a conversation
with Wilbanks just days after the home invasion. Jurors had an
opportunity to listen to those tapes, which were somewhat indistinguishable
In the tape, Wilbanks talked about the contents of the safe at
the Thurmond home and the burning of the AMC Concord that was
allegedly used in the crime. He also named Randal Vaughn, his
former co-defendant who turned state's evidence in the case,
and two "bad-ass brothers" as his partners in crime.
Defense attorneys centered their questions around the 24 criminal
convictions of the informant. Since the 1960s, the man has served
time for kidnapping, burglary, car theft and a number of other
offenses in both state and federal penitentiaries.
"If I took all the cars I ever stole, it would probably
reach from here to Atlanta," the man told the jury.
The man admitted to spending at least half his life in prison,
but told the jury he has changed.
"I was a thug but that changed 13 and a half years ago,"
he said. "Since then, I've earned a high school diploma
and four years of college."
The informant said that he began working for the FBI in the 1980s
when he found out his cousins had his son selling drugs. Both
cousins went to prison and the informant was on his way to aiding
the FBI to solve several crimes, including murders. Most of his
work happened when he was in prison. He said other inmates began
to feel comfortable with him and shared their secrets and he
took those secrets to the FBI. He pointed out two of the murders
he helped to solve involved two children and a senior citizen.
"I owed a debt to society," he said. "I was not
going to sit by and see an 82-year-old woman killed for $6. I
couldn't let that go."
Tim Healey, attorney for Wilbanks, quizzed the man on the "deals"
he'd gotten from the FBI over the years. The man said he received
$1,500 over the past several months for expenses and lost wages
during this investigation. Other than that, he said he has never
been paid or given a reduced sentence for his information.
When Madison announced on Wednesday afternoon that he would be
calling the informant to the stand, Healan objected. Prior to
Randal Vaughn's testimony, Madison had said that he would not
be calling the informant, even though he had been listed on the
"He (the informant) has a criminal record from here to Kansas,"
said Madison in explaining the reason for the change in plans.
"Randal Vaughn did not live up to his end of the bargain
on his testimony."
Billy Healon, attorney for M. Kozachyn, questioned Madison's
He asked, "Why didn't he tell us yesterday after Vaughn
testified or this morning? No, he wanted to surprise us, he said.
Judge Motes said he believes Madison was truthful at the time
and then allowed the informant to testify.
911 TAPE PLAYED
Jurors also heard the tape Georgia Thurmond made to 911 after
the break-in at her home. Mrs. Thurmond was visibly shaken as
she listened to the tape of her call for help. Donna Latty of
Banks County 911 sat on the witness stand while the jury listened
to Mrs. Thurmond's plea for help.
"We've been robbed," stated Mrs. Thurmond during the
911 call. "They took money and guns. They threw us on the
floor, taped our hands and put pillows over our faces."
Mrs. Thurmond and her husband, Sam, were sitting in their living
room watching television when someone entered the house and shouted,
"Police. Get down." Mr. Thurmond was hit with a shotgun,
both were bound with duct tape and a pillow was put to their
faces while suspects robbed them of approximately $30,000 in
cash, jewelry and guns.
Mrs. Thurmond was able to free herself and untape her husband.
When she tried to call 911, the phone line had been disconnected,
so they used their cell phone in a vehicle while driving towards
the sheriff's office. After making contact with 911, they headed
back to their residence while still in contact with dispatchers.
District attorney Tim Madison called Banks County Sheriff Charles
Chapman to testify about the condition of the couple when he
arrived at their Hwy. 98 residence shortly after the incident.
"There was blood coming from Sam's lip, his hair was messed
up and he was in a very shaken frame of mind," said Chapman.
"She was in a very bad state of mind also."
Chapman said the house was in disarray. Furniture had been turned
over and the master bedroom had been ransacked.
Brian Hall, an investigator who was a road deputy at that time,
testified that he saw a AMC Concord within one-10th mile of the
Thurmond's residence just before the call came in. The vehicle
had a drive-out tag from Kirby Gary Auto Salvage and that is
where the investigation continued.
Just hours after the home invasion, authorities knew that car
belonged to Randal Vaughn. That vehicle was found burned the
morning after the home invasion within three to four miles of
Wilbanks' Jackson County residence, according to Chapman.
KOZACHYNS' MOTHER TESTIFIES
The Kozachyns and Randal Vaughn lived with Anna Walker at her
Athens residence. She testified that the men worked periodically
and rarely paid her rent money.
Madison asked Walker about her purchase of a late model Ford
Escort just eight days after the armed robbery. She admitted
that she paid a $4,500 down payment when she bought the car from
Before stepping down Walker asked Madison a question.
"Would you like me to tell you where that money came from?"
Madison replied: "No, I know where it came from."
That statement sent the defense attorneys reeling.
Under cross examination, Walker told Tom Strickland, attorney
for P. Kozachyn, that she withdrew funds from an IRA for the
down payment. She said she had documents in court to back up
that statement, but it was not rendered into evidence.
DEFENSE ATTORNEYS CRY FOUL
Healey, attorney for Wilbanks, objected to the testimony of Gene
Stone, a former officer for the Anderson Police Department. Motes
overruled and jurors heard testimony from Stone that Wilbanks
had been involved in a home invasion in that South Carolina city
in 1985. In fact, Wilbanks pled guilty when his partner in crime,
Tommy Minish, walked into the court room to testify against him
just before Wilbank's trial was set to begin. Stone's testimony
was that Wilbanks and Minish knocked on an elderly man's door
and busted their way into the house when he opened the door.
The suspects in that case bound the man with duct tape and took
a safe containing $10,000 from his house. That safe was later
found in Jackson County near the home of Wilbanks.
The defense did not call any witnesses and rested its case following
the state's evidence. The suspects also invoked their rights
to remain silent. M. Kozachyn was adamant about not saying one
word. When Judge Motes asked him if he understood he had the
right to testify and if he would choose to do so, he refused
to answer. His attorney, Billy Healon, answered on his behalf.
When Judge Motes asked him again, M. Kozachyn took his hand and
swung it back and fourth two times as a signal for "No."
Madison then offered a closing argument.
"A person has the right to be safe and secure in their own
home," he said. "The Thurmonds did not choose to be
here. They had their lives turned upside down on April 8."
He told the jury that Vaughn had a small amount of decency left
and agreed to come forward to clear the name of Glynn "Tootsie"
"If not for Randal Vaughn, Boswell would be sitting over
there with those men," he said pointing at the defense table.
"They knew that (Boswell was not involved), but they were
willing to have an innocent man tried and convicted."
Madison said the motive in this case was greed.
"It was greed," he said. "These men are not willing
to work. They had to violate someone property for their own needs,
wants and desires."
He then praised the informant for having the courage to help
with the case.
"He risked his life," he said. "To get on the
stand and identify Bobby Wilbanks and the two brothers is almost
like signing a death warrant for himself."
Healon, attorney for M. Kozachyn, reminded the jurors that the
suspects are to be tried as individuals. While he admitted he
felt sorry for the victims, he said sympathy could not be a factor
in the decision.
"Don't let sympathy get in the way of your decision,"
he said. "A terrible thing happened. You should feel sorry
for them, but don't let it cloud your judgment as to what to
do with Michael Kozachyn."
Healon pointed out that his client was not identified by the
Thurmonds or was he mentioned by name on the tape recording.
If fact, Healon contended that it was Glynn Boswell, a former
defendant in the case, that was the fourth suspect. He reminded
jurors that in earlier testimony, Mr. Thurmond had named Boswell
as a suspect because a masked man called her "Georgialeen"
and because of his distinctive voice.
Healey reminded the jury of the criminal history of the confidential
informant and the fact that neither victim could identify his
client until a later time, and not directly after the incident.
Tom Strickland, attorney for P. Kozachyn, focused on the fact
that his client had no fruits of the crime, cash, jewelry or
guns. He too, reminded the jurors, that investigators found a
ski mask and a shirt matching the description of one of the suspects,
at the home of Boswell.
He also pointed out that Randal Vaughn was just doing what he
had to do for a light sentence.
"He's not interested in justice," he said. "I
submit to you that he's more interested in covering his behind."
Alto approves raise
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Alto council members will get a salary increase beginning January
In a meeting last Tuesday, councilman Gary Terrell made a motion
to increase the mayor's salary from $65 to $100 and each council
member's from $50 to $75. Outgoing council members Caroline Cabe
and Tim Tankersley voted in favor of the increase, while Miriam
In other business, the city council:
·reapproved the House Bill 489 agreement with Habersham
County. It was sent to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs,
which required that some changes be made. The changes have been
made and the revised copy was approved.
·approved an employee Christmas bonus of $25 per month
of employment for the present year.
·heard a question from Grover Stewart, who asked if there
are still some translite water lines hooked up to the water system
at Apple Pie Ridge Road where the new lines began. Mayor Jack
King said there was one section still hooked up because workers
have not been able to find the line to disconnect the water flow.
·Benny Pierce asked if employees could be required to
sign an employment contract if the city paid the cost for them
to become certified in the water department. After a discussion
with city attorney Jimmy Acrey, the council decided that was
·Stewart also asked the council why the city was sending
flowers to citizens in the hospital. In the future, Mayor King
said he would pay for the flowers.