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FRONT PAGE - DECEMBER 22, 1999 - HOMER, GA

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MAKING CHRISTMAS BRIGHTER

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 project.
Photo by Sherry Lewis

Public safety workers collect funds for needy
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.
CRIME
Guilty verdict given
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 Thurmond.
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 in Atlanta.
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 society."
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.
INFORMANT TESTIFIES
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 at times.
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 witness sheet.
"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 timing.
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 Jefferson Motors.
Before stepping down Walker asked Madison a question.
"Would you like me to tell you where that money came from?" said Walker.
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.
NO DEFENSE
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" Boswell.
"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."

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Alto approves raise for council
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Alto council members will get a salary increase beginning January 1.
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 Sosebee abstained.
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 not feasible.
·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.



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