A1 A1
Clemency hearing held in Lance case

A request for clemency by convicted murderer Donnie Cleveland Lance has been denied.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to Lance following a hearing Jan. 28. The five-member board reviewed Lance's case file and heard testimony prior to announcing its decision late Jan. 28.

"The parole board has the authority to grant clemency in a death penalty case, commuting or reducing the sentence to life with parole eligibility or to life without parole eligibility," according to a news release. "The board may also issue a stay or deny clemency. In Georgia, the parole board has the sole constitutional authority to grant clemency in a death penalty case, according to a news release."

Lance is slated to be executed by lethal injection on January 29 at 7 p.m. for the 1997 murders of his ex-wife Sabrina “Joy” Love Lance and her boyfriend Dwight “Butch” Wood Jr.

The execution will be held at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

The Jackson Herald will have a witness present at the execution.

Lance has requested a last meal of two chili steak burgers, French fries, onion rings, mustard, ketchup and a soda.

BACKGROUND AND APPEALS

Lance was convicted of brutally murdering Joy Lance and Butch Wood on Nov. 9, 1997.

Wood had been shot with a shotgun, while J. Lance had been beaten to death with repeated blows to her face with the butt of a shotgun.

Lance was convicted in the Superior Court of Jackson County on two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, burglary, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to death on June 23, 1999.

Lance has appealed his case over the last 21 years, claiming he was denied adequate counsel when he was sentenced to death. He based his appeal around evidence that his lawyer failed to tell the jury of his previous traumatic head injuries, including having been shot in the head, and his alcoholism.

Lance appealed his conviction, claiming that his lawyer failed to present any mitigating evidence, including Lance’s mental condition, during the penalty phase of the trial. But the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Lance’s conviction.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for a review.

In 2009, a judge in Butts County threw out Lance’s death sentence, saying that his lawyer hadn’t presented evidence of Lance’s mental impairments at trial. But the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the death penalty sentence, saying that even if Lance’s mental capabilities had been outlined to the jury, it would not have changed the outcome of the sentencing. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Lance’s request to appeal in 2010.

In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals declined to grant Lance a writ of habeas corpus on the same issue. The U.S. Supreme Court denied that request in January 2019.

On April 26, 2019, Lance sought post-conviction DNA testing. The trial court denied Lance’s extraordinary motion for a new trial on Sept. 30, 2019. Lance filed an appeal, which was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court on Dec. 2, 2019.

Lance maintains his innocence, denying he played any role in the deaths.

ATTORNEYS SEEK CLEMENCY

Lance’s attorneys filed a petition for clemency with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Jan. 23.

The request was supported by Joy and Donnie’s two children, who have continued developing a strong relationship with their father while he’s been in prison.

“…the people most injured by this crime, the children of Donnie and Joy Lance, do not want to see the execution of their only remaining parent,” according to the petition. “For over two decades, Mr. Lance has been a critical part of the lives of the children, Stephanie Lance Cape and Jessie Lance. Both were young when their mother died and, while they continue to mourn her loss, they have consistently looked to their father for advice and continued to love him as their sole remaining parent.”

The siblings recognize the pain shared by all the families and friends involved, but noted they are the only ones who still have someone to lose.

“Everyone in Mama’s family hurts. Everyone in Butch’s family hurts. Everyone in my dad’s family hurts. And, at the same time, no one is wrong for it,” the siblings said.

“But, one thing that sets us apart is what we have to lose. With us being the exception, everyone has lost everything they are going to lose from this nightmare. We have lost just as much, but somehow, we still have more to lose — and that’s being taken away even as we sit here now. We’ll continue to pray that this final loss doesn’t come to pass.”

The petition indicated other members of the community also want clemency and think, at this point, the execution will do more harm than good.

His lawyers also argued Lance is borderline intellectually disabled and previously suffered brain damage, which the jury that sentenced him to death did not know.

While the violent history between Donnie and Joy was widely reported, Lance’s attorneys said he was “largely precluded at trial from introducing evidence of violence directed at him by the deceased.” That includes a claim that Donnie Lance “was shot in the head in 1993 by Joy Lance and Butch Wood.”

Lance’s attorneys also encouraged the board to consider his record as a “model inmate” since his incarceration, citing comments from mental health counselors and Department of Corrections staff. Lance has only faced two disciplinary issues — for having too many stamps and refusing to move to a different cell.

His attorneys argued Lance is a different man than he was 20 years ago.

“The Donnie Lance who was tried and convicted of those crimes bears little or no resemblance to the Donnie Lance of today,” the petition reads.


Refreshments were served at the Crawford W. Long Museum’s opening reception night for its new permanent wall exhibit “Journey Through Jefferson.”


Banks
Maysville planners recommend nuisance ordinance

Maysville residents are ready for something to be done about dilapidated property in the town.

More than 40 people crowded into the meeting room of the City of Maysville Monday night to give input on a proposed nuisance and property maintenance ordinance, as well as a historic district overlay ordinance.

A public hearing was held by the Maysville Planning and Zoning Commission on the proposed ordinances. The board recommended approval of both.

The Maysville City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinances at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, in the meeting room on Homer Street in downtown Homer. The ordinances would not be enacted unless approved by the city council. The planning commission only makes recommendations.

The planning commission developed the ordinances to address issues members believe were identified in the town’s comprehensive plan that was updated in October of 2018. The proposed nuisance ordinance and historic district overlay ordinance were presented last year to the city council but no action was taken. The planning commission called for the public hearings in January in hopes that citizen input would lead the city council to take action.

The proposed nuisance ordinance gives guidelines on how to address dilapidated buildings in town, including what to do when the town receives a complaint. Several people provided input at the two-hour public hearing Monday night, including John Irving, who spoke on a “rat house” that he said he has complained about numerous times with nothing being done.

The planning commission said that if the ordinance is approved there will be a policy on how to address complaints such as this including a way to enforce it.

“There will be an ordinance to protect the historic part of Maysville,” Elaine Gerke said. “If something is not done soon, this little town is going to die.”

Several citizens questioned what could be done to get the city council to move forward on this. They were encouraged to get involved and attend city council meetings. One lady who has attended meetings said she was “shocked at the hostility” she encountered at the meetings.

One long-time resident of the county spoke on the ‘health hazard” of the homes on Crane Street that are falling apart.

A developer who purchased a building in town in 2006 spoke of how the leadership in town has caused projects to “go elsewhere.”

HISTORIC DISTRICT

Planning commission member Lynn Villyard presented the historic district overlay ordinance, which she said will prepare the town for future development.

“Maysville is not prepared,” she said.

“This will help us maintain the small town way of life and plan for the types of development we would like to see,” she said.

The ordinance defines the area that is the historic district and gives guidelines for development in that area to maintain consistency. She said the goal is to maintain and protect the look and feel of the “1800s railroad town.”

“We’re at a crossroads,” she said. “It’s a matter of urgency. It’s now or never. We’re going to end up with no say without an ordinance.”


News
Variances tabled; buffer conditions go to council

Requests for two variances on setbacks in Carrington Place, a 55+ community, were tabled Jan. 27 by the Commerce Planning Commission. The questions were about what the rear setback of a lot in the development might be.

Nolan Craig, who said he is the general manager for Adams Homes, which was seeking the property variances in Carrington Place, said the company is trying to use the lots and to build a larger house. He said the company is trying to maintain the kinds of houses as the rest of the subdivision. But, he said, it could be that the company will build two-story homes, meeting the setback requirements and making the houses larger.

Craig said the variances would allow the company to build a single-story house on the property. One variance would be for the rear setback. Shoemaker said that is 15 feet, as are side setbacks.

Leffew said the subdivision has had “a lot of runoff issues” and one of the lots for which a variance is sought has a drainage easement across the back of the lot.

Craig and at least two residents of Carrington Place said the plats they have seen show all lots with a 25-foot setback. Joe Leffew, the planning commission chairman, said the commission should check the city ordinance and any requirements of the Homeowners Association.

Residents complained that the HOA representatives would not talk with them. Craig offered to help with the HOA.

More than 20 people who said they were residents of the area opposed the variances. Those who spoke quote Leffew’s words to him that if variances were granted, anyone could then apply for a similar variance.

The lots are .22 and .26 of an acre. Shoemaker noted that the commission’s requirements are for .25 of an acre.

Leffew and planner Melinda Cochran said the lots would not qualify for a variance.

She said reducing setbacks is “something we really don’t want to do.”

Residents of Carrington Place said conflicting information has come to them from city officials and plats produced by the county.

Jimmy Nash, a resident, said he had gotten 30 feet between houses – two 15-foot setbacks – were definite “and the city would not deviate from that” city employee.

Jim Yates, also a resident, said the Adams company is “no friend to the environment,” pointing at contractors who have violated standards.

Billy Chandler, Commerce’s municipal judge, said he had been trying to resolve difference with Adams for “two years.”

Leffew called on residents to “be kind” and stick to variance issues.

The commission passed, with little discussion, recommendations for the Commerce City Council about buffers between industrial and residential property.

Doug Makemson, who has been around Commerce much of his life and is a sculptor, told the commission the 50-foot buffer it adopted should be much larger.

“I feel like you, maybe, ought to have 500 feet,” he said. He characterized a 50-foot buffer as “practically non-existent.”

The commission recommended to city council a 50-foot buffer of industrial land and another 50-foot buffer for adjacent residential land for a total buffer of 100 feet. The buffer has a number of conditions, such as a percentage of evergreen and deciduous plantings.

Zoning administrator Jordan Shoemaker said fencing generally would be forbidden in a buffer, especially an electric fence. One exception, she said, could be fencing around residential lots, especially on a rear setback.

The commission also recommended buffer conditions for developments near an “arterial road,” which are defined as those with 30- to 50-mph limits. The rear of Carrington Place is near Mt. Olive Rd. and city council members have said guard rails should be installed in some areas.

The council asked the planning commission to make recommendations for buffers after a request from James Bouchard and developers of adjacent land into the Twin Creeks subdivision.

Bouchard requested that about 97 acres of his land be annexed into the city and re-zoned as M-1 light industrial. The request was made in October, tabled by the planning commission then was passed at the December meeting. The commission recommended that an 80-foot buffer be established between the industrial and residential property. However, no buffer area was proposed for the residential area.


News
Jefferson postpones decision on communication position

The creation of a communications job for the City of Jefferson is on hold.

The Jefferson City Council voted 4-1 Jan. 27 to postpone action on the part-time position until city attorney Ronnie Hopkins can review the issue.

Councilman Mark Mobley made a motion to approve a “liaison to the council” position at $10,000 a year, but Malcolm Gramley, who opposed adding this job, said that action isn’t legal. Gramley also voted against tabling the item.

“The council does not have the authority to require or set up a position,” Gramley contended. “The council can recommend that the city manager evaluate the need for a position, but we do not have the authority to set up a position.”

Hopkins said he didn’t have the city’s charter with him to offer an immediate legal opinion, but he did provide some thoughts on general procedure.

“In the general sense, the city manager is the one that creates a position and can do it based on the recommendation of the council or he or she can make the recommendation to the council,” he said.

Mayor Steve Quinn asked city manager Priscilla Murphy if she would recommend the position, but Murphy said the work could be handled by existing employees, “if it’s just for city hall.”

Murphy, however, said the position could be created through an ordinance change, according to the city’s charter.

Quinn originally proposed the communications officer position to the council on Jan. 13, although he suggested a salary of $20,000 instead of $10,000.

He said one of the major duties of the position would be promoting city news through frequent updates of Jefferson’s webpage and through social media. Tasks would also include attending some county and non-profit events and reporting to the council. The employee would work remotely.

Quinn expressed frustration that the city’s webpage is rarely up-to-date and that city hall lacks a social media presence.

Disagreement over the need for the position ensued at Monday’s meeting with opinion split over assigning the work in-house versus creating the new position to prevent adding communication duties to already-busy staffers. Councilmen Steve Kinney and Gramley voiced opposition to the position, while Mobley and Quinn expressed the need for it to prioritize communication to citizens.

There was additional disagreement over how and if the position could be created and how the position had been proposed to the council. Murphy voiced her displeasure with what she said she felt was a lack of communication to her about the position before it appeared on the agenda.

“If the council votes, then it’s my job to make sure it gets carried out,” Murphy said. “That’s not a problem, whether I agree with it or not. I do wish that if the council had a problem with it, that the mayor did talk to me before just forcing it on the agenda, that we had communication among ourselves.”

Quinn told Murphy he did communicate with her on the matter before it appeared on the agenda — leading to an exchange between the two — before the discussion ended with Mobley reiterating the need for Hopkins to review the matter.

ROOSEVELT THEATER PLANS

The council approved a $76,000 budget adjustment for designs to renovate the historic Roosevelt Theater. Grant money would cover $32,500 of the cost.

The $76,000 would pay for interior and exterior designs along with audio visual design and engineering.

The theater would be renovated with either a 1920s or 1950s look to qualify for inclusion on the national historic register.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the council:

•approved alternative siding options for the Jefferson Downs and Jefferson Trail subdivisions.

•approved an intergovernmental agreement with Jackson County for soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution control plans.

•approved budget adjustments for audio visual equipment at the recreation department and helmets for the fire department.

•approved both a statewide mutual aid and assistance agreement and Jackson County’s hazard mitigation plan.

•discussed utility location fees. The city does not charge for the relocation but could charge for the second if it wished, according to the city codes. Murphy said cities typically do not charge for this or have contracts. Quinn favored contracts “if something goes wrong.”

“If they bust something, they pay for it,” Quinn said.

•approved Clint Roberts, the newly-elected councilman of District 5, to serve as the new mayor pro-tem. The duties are rotated each year between districts.


News
breaking
SK supplier coming to Commerce

Enchem, a South Korean company, will build two plants in Jackson County, investing more than $60 million and creating more than 300 jobs.

The company is expected to buy the former SE Toyota Distributors plant that is just outside Commerce, John Scott, economic director for Jackson County, said.

Enchem is the first supplier for the SK Battery America plant to announce in Jackson County.

The company develops and manufactures electrolytes for rechargeable batteries and electrostatic double-layer capacitors.

Enchem has developed multiple new electrolytes and additives to improve and extend battery life.

The transition from small mobile technology rechargeable batteries to mid- and large-size hybrid and electric vehicle batteries and energy storage system batteries has increased electrolyte consumption and customer requests, prompting the creation of two new plants, a press release from the state economic development office says.

The state and county have been working with Enchem for several months. The Jackson County IDA held a closed session in September to discuss the project and another one Jan. 17.

Scott said the county IDA likely will agree to a five-year tax abatement for the firm, move that will save Enchem about $375,000.

The abatement program could include a five-year tax abatement on real property and personal property and equipment; property taxes reduced by 50 percent for the duration of the incentive; real estate property taxes in year 1 are taxed at 25 percent and increase to 100 percent by the end of the incentive (a 15 percent annual increase); and fixed payments once the final capital investment estimates are received.

The tax abatement would not include school or fire taxes, or property already on tax books.

Yoonie Kim, Korean investment director for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, represented the department’s global commerce division on this project.

SK Innovation announced its Commerce electric battery plant near the end of 2018 and is building its first phase. It is a $1.67 billion investment.

“The market for electric vehicles and batteries is rapidly increasing, and it’s great to see the industry finding its own hub in Northeast Georgia,” Brian Kemp, Georgia governor, said in the release.


News
Deputy injured after struck by tractor-trailer

A Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputy was taken to the hospital Saturday, Jan. 25, after his patrol car was struck by a tractor-trailer on the interstate.

According to the Georgia State Patrol, a tractor-trailer driven by Michael Anthony Morongell, of Hartsville, S.C., was traveling on I-85 near mile marker 134 and attempted to slow down for traffic. The vehicle jack-knifed and struck a JCSO patrol vehicle driven by deputy Christopher Martin Peters, of Jefferson.

Peters had been stopped on the road shoulder with the vehicle's emergency equipment activated.

Peters was taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville for a suspected minor or visible injury.

Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum said Peters was very sore from the accident and had a follow-up appointment with doctors on Monday, Jan. 27.

Morongell, who was not injured, was cited.


News
Pendergrass project pulled

An application to annex and rezone a large tract for a residential development in Pendergrass was recently pulled by developers. But a large group of people turned out at a Jan. 28 Pendergrass City Council hearing to voice opposition to the proposed project.

Galilee Partners II, LLC, had applied for annexation and rezoning for 322 acres on Old State Rd. A Feb. 4 council meeting to discuss the project was canceled following the application's withdrawal.

Speaking on Jan. 28, Donald Roberts told the city council he didn’t think the project conformed to Jackson County’s Comprehensive Plan by allowing rural, agricultural property to become another large neighborhood. He also wanted the city to take the posted rezoning signs on the property down.

Other area citizens also spoke against the project.

Among those voicing opposition was Jackson County School System superintendent April Howard, who said a large neighborhood in the area would push North Jackson Elementary School beyond its capacity and force the system to purchase trailers for additional classrooms.