Top crime stories of 2012: Columbus cold cases kept making headlines

Jury hung in Jim Burns' 1992 slaying; verdict in 1985 bush-ax killings stands

December 29, 2012 

A great deal of the violence already happened, years ago.

Among the top local crime stories of 2012 were tales of cold-case homicides that just came to trial or whose verdicts came under review.

The national news lately has been dominated by the mass killings in Connecticut, but Columbus has been spared that kind of crime since a shooting spree killed three people at Doctors Hospital in 2008, one of the city's worst years for homicides.

Homicides are up this year, to 17, but several of 2012's big stories involved slayings that happened in another year, some of them decades ago.

1. A jury deadlocks 10-2 for acquittal in Kareem Lane's cold-case murder trial.

Columbus waited 20 years to find out who killed then-school superintendent Jim Burns on Oct. 19, 1992. It's still waiting. Arrested May 3, 2010, Kareem Lane was freed Sept. 20 after a Muscogee County jury could not reach a verdict in a case that lacked the matching DNA evidence police had said they had from the knife that inflicted Burns' fatal wound. Burns bled to death after an

intruder stabbed him in the back during a struggle in the superintendent's second-floor Broadway bedroom. Lane could be retried.

2. District attorney clears Tony Carr.

A year after a Columbus police officer chasing a suspected robber fatally shot Fort Benning fire inspector Tony Carr, District Attorney Julia Slater announced Carr had nothing to do with the bank robbery that led to his death on Sept. 6, 2011. Slater said she had not decided whether a grand jury should review the police officer's actions. Officer Vincent Lockhart Jr. has been on paid leave since the shooting that killed Carr and robbery suspect Alrahiem Tolbert.

3. Georgia high court upholds Michael Curry's guilty verdict.

The cold case conviction of Michael Curry survived a judicial test in July when the Georgia Supreme Court found no grounds to contradict the jury that found him guilty of slaughtering his family with a bush ax on Aug. 29, 1985. The opinion issued more than a year after a sensational April 2011 trial secured the most significant victory of District Attorney Julia Slater's first term.

4. Prosecutors win Jerome Upshaw cold case.

Three years after he was convicted of killing a Columbus man while hijacking the victim's 1994 Jeep Cherokee, Jerome Upshaw was convicted in August of the Dec. 7, 1996, shooting death of Joanne Walton. Already serving a sentence of life plus 30 years in the 2007 death of Anthony Jerome King, Upshaw was given two life sentences without parole for Walton's murder. Walton, a prostitute, was shot in the head and left alongside South Lumpkin Road after offering Upshaw oral sex for drugs. Ursula King, mother of Anthony King, was relieved to hear the verdict. "No more, nobody else. No families will be destroyed anymore like that family and our family," she said.

5. Russell County judge's poor health stops capital murder trial.

The capital murder case against a Russell County woman accused of having her daughter killed came to an abrupt end in September when Judge George Greene's health so declined he no longer could preside. Lisa Graham is accused of hiring Kenneth Walton to kill 20-year-old daughter Shea Graham in July 2007. Investigators claimed Lisa Graham had tired of her daughter's drug use and feared Shea Graham would jump bail on charges she faced in a drive-by shooting in Columbus.

6. Northside girl's death draws focus to underage drinking.

After a one-vehicle crash on County Line Road in June fatally injured 16-year-old Hannah E. Gilmer, a rising senior at Northside High School, police determined the boyfriend driving the car had been drinking, and other teens at the scene tried to help him hide beer. Gilmer was in a 2006 Toyota Scion driven by Clayton Qualls, whom police charged with felony homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence, being a minor in possession of alcohol and having an open container. The wreck prompted police to raid house parties where underage drinkers had alcohol.

7. Mysterious mother-son deaths are ruled murder-suicide.

Columbus was shocked Feb. 24 at the news Tina Green Hall, 47, and her 6-year-old son Jeremy were each found dead from a single gunshot wound in their Oakland Park home at Howe Avenue and Wise Street. More shocking was the police determination in September that Tina Hall shot her son and then herself. "The case has been closed with a ruling that she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound," said Lt. John McMichael said. "She, in fact, killed her son, murdered her son."

8. Chattahoochee River drownings draw attention to dangers.

With construction on Columbus' whitewater course underway, the Chattahoochee River's hazards grabbed headlines in August when a woman and her infant son drowned as the mother tried to rescue the baby's 3-year-old brother, who had slipped into deep water while playing. The 3-year-old died later at Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta. Authorities said Krystal Ann Brown, 30, was fishing on the riverbank near Rigdon Park when 3-year-old David Brown went into the water. Still holding 11-month-old Mister Brown, the mother went in after the boy and went under. A week later, Russell County 23-year-old Jarvis Willis drowned while swimming about 75 yards north of the Dillingham Street bridge. About two weeks later, 54-year-old Harold Brock of Indiana drowned while swimming in river off Bay Avenue near 12th Street. On Dec. 4, Columbus Council passed a law requiring people out on the river downtown to wear life vests.

9. Columbus homicides increase.

Columbus so far had 17 homicides this year, up from 14 in 2011. Police say murder has declined significantly since 2008, but that was a particularly bad year when the city had 30, which plunged to 13 in 2009. It had 16 in 2010, counting one victim who died from his wounds the next year.

10. Gambling raids draw attention to gaming interests backing public safety leaders' re-election campaigns.

A series of police raids on stores housing allegedly illegal gaming machines led to revelations that some of the business owners made generous campaign contributions to several Columbus officeholders. Investigators seized two dozen gaming machines and arrested five people at three stores linked to thousands of dollars backing the re-election bids of District Attorney Julia Slater, Muscogee County Sheriff John T. Darr, Marshal Greg Countryman and Municipal Court Judge Steven D. Smith.

Businesses raided for alleged gambling since 2008 had given at least $28,000 to local candidates, including nearly $10,000 to Slater and about $6,000 to Darr, according to a Ledger-Enquirer analysis.

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