Convicted Jackson County murderer Donnie Lance is scheduled to be executed this week.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has set Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. for the execution.
Lance will be executed by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
In January 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined — in a 6-3 vote — to review Lance's case. Lance was convicted and sentenced to death in Jackson County in 1999 for the murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
Lance has appealed his case over the last 21 years, claiming he was denied adequate counsel when he was sentenced to death. Lance 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 was convicted of brutally murdering Joy Lance and Dwight “Butch” Wood on Nov. 9, 1997. After kicking in the door to Wood’s house, Donnie Lance shot Wood with a shotgun, then beat Joy Lance to death with the butt of the shotgun.
Lance appealed that 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.
In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals declined to grant Lance a writ of habeas corpus on the same issue. It was an appeal of that which went before the U.S. Supreme Court in January.
Lance’s case has attracted some national attention by groups opposed to the death penalty and those concerned about the death penalty being imposed on those thought to be mentally ill.
Jackson County is “On Fire for Freedom” in 2020 as the Board of Commissioners (BOC) announced earlier that all the county’s government offices would be closed for Martin Luther King Day for the first time in the county’s history.
A celebration dinner was held Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Commerce Civic Center to recognize King’s legacy.
The program was dedicated to Lucille Hughey Cooper, a Jackson County native, born May 8, 1937. Cooper was one of the first African American small business owners in Jefferson. She served as musician and choir director for various churches and associations in the area, had a radio show and organized a march on drugs in Commerce, all while fulfilling her pastoral wife roll. She is remembered as a “community trailblazer” as she organized and coordinated the county’s original Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration, from 1985 until her death in 2017. Survived by her husband of 55 years, the Rev. Roger E. Cooper, accepted a plaque on her behalf from the Jackson County Martin Luther King Day of Service Committee, remembering Mrs. Cooper for her 30 years of community service.
Lula Joe Williams, a civil rights veteran and activist and Montgomery native, gave the keynote address during the ceremony.
“My involvement in the Civil Rights Movement began in 1961. I was 15 years old when I attended the mass rally at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama during the first visit of the Freedom Riders,” said Williams, recalling memories of being tear gassed inside the church by the city policemen. “We went down into the basement of the church and did not leave till four o’ clock the next morning when Montgomery was put under martial law. We had to be carried home by the National Guards who came in with their army trucks,” she said.
Later, as Williams continued to fight for freedom, she became the second president of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) Youth Division. After finishing high school in 1964, she was hired by the SCLC as a community organizer and field staffer in the organization’s “Ground Crew.” She was the first woman to work on the SCOPE Project under the Rev. Hosea Williams and joined the national administrative staff as executive assistant to Bill Rutherford, Jack Hunter Odell and the Rev. Bernard Scott Lee. In 1965, she joined the Rev. James Bevel and the Rev. James Orange, who broke the federal injunction against the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Williams told her story of being jailed for non-violent protests during the time of “Bloody Sunday,” which initiated the Selma movement leading to the Voting Rights Act.
During one of her protests, she was sent to the Kilby Montgomery Prison, after entering the grounds of North Highland High School.
“They didn’t want any of us on the campus,” she said.
Williams along with her fellow protesters were arrested and were hauled into the prison in trucks where they were locked up in one of the wings at the prison. During that time, she was served an injunction stating that she was not allowed to come into any campus in Autauga. During her week-long stay at the prison she protested behind bars when she refused to eat for five days.
“I only drank water,” she said. “When we were jailed for the protests it was our badge of honor. This only motivated us more as the change that would come was much greater. We were on fire for freedom.”
In 1968 when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Williams was helping to mobilize the Poor People’s Campaign and the Resurrection City encampment in Washington, D.C.
Williams recalled events while attending King’s funeral at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he and his father both served as senior pastors.
“I stood at the head of his glass top casket looking down at his face that had been reconstructed on the right side where he was shot. He was dressed in a dark suit and his shoes were shined to the max,” said Williams. “We all cried until we had no more tears to cry.”
As Williams continued to carry out MLK’s dream and legacy, she worked to conduct voter registration and GOTV campaigns, she has lobbied for desegregation of schools and public spaces and worked on the MLK Speaks Radio Program, the Citizenship Educated Program along with the MLK Jr. Film Project. Williams also helped assemble the SCLC Veterans of The Civil Rights Movement.
Today, she remains a member of the MLK March Committee and the SCLC and has been featured in civil rights museum's exhibits including Montgomery, Selma and Atlanta. In 2002, she toured U.S. Army bases in Germany to discuss the civil rights movement in observance of MLK Jr.’s birthday.
Williams has been honored with numerous awards from SCLC W.O.M.E.N., SCLC National, the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, la., and the City of Atlanta along with receiving the Dorothy L. Height Award for Civil Rights from The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority River Region.
Years ago, she retired from Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and settled at her Decatur home where she has resided since 2002.
“MLK stood up for everyone’s freedom. He is my motivator, my inspiration. He encouraged us and made us realize that we can do anything or be anything, all we have to do is set our mind to it,” said Williams. “We have come a long way since the time of the freedom movement, but we still have a long, long, long way to go,” she said. “I think some of the mind set has regressed. Right now, everything is so political and that’s why things are changing in the way that they are. To make a change, it will take us to continue to work together and strive to get folks out to vote. When you vote you can change the situation,” she said.
As the ceremony came to a close, Melody Herrington, Jackson County Day of Service chairperson, presented Mary Morrison the community service projects and “Dreamkeepers” Award to The Hoschton Recall Committee. The award was given by the Jackson County MLK Day of Service Committee.
The 102 guests that attended the ceremony then stood from their chair and crossed their arms in front to hold hands with one another as they sang “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel song that was used heavily during the Civil Rights protests. Their arms were linked to symbolize the protection of each other from police violence.
On Monday, Jan. 20, as a continuation of the MLK celebration, 150 volunteers including county officials, local students and residents participated in a “Day of Service” that included beautification, painting, repairs, landscaping and light construction at seven locations within the Jackson County community. The sites were selected by the MLK Day of Service Steering Committee to host the county’s inaugural MLK Jr. Day of Service projects.
“With the revival of the annual Celebration Dinner, the first-ever Day of Service and the first MLK holiday for county employees, it feels like Jackson County as a whole is finally doing service to Dr. King's heroic legacy,” said Herrington.
Scott Martin will be the 2020 chairman of the Jackson County Industrial Authority. Clarence Bryant is the vice-chairman and David Lathem is the treasurer.
The officers were re-elected unanimously at the IDA meeting Jan. 17.
The Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, which meets before the IDA, heard that a new company is coming to the county as a supplier of the SK America Battery plant. (See separate story.)
Scott also said the chamber is working with three new projects and a potential expansion of a current industry.
Chamber president and CEO Jim Shaw said the board of directors will meet at Jackson EMC Feb. 4 for a long-range planning meeting. David Aaker will speak at the chamber breakfast Feb. 5 and will facilitate the board’s planning meeting. He also will present a customer service seminar after the breakfast.
Shaw reported the chamber will seek a company to re-work its website and that should be launched by June.
A county fair is being discussed by the chamber’s tourism committee. It would be held around the county’s agriculture facility being build adjacent to the county’s fire training center. Anyone interested in that should call Mark Valentine at Tanger Outlets.
Dylan Thomas said Jackson County’s Capitol Day trip to the state legislature would be held in February or March.
The Commerce City Council recently requested the planning commission to create a set of buffers between properties of different zonings.
The Commerce Planning Commission met Jan. 16 and the city council could adopt the buffers at its Feb. 17 meeting.
Currently, the only buffers Commerce has in place are 20-foot buffers between industrial and residential lands. Commercial lands and arterial roadways don’t have any buffers.
The planning commission decided on 50-foot buffers for industrial-side; 50-foot buffers for residential-side; and five-to-10-foot buffers along arterial roadways. No change is recommended for commercial-side, industrial-to-industrial and residential-to-residential.
The composition of the buffers was part of a discussion. Buffer composition typically includes fences, arbor and guardrails. For industrial-side and residential-side buffers, the planning commission decided to specify buffers as different situations arise.
The proposed buffers are in line with other towns on Interstate 85, as well as some on Interstate 75 which planner Jordan Shoemaker researched prior to the meeting. Shoemaker gathered data from Jackson County, Jefferson, Braselton, Buford, Suwanee, Duluth, Kennesaw and Cartersville.
Each of the towns had 50-foot industrial buffers with the exception of Braselton whose buffers are 75-feet, and Buford specified a buffer must be between 50-to-100 feet. Jefferson was the only town with a smaller minimum buffer requiring 40-to-75 feet. Jackson County’s industrial side buffers are 150-to-500 feet. Braselton, Buford, Suwanee, Kennesaw and Cartersville had requirements on the composition of the buffers.
All of the areas had varying commercial-side buffers ranging from Jefferson’s 10-to-30 feet and Jackson County’s 50-to-100 feet. Only Jefferson had residential-side buffers of five-to-ten feet.
Most of the discussion during the meeting was about arterial roadways however. The planning commission used the Carrington Place subdivision as the prime example of a need for buffers along arterial roadways. The back end of the neighborhood along Mt. Olive Rd. doesn’t have any buffers. Some residences have fenced-in back yards, but eight residences do not have any protection from vehicles that drive off the road.
The planning commission recommends guardrails on city roadways and buffers for such areas. The buffers would include arbor and/or fencing based on the topography of the area.
Pendergrass could soon have another large residential development if plans pending before the city are approved.
Galilee Partners LLC is asking that 322 acres be annexed into the city and rezoned for a subdivision. The property is located on Old State Rd. near the spray fields for Wayne Poultry.
The Pendergrass City Council will hold its first public hearing on the proposal Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. The council is also slated to hold a hearing on Feb. 4 on the request.
Mayor Melvin "Monk" Tolbert will recuse himself from the discussion since he owns 210 acres that would be sold to Galilee Partners for the proposed development. The other property is owned by James and Jane Wood of Dawsonville.
According to the application with the city filed by Galilee Partners, one-fourth of the property is in a floodplain and would remain undeveloped. The project would begin with 100 homes and be built out over a five-year period, the application said.
In other upcoming development action, the Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission will consider a rezoning and variance application for 29 acres on Danielsville St. for townhouses at its Feb. 3 meeting.
The application for the property to be rezoned to multi-family (MFR) was filed by Cook Communities. The property is currently owned by Jacobs Family Enterprises, LLC.
The planning board will also consider an application from Frater James LLC to allow a PCD residential development on 1.5 acres at Gordon St. and Athens St.
Although it's only in the early planning stages, a major residential development could be coming to a 343-acre tract in South Jackson. The property, currently owned by Cullison Land and Timber Company of Macon, is located along Chandler Bridge Rd. near the Clarke County line.
Developers recently asked the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority for a letter of conditional approval for the project, which would have 300-400 homes in a golf course development.
The project could be a game-changer for the South Jackson area which has not had a lot of major residential development, in part due to a lack of sewage treatment availability.
This project would require a new sewage treatment plant, likely built by the developer then turned over to the county to operate. If that is done, it would also open up the South Jackson area for other developments needing sewage treatment as well.
But there has long been opposition in South Jackson by some homeowners to large development projects, a dynamic that could set up a major political debate if the project moves forward.
A paraprofessional and assistant basketball coach at East Jackson Comprehensive High School has been arrested for having sexual contact with a student.
Michael Stanley, 29, Royston, is charged with four counts of first degree improper sexual contact by a school employee.
The alleged incidents occurred with a female EJCHS student at a Banks County location, reportedly in the parking lot of a retail store according to one source.
Officials say the investigation is ongoing.
The Banks County Sheriff's office filed warrants for Stanley's arrest on Jan. 15 and he turned himself in to the jail. He's since been released on a $20,000 bond.
Stanley's employment with the Jackson County School System was officially terminated last week by the Jackson County Board of Education. He had been a special education parapro and assistant boys basketball coach at the school. He was hired by the school in 2017.
A native of Mobile, Ala., Stanley was a standout basketball player in Alabama before playing college basketball at Emanuel College in Franklin County. He currently plays guard and is team captain for a semi-professional basketball team of the American Basketball Association based out of Gwinnett County.