On the morning of Feb. 28, 1990, passersby found Paul McKeen Jr. dying from a head injury beside Georgia Highway 190 in Meriwether County, near Dowdell’s Knob.
Initially, he was thought to have been hurt in a traffic mishap.
Rushed to The Medical Center in Columbus, in 2½ days he was dead, his family deciding to remove his life support upon learning he would never recover. The Troup County resident was just 21 years old.
He died from what authorities termed a single, blunt-force blow to the head, but for nearly 15 years, the precise circumstances of his death remained a mystery.
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Then in 2004, investigators said they had solved the cold case, identifying four suspects in McKeen’s death. On March 3, 2005, three were convicted.
On Monday, nine years after the jury’s verdict and 13 after the crime, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld one of those convictions, the murder case against Charles Aldon Bulloch.
It was a crucial step in confirming the case authorities took years to build against Bulloch and three co-defendants accused of kidnapping McKeen from the Pines Pub & Restaurant in Pine Mountain before beating him and leaving him along the road the night of Feb. 27, 1990.
Deciding the assault occurred in Harris County before McKeen was dumped across the county line, the 2005 trial was held in Hamilton, where a jury found Bulloch, of Guyton, Ga., and Johnny Vernon Phillips, of Jacksonville, Fla., guilty of murder. Each was sentenced to life in prison.
A third defendant was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated assault, and a fourth was acquitted.
The prosecution focused intensely on Bulloch, the only defendant to take the witness stand in his own defense. Bulloch said McKeen owed him $300 for bets made on billiards, but testified he didn’t harm McKeen because McKeen had promised to pay.
“Why should I kill someone over $300 when the man just told me he would pay me when his income tax check came in?” Bulloch asked the court. He said he saw McKeen at the Pine Mountain pub the night of Feb. 27, 1990, and left when the pub closed, assuming McKeen was still inside.
Then Bulloch’s past came into evidence as he admitted that on Feb. 11, 1990, he had sat atop a man lying in a pool of blood and repeatedly beaten him over the head with a pool cue, believing the victim had stolen a shotgun. A witness said Bulloch was opening a knife as he held the man down when others finally intervened.
At least one witness said McKeen’s fatal head wound came from being beaten with a tire iron. Clay Bryant, a Coweta County judicial circuit investigator who helped crack the cold case, said Bulloch had assaulted McKeen once over the debt before the fatal attack. That was on Feb. 23, 1990, when “Bulloch beat him to a pulp and said if he did not pay, he would kill him,” Bryant said.
Today Bulloch remains in the Calhoun State Prison in Morgan, Ga. It is not his first prison term: Georgia Department of Corrections records show he served three years of an eight-year sentence for possessing cocaine July 28, 1994, in Chatham County.
Born in 1947, Bulloch was 57 years old when found guilty of McKeen’s murder.