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Georgia Supreme Court upholds murder convictions

ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the convictions and life prison sentences given to a man for his role in the murder of a young man who two months earlier had hit the jackpot in the Georgia Lottery, winning more than $400,000.

In a highly publicized case, Wayan Malik Jordan was one of seven people affiliated with the “G-Shine” criminal gang and charged with robbing and killing 20-year-old Craigory Burch Jr. in Ben Hill County.

Police called Burch’s murder a “targeted” killing. According to the high court’s opinion, the evidence at trial showed that on Jan. 20, 2016, Dabrentise Overstreet contacted Jordan, Nathaniel Baker and others with plans to commit a robbery. The target was Burch, who in November 2015, had matched all five numbers in the Fantasy 5 drawing and won a $432,272 jackpot. Burch, who had a picture taken of himself holding a large check that showed his winnings, had bought a home in Fitzgerald with some of the proceeds.

Initially, Jordan was reluctant to participate in the robbery, but he finally agreed to try to redeem himself from having stolen drugs earlier from gang members. On the day of the crime, the seven drove to Burch’s home in two separate cars that were driven by Overstreet’s and Baker’s girlfriends. When they arrived, Baker kicked in the door and he, Overstreet, and Jordan went inside with their guns drawn. Burch was in his living room with his girlfriend and their two young children. A third child of Burch’s was asleep in a back bedroom during the home invasion.

Jordan and Overstreet held the adults at gunpoint and demanded money while Baker went to the back of the house to look for valuables. As Burch sat on the sofa holding his 2-year-old son, Overstreet shot Burch several times in the leg, with at least one of the wounds to his thigh being fatal. Jordan meanwhile went through the purse of Burch’s girlfriend, which contained two cellphones belonging to Burch as well as her cellphone and wallet. Jordan, Overstreet, and Baker then left the house.

After Jordan failed to start Burch’s truck parked in the driveway, Overstreet went back inside the house and shot Burch in the chest. The seven alleged gang members then fled the scene. One of the women later testified that Jordan and the others were joking about the shooting and Jordan was laughing about it as they divided the proceeds of the robbery, which included Burch’s wallet. All seven were eventually arrested and charged with a host of crimes including malice murder, home invasion, armed robbery and street gang activity.

Following a separate trial in March 2017, the jury found Jordan guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences (one for murder and one for home invasion) plus 15 years for gun charges. Jordan then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing a number of reasons why his convictions should be reversed.

In the Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Keith R. Blackwell, the court rejected them all and concluded that “the evidence adduced at trial is sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Jordan guilty of each of the crimes of which he was convicted.”

Among his arguments, Jordan contends that the evidence was not legally sufficient to convict him of murder because the evidence failed to show that he shared Overstreet’s intent to kill.

“But ‘criminal intent may be inferred from presence, companionship, and conduct before, during and after the offense,” the high court’s opinion says, quoting the court’s decision earlier this year in Hardy v. State. “Here, Jordan agreed to take part in the home invasion as a member of the gang, he held the victims at gunpoint while Overstreet fatally shot Burch in the leg, he participated in the division of the proceeds from the robbery, he was observed laughing with Overstreet about the shooting of Burch, and he made a jailhouse admission about ‘the man I killed.’ A rational juror could conclude that Jordan shared Overstreet’s criminal intent, and was, therefore, guilty of murder as a party to the crime.”

Jordan also claims the trial court erred by admitting “extrinsic evidence of gang activity.” Although Jordan’s own attorney acknowledged at trial in his opening statement that Jordan was a gang member, the attorney’s statements were not evidence, and the state still had to prove that Jordan was a member of a “criminal street gang” known as “G-Shine.” Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion under Georgia Code § 24-4-403 in admitting extrinsic evidence of gang activity, the opinion says.

The high court also rejected Jordan’s claims that he received “ineffective assistance of counsel” from his trial attorney in violation of his constitutional rights.

In other cases, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld murder convictions and life prison sentences for Devontae M. Carter of Pike County, Ronnie Holmes of Dougherty County and Brandon Morrall of Bibb County.

Dougherty Commission Chair Chris Cohilas endorses Mayor Dorothy Hubbard in Dec. 3 runoff

ALBANY – Dougherty County’s highest-ranking elected official endorsed his counterpart in the Albany city government on Monday, citing Mayor Dorothy Hubbard as a leader who is low-key but produces results.

“If I had to sum up why I’m endorsing Dot, it’s because I’ve worked with her for five years and I’ve gotten to know her as a human and a person and a friend,” County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas told The Herald during an interview following Monday’s Dougherty County Commission meeting. “I think a lot of time people don’t realize how much work she does behind the scenes.”

Hubbard, who is seeking a third term in the mayor’s seat, will face former Albany City Commission member Kermit “Bo” Dorough in the Dec. 3 runoff election for a four-year term. Hubbard finished first in the Nov. 3 municipal election with 30.25 percent of the vote, while Dorough garnered 27.7 percent of the vote.

Cohilas said that Hubbard’s efforts were exemplified during periods when the city was recovering from recent natural disasters, including in the aftermath of devastating storms in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. He said city and county officials held meetings starting as early as 6 a.m. for long periods of time during those efforts.

The Coats & Clark distribution center in east Albany was destroyed in one of the January 2017 storms, but by June 2018 a newly rebuilt North American distribution for the company was celebrated.

“I’ve worked with her on economic development,” Cohilas said of Hubbard. “She was instrumental in keeping Coats & Clark here after it was demolished.”

Hubbard also played an instrumental role in landing the $150 million Georgia-Pacific facility under construction on Sylvester Road, he said, and is respected by state elected officials in both political parties.

“The mayor brought the announcement that Delta is increasing its flights to Albany,” Cohilas said. “I don’t remember that ever happening (here) before. That’s what happens when you have leadership working behind the scenes.”

Most recently, a joint effort between city, county, state and federal officials resulted in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation establishing a regional drug task force in Albany that will cover more than 40 southwest Georgia counties.

The agency has agreed to train and equip local officers in that effort. Dougherty County and Albany provided a location near the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office and will assist with utilities and office personnel.

Charles Peeler, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, has agreed to prosecute cases against gang members and drug dealers in federal courts, where sentences generally are longer, Cohilas said.

“(The GBI) found a very open environment,” Cohilas said. “We worked behind the scenes to cut the red tape and get it done.

“To have a U.S. Attorney who lives in this community, and know cases are going to be prosecuted at the federal level, where it has teeth, is (huge),” he said. “We’re very grateful to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.”

While city and county governments often do not get along, Cohilas said that is not the case for Albany and Dougherty County, which often work together and “row in the same direction.”

Since he became chairman, Cohilas and Hubbard have had lunch once a month, which he says he thinks has helped build a good relationship between them.

“She’s just a very humble woman who works hard for our community,” he said.

Early voting in the mayor’s race and the City Commission Ward VI race between John Hawthorne and Demetrius Young will be held from 8:30a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 25, 26 and 27 at the Elections office in the downtown Government Center.

Dougherty Commission approves $2.8 million for road resurfacing

ALBANY – The Dougherty County Commission finalized on Monday a list of county roadways for a project that will use state and local sales tax dollars for resurfacing.

Commissioners also approved funds for a Northwest Library parking lot, two ambulances and a pickup truck for Dougherty County EMS and other spending.

“It’s huge,” Larry Cook, director of Dougherty County Public Works, said of the resurfacing project during a Monday phone interview. “It’s double the amount of miles we’ve ever done in the past, 22.5 miles. We have (a total of) $2.8 million allocated for it.”

The roadways slated for resurfacing are some of the busiest in the county, with the bulk of funding — $2 million — coming from transportation local-option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, funds. Additional funding will come from the Georgia Department of Transportation’s FY 2020 Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant in the amount of $435,824, and $425,000 from a separate SPLOST fund for capital outlays.

The T-SPLOST, approved by voters earlier this year, made possible the expansion of the annual resurfacing program.

“What we’re trying to tackle are some of our arterial roads, our most-traveled roads that move traffic back and forth,” Cook said.

Four of the roadways, two in the northwest of the county and two in the east, are in such poor condition they will undergo reclamation projects – practically starting over, where normally new surfacing is applied over existing road surface.

Those roads include Forrester Road, Thomas Drive, Morgan Street and Birchwood Drive.

“Most of our roads are in decent shape, but if they’re not maintained they take a lot of work,” Cook said.

Other roads included in the project are Flowing Well Road from Gillionville Road to Eight Mile Road; Tallahassee Road from Gillionville to the Terrell County Line; Barnaby Drive from Spelman Drive to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive; Hedgeapple Lane from Twinflower Road to its dead end; Sweetbrier Road from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to its dead end; Twinflower Road from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Hedgeapple Lane; Dunbar Lane from North Jefferson Street to its dead end; Sportsman Club Road from the Lee County Line to Gable Road; Hamilton Drive from Leary Road to Lonesome Road; Lily Pond Road from Newton Road to Old Pretoria Road; Lonesome Road from Newton Road to Vanderbilt Drive; Tarva Road from Leary Road to the Baker County Line; Ashwood Street from Dower Avenue to U.S. Highway 82; North County Line Road from U.S. Highway 82 to Harris Road, and Oakwood Street from Hil Road to Dower Avenue.

Cook said he expects work on the project to start in April or May and be completed within 60 days after construction begins.

The Public Works Department maintains 287 miles of paved roads and 30 miles of dirt roads in the county.

In other business Monday, commissioners:

♦ Approved the purchase of two 2020 F-350 Type 1 ambulances at a total cost of $304,842 and a 2020 Ford F-150 4x4 Super Cab truck for $31,621 for use by the Dougherty EMS;

♦ Approved spending of $400,000 for the Northwest Library parking lot. The space will provide additional parking and parking for an event center recently unveiled at the renovated facility;

♦ Granted a rezoning request to Lakeside Baptist Church that will allow the placing of an LED sign on the property.

Quilters pitch in to make gifts for nursing facility residents

ADEL – After designing plans for the entire Southwell Medical and Southwell Health and Rehabilitation facilities, the architecture group CDH partners was not content to let their contribution to the project end there.

Mary Lindeman, principal of health care at CDH Partners, decided she wanted to do something a little more for the residents at Southwell Health and Rehabilitation.

“I thought it would be a great housewarming gift for each of these residents to have a beautiful, hand-made quilt,” Lindeman said. “I’m a quilter myself, but I knew I would need some help with such a big project. I reached out to a few local quilting guilds, and we’ve all been working to make this a reality since December of 2018.”

Lindeman and the other quilters from the Wiregrass Quilting Guild, the Willacoochee Quilting Guild, and Pinwheel’s Quilting in Valdosta were finally able to deliver their hand-made quilts on Nov. 12.

“This is so amazing to see so many people who see the value in this and want to bring joy to these residents by giving them a gift like this,” Lindeman said. “It’s just overwhelming to know that there’s so much love out there and desire to help a neighbor. I think causes like this are just wonderful.”

Many of the 95 residents were excited to receive their quilts, and both residents and staff at the facility repeatedly thanked all the quilters for their time and hard work.

“The residents were very excited about the quilts that these ladies gave out today,” Fannie Allen, activities director for Southwell Health and Rehabilitation, said. “Some even cried when we gave them the quilts, and I think they all really enjoyed it. We thank all of the quilters for taking the time to make these quilts for our residents.”

Southwell Health and Rehabilitation is a 95-bed skilled nursing facility located in Adel. The facility is a hospital-based nursing home that focuses on the physical and mental well-being of all residents with an emphasis on quality care.