Monday, November 15, 2010

To Serve and Protect

I sometimes get flak from police officers and other people about stories I write that cast the police in a nagative light. But in daily newspaper reporting, it is what it is -- the bad comes with the good.
I recently wrote a story about how a perp tried to take away an officer's gun during a struggle at a traffic stop. This gun could have easily been turned against the officer, and another name would have been added to the Officer Down memorial wall.
In addition to linking that story
I'm including a previous story I wrote about the same officer, when he saved a man's life. That stabbing victim was no angel himself, and it goes to show how our police officers risk their lives each and every day, and the same people they work to protect can turn on them in a second.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attention Shoppers: WATCH OUT!!!!!!

Man charged after driving cart drunk

By Joe Johnson - Athens Banner-Herald
Published Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A 62-year-old homeless man nearly took down several shoppers in a Westside supermarket Monday afternoon while driving drunk on a motorized shopping cart, Athens-Clarke police said.
Gregory Edward Ray, 62, told an officer he drank a pint of vodka and another pint of mouthwash before hopping on the cart at Kroger, 191 Alps Road, police said.
Witnesses told an officer that Ray seemed to be losing consciousness as he drove through the store's aisles, police said.
Ray, who was barred from the store for two years in August, was charged with public intoxication and released to emergency medical workers, police said, and an officer planned to take out a warrant charging him with criminal trespass.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Athens gets Stranger and Stranger

This is the first time I've ever heard of this particular murder weapon:

Police arrest man in Sunday slaying
By Joe Johnson -
Published Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Colbert man used a toilet seat lid to beat another man to death early Sunday in the victim's Northeast Athens home, Athens-Clarke police said.
William Thomas Valentine Jr., an ex-con with a long list of convictions in Clarke County, then kidnapped and raped a woman who witnessed the attack, Athens-Clarke police said.
Authorities arrested Valentine on Monday afternoon at his brother's home in Oglethorpe County.
Police said Valentine, 40, knew the victim, 51-year-old Alfred Lorenzo Harris, but would not say if they know why he attacked the older man in his home at Garden Apartments off North Avenue.
Investigators believe Valentine bludgeoned Harris to death between 3 and 3:30 a.m. Sunday, and a friend found his body just before noon, when he stopped by with food, according to police.
Harris' battered body was found on a living room couch, covered with a blanket, police said. Detectives quickly identified Valentine as a suspect.
"We developed enough information to put him at the scene and as the person who committed the actual murder," said Athens-Clarke police Capt. Clarence Holeman, commanding officer of the Centralized Criminal Investigations division.
Investigators also had reason to believe Valentine might have fled to a home in Hull, but he had left by the time officers arrived, police said.
Inside the home, police found a woman who said Valentine kidnapped and raped her, according to police.
The woman witnessed the attack on Harris, police said. She told investigators Valentine forced her to leave Athens with him, then raped her somewhere in Madison County, police said.
Officers next checked out a home Valentine shares with a girlfriend in Colbert and found clothes burning in the yard, police said. They managed to recover a charred boot police said belonged to Valentine.
Authorities continued to stake out the home in Colbert, while others kept an eye on Valentine's brother's home on Emerald Circle near Winterville, police said; they arrested Valentine there just before 12:30 p.m. Monday.
He was booked into the Clarke County Jail on a murder charge, but a grand jury likely will consider more charges, according to police.
Valentine, who formerly lived in Athens, has a record of convictions in Clarke County dating to at least 2000, for crimes ranging from burglary and drugs to assault.
He served five stints in state prison, once for shooting at two men in Athens, according to the Department of Corrections.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jailhouse follies

After posting the "Junk in the Trunk" story, I thought I should keep trying to lighten things up, as all things from the crime beat aren't depressing. Here are a couple of recent amusing items from the daily police blotter I compile for the newspaper:

A University of Georgia student tried to buy his way out of an arrest with a song early Wednesday.

An officer saw the 19-year-old kicking a car in the parking lot of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, 247 Pulaski St., about 2:30 a.m., so he went to check it out, Athens-Clarke police said.
First, the student tried to hide behind a car, then he ran and tried to get into a door of the fraternity house. As the officer closed in, the student took off and tried to climb a wrought-iron fence, police said.
His foot somehow got caught, and the officer helped him down from what he described as a "dangling" position, according to police.
The student explained that he ran because he'd been drinking, police said. He'd scratched his ankle on the fence and asked the officer to call for an ambulance. As they waited for it to arrive, the student tried to bargain, saying he would do anything to stay out of jail, even sing for the cop, police said.
The student was charged with underage drinking and obstruction, police said.

Man charged with stealing from club
Athens Banner-Herald
Published Thursday, August 19, 2010

An ex-con was arrested at a downtown strip club early Wednesday after a bouncer caught him swiping money from a cash register and tip jar, Athens-Clarke police said.
Frederick Kenya "Po Pimp" Cannon was at Toppers International Showbar, 100 Jackson St., about 1:15 a.m. when a bouncer flagged down an officer to report he caught Cannon stealing from the club, police said.
Cannon insisted he had done nothing wrong, and said he'd just been released from prison and only had 50 cents because the strip club "cleaned him out," according to police.
Surveillance video showed Cannon strike up a conversation with a woman working at a counter, and when she was distracted, he swiped money from the register, police said. A patron also saw him steal money from a tip jar, police said.
Cannon, who did prison time for robbery and drug possession, was charged with misdemeanor theft because the amount of money he tried to steal was about $15, police said.

Call to Ma helps police ID burglar
By Staff Reports - Athens Banner-Herald
Published Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Investigators are looking for an Athens man who broke into the Howard B. Stroud Elementary School on Monday night, but left behind his cell phone, Athens-Clarke police said.
Officers responded to an 11:25 p.m. burglar alarm and saw a man in the school's cafeteria, but he ran through a back door, police said.
He dropped his cell phone, which had a programmed number for "ma," police said. When an officer called the number, he spoke with the suspect's mother who said she didn't let him live with her anymore because he always steals, according to police.
The woman told officers her son stays with his grandfather in Colbert, and that he was supposed to appear in Madison County Superior Court on a burglary charge Monday, but he didn't show up, police said.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Lot of Junk in This Trunk

Suspected dealer caught with drugs
By Joe Johnson -
Published Friday, July 02, 2010


A suspected drug dealer who ran from sheriff's deputies Wednesday night was carrying a bag of cocaine stuffed in his buttocks, Athens-Clarke police said, and deputies found another bag of drugs when they strip-searched him at the Clarke County Jail.
Travoine Demario Gary, 22, was wanted for a felony probation violation when deputies spotted him in the parking lot of the Triangle Plaza in East Athens about 11:15 p.m., police said.
Travoine Demario Gary, 22, was wanted for a felony probation violation when deputies spotted him in the parking lot of the Triangle Plaza in East Athens about 11:15 p.m., police said.
A police officer who happened to be driving by saw Gary run from the deputies, so he got out of his car and chased after, cornering Gary on the back porch of a home in the 200 block of Fairview Street, according to police.
Gary reached into his pockets, and when he wouldn't obey commands to show his hands, the officer drew his gun, police said.
Gary continued to ignore the officer, and he put something down the back of his pants, police said. The officer suspected he planned to fight or run and pepper-sprayed him.
When backup officers arrived, police searched Gary and found $425 in his pocket and a bag of crack cocaine in his buttocks, police said.
They took him to jail, where deputies who strip-searched Gary found another bag in the man's buttocks, one that held 48 oxycodone pills, police said.
Gary, of 135 Burkland Drive, was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a controlled substance and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, police said.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, July 02, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One of the most disgusting cases I've covered

40-year terms for abusing son Brutal punishment of boy 'disgusted' judge
By Joe Johnson -
Published Friday, May 21, 2010
Buzz up!
WATKINSVILLE - An Oconee County jury convicted a woman and her common-law husband Thursday on charges they locked her 12-year-old son naked in a closet, shot him with a pellet gun, pepper-sprayed him and deprived him of food. Richard Hamm Norris Lazarus Walker

Richard Hamm
Norris Lazarus Walker

Catch up on stories about the trial you may have missed:
May 20, 2010 Boy to go into local foster care
May 19, 2010 Parents: Boy was trouble
May 18, 2010 More details of cruelty emerge in abuse trial
May 15, 2010 Boy takes stand, tells of horrific abuse
May 14, 2010 Photos seen at trial show boy's injuries
May 13, 2010 For boy, closet 'his life'
May 12, 2010 Child torture trial set to begin in afternoon


But jurors acquitted Damita Devonna Peak and Norris Lazarus Walker on 20 counts of aggravated assault, finding them guilty on a lesser charge of battery.
Superior Court Judge Steve Jones sentenced both to 40 years in prison, without probation.
The verdict capped a 10-day trial in which jurors heard from the boy and his younger brother, school officials, doctors, police officers and the defendants themselves.
Peak, 36, and Walker, 39, told jurors they punished the boy because he constantly got in trouble and didn't respond to traditional forms of punishment. They used extreme measures because they didn't want him to die from drugs or end up in prison, like other relatives had in Florida, they testified.
Neither expressed remorse for what they did to Peak's son, now 13 and living with his younger brother with an area foster family.
Jones said the trial was the worst child abuse case he's presided over, except for one in which a man and woman were convicted of murder for beating a 10-year-old boy to death a dozen years ago.
"You don't have to have a law degree; you don't have to have a medical degree; you don't have to have a high school diploma to know that was wrong," Jones told the defendants.
"It just disgusted me," he said.
Peak's son might have ended up dead, Jones said, if officials at Rocky Branch Elementary School hadn't noticed signs of abuse and called in child-protective services to remove Jimmy and his brother from the home.
Neither Jimmy - not the victim's real name - nor his brother addressed the judge before he chose a sentence, as victims often do.
The younger boy was too scared to be in the same room as his mother, a victim advocate told Jones, while Jimmy wrote a statement, which the advocate read.
He described bad dreams and other lingering effects of the abuse, yet spoke fondly of Walker and his mother.
"I understand why they did it and I want to say I love them so much and I miss them," Jimmy wrote.
Peak had testified that she began punishing her son when he was 9 or 10, when they lived in Miami, by beating him or making him stay in his room.
She and Walker moved with Jimmy and his younger brother to Georgia in 2006, ending up in Athens two years later when Peak landed a job as a jailer in Walton County, where she was issued handcuffs and pepper spray.
While living at an extended-stay motel off South Milledge Avenue, Peak and Walker made Jimmy stand for hours in the corner with his arms held out, and Walker shot him with a pellet gun when he lowered his arms. They also tied his hands, or handcuffed them, to a clothes bar in the closet so he wouldn't drop his arms.
The family moved at the end of November 2008 to the Wellington Park duplex complex in Bogart, where Jimmy slept on a closet's bare floor with just a Batman blanket each night until his parents were arrested.
Peak and Walker fed him only water and bread, sometimes with peanut butter, while locked up.
In the Bogart home, he urinated in the closet because no one answered his pleas to be let out, and Peak punished him by pepper-spraying Jimmy in the face.
The Oconee County jury convicted Peak and Walker each on 10 counts of false imprisonment, eight counts of second-degree child cruelty, and two counts of battery.
Jurors found Peak guilty of three counts of first-degree child cruelty and convicted Walker on two counts.
They also acquitted them each of 18 counts of aggravated assault, and instead found them guilty of two counts of battery. They also found Peak guilty of simple battery.
Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said the verdict was just.
"It spoke to the horror that was inflicted on (Jimmy)," he said.
Peak and Walker still face 17 felony counts in Clarke County Superior Court.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, May 21, 2010

Crown Royal Bandit

Me and Bruce were pen pals while he was in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, but he stopped writing after they moved him to a federal pen in Florida. So, I thought it was time to compile his letters into this story:

Crown Royal Bandit: Life of crime fun while it lasted
By Joe Johnson -
Published Sunday, June 06, 2010
Buzz up!
When he was 17 years old, Bruce Allen Hughes put on his mother's wig, pointed a toy pistol at a bank teller and demanded $1,000. Special An forensic artist’s sketch of Bruce Allen Hughes based on witnesses’ descriptions. A reader called Athens-Clarke police to say the sketch looked like Hughes after the Athens Banner-Herald published it on Feb. 25, 2008. That tip and another one later helped lead authorities to Hughes, who was living in a trailer in Hull.

An forensic artist’s sketch of Bruce Allen Hughes based on witnesses’ descriptions. A reader called Athens-Clarke police to say the sketch looked like Hughes after the Athens Banner-Herald published it on Feb. 25, 2008. That tip and another one later helped lead authorities to Hughes, who was living in a trailer in Hull.

That's how Hughes - aka the "Crown Royal Bandit" - got his start robbing banks in 1977 and became one of the most prolific bank robbers in U.S. history.
View a gallery of photos from Hughes' life of crime.
His run came to an end in 2008 after he robbed a bank in Athens - one of 28 Georgia banks Hughes was convicted of robbing, though he claims responsibility for about 40 more bank heists in other states.
Hughes, now 49, made that claim in a series of letters to the Athens Banner-Herald from federal prison, where he will live out the remainder of his life.
A U.S. District Court judge sentenced him in February to 127 years for the Georgia robberies.
In his letters, Hughes portrays himself as someone who stole from greedy banking institutions to help people in need, but also as someone who simply enjoyed throwing around his ill-gained cash.
He acknowledged that his crimes were wrong and apologized for terrorizing people during his robberies, yet showed no remorse.
"My whole career has basically been dedicated to all who have ever been used or abused by the government or banking industry," Hughes said.
"It was really not about the money, although it was fun spending!" he wrote. "It's about showing Uncle Sam that you can't break the human spirit, that the Big Machine can be had."
Idyllic childhood
As a kid, Hughes lived life as a sort of Huck Finn.
He was born in Indiana and moved with his family to Dade County in Florida, on the fringes of the Everglades. They moved again when he was 11 to be near his grandparents, still near the Everglades but in Naples, on the Gulf of Mexico.
"I've been stomping around the 'Glades most of my life, and saltwater fishing has been my passion, besides bank robbing, that is," Hughes said.
"I was doing 'Crocodile Hunter' stuff, caught gators for sale, along with poisonous and non-poisonous snakes and sold them to the Miami Serpentarium and a lot of other wildlife hot-spots in South Florida," he said.
"My grandfather and father had been taking me fishing off the Naples municipal pier since I was real little, and I took to it like I was born on a reef. It's all I lived for," Hughes said. "My parents' house was on the bay, and I had my first boat at age 12 - a 13-foot, 6-inch Boston whaler with a 35-horse Evinrude" motor.
Hughes spent more time fishing than he did in high school, and he dropped out in the 11th grade, he said.
He wanted nothing to do with his father's electrical company, and didn't go along with his parents' wishes that he become a minister.
"I loved God, Jesus and all the Bible's heroes, but found myself drawn away by the rich kids I was hanging with in school," Hughes said. "From 13 to about 17, I hung with the 'jet-set' kids. There's more millionaires in Naples than anywhere, even back then. Megabucks."
Hughes envied his rich friends and wanted to be just like them.
"That's what led me astray," he said.
Hughes also got what he wanted by committing break-ins, and was twice convicted on burglary charges in Naples in the 1980s. He also was convicted there of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Education of a robber
Just before he dropped out of school, Hughes began dating an older woman, a 26-year-old bank teller whom he later moved in with, he said. She was promoted to branch manager.
"She explained all the inner workings of the branch-banking world - not just for robbing purposes, just for conversation. I paid attention," Hughes said. "She explained all the ins and outs behind the counter. She also told me not to worry about (tellers') fright, as they knew what they were getting into.
"I robbed my first bank in 1977 or so," Hughes said. "It was Naples Federal Savings & Loan, the biggest baddest bank in town.
"I walked up wearing one of my mom's wigs - black - and had a toy gun held under a handkerchief," he said. "The gun was a toy pirate's double-barrel flintlock pistol I bought from the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. I only asked for $1,000 in hundreds, in a bank envelope."
Hughes read in the next day's newspaper about the robbery and chuckled about how he outwitted the police.
"After I robbed the bank I ran behind the building and left the wig, gun and handkerchief behind it," he said. "The CSI team found blonde hairs in the wig, and that's because my mom had shoulder-length blonde hair at the time. I had sandy brown hair. Ha. Ha. They thought it was probably done by a beach-bum surfer."
A criminal's life
Hughes claimed to have robbed more than three dozen banks in the Naples area between 1977 and 1992, and he used the money to attract women.
"I don't know how many girls I had, but I know there were at least 40 banks," he said. "I always hit the banks alone. I told everyone else the money came from my rich parents in Naples."
He had graduated from using a toy gun to a semiautomatic pistol, and his disguise changed from his mother's wig to his "trademark" black ski mask with just eye holes cut out, Hughes said.
"The early years were great, a 15-year party," he said. "I helped many a single mom then and whoever, but was really no Robin Hood. I mainly robbed for me. The needy just were benefited by it."
When he moved in with his bank teller girlfriend, his two cousins and their girlfriends joined them.
"We all shared the rent and each other's girls," he said. "It was real cozy. My cousins sold coke and weed, mostly a lot of coke."
In addition to robbing banks, he held up a couple of drug smugglers in 1982, Hughes said.
"Got a half million and 90 pounds of coke in that job," he said. "Didn't hurt them, just scared 'em out of 10 years though."
The robberies bankrolled a good lifestyle without having to work for it, he said.
"Robbing banks, taking a few babes to Disney World for a week, then going home to a nice, modest yet clean house with property to keep the party going," Hughes said.
He claimed to have robbed a bank in Chula Vista, Calif., in 1992, the same year as his last hold-up in Florida.
Georgia on his mind
Hughes did not explain when or how he wound up in Georgia, but he met a Blairsville woman, Karen Totherow, who soon became his partner in crime and mother of his children.
The first Georgia bank they robbed was in Alpharetta, in 1997, officials said.
Totherow, who Hughes called his "bird dog," went into banks to scout for security guards and the layout, and was the getaway car driver, Hughes said.
"I chose her to help me because she's ballsy, cold as a mackerel," he said.
"She wanted me to shoot one of the head tellers so that I would have a reputation amongst the banking community as a killer," Hughes said. "She said that they would give me all the big money in a hurry from then on."
Hughes never shot anyone, but he did fire his gun to scare people when he robbed banks in Dalton and Woodstock, he said.
He never anticipated a shoot-out with police.
"If it would of come to that, I would have dropped my gun in clear site [sic] and then run, I guess," Hughes said. "If they shot me in the back, oh well."
Totherow helped Hughes rob Georgia banks between May 1997 and December 2006, according to authorities.
The pair had a love-hate relationship, according to Hughes, who said he asked the judge to show leniency when he sentenced Totherow.
"Karen never deserved any of my help," he said. "I saved her for my kids' sake. As bad as she is, she's a half-decent mom. At least she wasn't strung out on booze or drugs."
Authorities nicknamed Hughes the "Crown Royal Bandit" because in his first Georgia bank robberies, he made tellers put the money in the purple cloth bag that the whiskey comes in.
"I started drinking before the robberies to thin the guilt," Hughes said. "I didn't like scaring the panties off pretty tellers, but how else can you get to the money?"
Hughes often announced to people inside the banks that he was only robbing the same people who stole from him, by foreclosing on his home.
Authorities say that was a red herring to throw off investigators.
A new partner
Hughes and Totherow parted ways because she was everything he wasn't, he claimed.
"She's mean, I'm nice. She's greedy, I'm giving to a fault if you ask my mother," Hughes said. "I'm athletic and love the outdoors, she's fat and loves to shop, eat and sit at home. She told me that if she had to go back to work that it was over. I made her go back to work just to get rid of her."
After breaking off his relationship with Totherow, Hughes moved in with a woman in Hull, who was the getaway driver in his final robbery, in February 2008 when Hughes stole $10,390 from Regions Bank on Prince Avenue.
But Christine Verner was a methamphetamine addict and dealer, and when she was arrested for selling drugs to an undercover officer in Madison County, that was the beginning of the end for Hughes' life of crime.
"All the hot girls from around the neighborhood came sniffing around," Hughes said. "They knew Christy was in jail for meth. They also knew I had money, and (I) was very nice about helping them out when they asked. Within days I was entertaining half-a-dozen pretty young women. It reminded me of the old days."
Hughes didn't know that just before and right after the Athens bank robbery, witnesses finally caught a glimpse of him without a mask and were able to describe him well enough for a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic artist to draw a sketch.
The Banner-Herald published the sketch on Feb. 25, 2008, prompting a reader to call Athens-Clarke police to say the sketch looked like Hughes, officials said. But authorities still didn't know where to find him until an anonymous tipster called the Madison County Jail to say Verner was living with a bank robber.
Verner admitted to investigators that she was the getaway driver for Hughes in the Athens bank robbery, and heavily armed authorities from Madison and Athens-Clarke counties, the GBI and FBI went to Verner's home in Hull. They found Hughes at that Beverly Road trailer home and arrested him on March 5, 2008.
Hughes claimed he knew the jig was up after Verner was jailed on drug charges, and that he waited to be arrested.
"When Christy got busted for meth - which I am totally against - I knew it was a matter of time before she cracked under the pressure," he said. "But instead of running, I stayed put and waited for the self-righteous clowns. If I ran, they'd probably arrest Karen, stake out my entire family in Florida and kick my dog! So I waited."
Investigators eventually tracked down Totherow, and she pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy and was sentenced to five years on probation.
Verner pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery, and a judge sentenced her to 30 months in prison and five years on parole. She is scheduled to be released Aug. 8.
Cat and mouse
Hughes claimed to have the formula to become a successful bank robber.
"When I started, I told myself I would keep going until they got me," he said. "Along the way I learned you can get away clean. A little common sense and a lot of guts and they could be had!
"It was simple. The best answer is usually the simple one. Use a mask and a real gun. You have to control the room. No fuss and no hero's [sic]. 90 seconds or less. Don't worry about the take as much as the act. Channel your fear to work for you. There's a lot more little factors that give you a 90% chance of a clean get-away. If the general public ever got hold of my style, they would have to change the way banking is conducted immediately."
A prosecutor told the judge who sentenced Hughes that the robber never wore gloves, but he always made sure that when he touched something he twisted or rubbed his hands so that he left smeared fingerprints that couldn't be used to identify him.
Hughes doesn't hide the disdain he has for law enforcement, especially the FBI.
"Little secret, they're not that organized," he said. "There's just a billion of them out there. If they didn't have tipsters, they couldn't function. They didn't catch me, I just got tired and gave up."
Hughes believes he could have excelled in anything he set his mind to.
"I've just wasted a perfectly good life," he said. "I could of been one of the best in any endeavor I chose. I never thought I'd be one of the most prolific bank robbers in U.S. history. It certainly wasn't my goal in life.
"I don't think I've ever heard of anyone robbing 70-plus banks over 30 years without the feds having a clue as to their identity," Hughes said.
He apologized for terrorizing bank employees and customers, but not for stealing.
"I'm sorry I scared some people, but I'm not sorry about abusing the authorities and the banking industry," Hughes said. "Stealing is a sin, but so is setting up people, killing people and foreclosing on people who are trying! When I meet my maker I'll be in line right behind them. I'll apologize then."
Hughes wrote to the Banner-Herald between February and May while he was housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta. He has since been moved to a federal prison in Florida.