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May 30, 2002

Honoring soldiers...
A crowd gathered in the Wrens Memorial Cemetery Monday for the American Legion Post 229's Memorial Day service. Colonel Bernard Kulifay, commandant, Leader College for Information Technology of Fort Gordon was the featured speaker.

Murder charged in hunting club shooting

Arguments at Mitchell-area hunting camp turned deadly for Flowery Branch man

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The last murder trial that many Glascock County residents could remember was decades ago. All that ended May 22 when a jury returned a verdict of guilty in the trial of 58- year-old Hoschton resident James Thomas Mize, who was convicted of murder in the shooting death of Flowery Branch resident William Smith during an incident at a hunting camp near Mitchell Sept. 14.

The 12-person jury began deliberations at 9 a.m. and returned a verdict at 2:30 p.m., finding Mize guilty on seven of eight charges they were considering. Mize was found guilty on one count of felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The only charge not affirmed by the jury was malice murder, signifying unlawful intent.

Superior Court Judge Roger Dunaway sentenced Mize to life in prison plus 15 years for the offenses.

The incident involved events that occurred at a hunting camp off Hutcheson Road where Mize, Smith, Smith's 26-year-old son Billy, and hunting club member Brian Orr were present at the campsite. Members of Mize's party had also arrived the same afternoon, but were away from the campsite four-wheeling and putting out deer stands.

Though some of the testimony by Orr, Billy Smith and Mize differ, they told the jury that all the men were talking and drinking beer around a table at the campsite over a period of several hours beginning shortly before 5 p.m. During that time dinner was being prepared and part of the conversation involved whether Ford or Chevrolet made the best vehicle.

Orr and Billy Smith also told jurors that at one point Smith took the keys to Mize's four-wheeler to prevent him from driving while intoxicated, citing a broken wrist sustained two weeks prior while Mize riding the vehicle as the reason for intervening. Smith and Orr testified that Mize became upset when his keys were taken, saying that Mize grabbed the younger Smith near the throat. In response, Smith is said to have forcefully thrown Mize onto the ground. During his testimony, Mize recalled the bantering back and forth about truck brands and that Billy Smith had eventually hit him. All three men testified that Mize left the immediate area after the altercation and went a short distance away to his pickup, wearing his .22 caliber pistol in a holster.

"I didn't want any trouble so I went away from them," Mize later told the jury.

All three also testified that Orr walked over to Mize's truck to ask him to rejoin the group and have dinner. After refusing, William Smith went to ask Mize again.

Orr and Billy Smith told jurors Mize's pickup blocked a full view of the two men but that they could hear the two calmly talking though they could not make out the words being spoken. They said only that within minutes they heard shots fired from the direction where Mize and William Smith were standing.

Mize told jurors he turned and was walking away from the elder Smith when he felt an attempt to remove his gun from the holster. He told jurors he was afraid and began to struggle with Smith but had no intention to shoot him.

"I didn't want to get shot with my own gun," he said. "I didn't know what he would do with my gun if he got it."

The .22 caliber pistol was fired six times during the ensuing struggle, four bullets striking the 45 year-old Smith. Mize said the gun fired during the struggle after becoming wedged between the brace on his wrist and the palm of his hand.

The men said they subdued Mize a few minutes later and Orr held him at gunpoint. Once Mize was subdued and apparently unable to intervene, Orr and Billy Smith said they loaded William Smith into a vehicle and transported him to Mitchell to get medical attention. The man was dead when examined.

Though Mize and Billy Smith had known each other since 2001, Mize and William Smith had met only hours before. A test for Mize's blood alcohol was not made. He told jurors he had consumed a 12-pack of Corona beer and one-half pint of tequila. William Smith's blood alcohol level was determined to be .248, more than three times higher than the legal indicator for intoxication, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation toxicologist Jennifer Holstrom.

Before deliberations began, Augusta defense attorney Mike Garrett told jurors that all the evidence needed to convict had not been presented by the prosecution. He referenced Mize's physical condition, the injuries he had sustained in the 4-wheeler wreck earlier and the medical examiner's statements that Smith's wounds were indicative of a struggle.

"They have to give you all the pieces of the puzzle," he said. "They can't leave two or three pieces out. In his physical condition, Mr. Mize was not a man looking for trouble. He got up and left."

District Attorney Dennis Sanders told jurors Mize likely left the table to go to his truck to get additional bullets for his handgun. He expressed doubts that Smith ever attempted to take Mize's gun, but rather that Mize intentionally shot Smith.

"Forgiveness is for the Lord, not for the jury," said Sanders. "We're responsible for our actions whether we are sober or intoxicated."

After the jury read their verdict Sanders said justice had been served.

Garrett maintained that the shooting was unintentional and that Mize was placed in the position where he had no choice but to defend himself. He said an appeal would be forthcoming.

$125,559 raised in Jefferson County Relay for Life

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Rain-soaked and short-lived or not, the Relay spirit in Jefferson County is alive and well. Confirming that fact was the announcement May 22 that $125,559 was raised for the American Cancer Society at the county's 2002 Relay for Life fundraiser event.

Relay team captains and other community members met at Wrens Baptist Church for the announcement of the total amount raised and the presentation of various awards by Co-Captains Doug O'Steen and Karen Walden.

"The amount of money raised was tremendous," O'Steen said. "It speaks a lot for the people of this county."

Award winners included: the Street Award winner was Griffin Street in Wrens, the Individual Spirit Award went to Renea Borum and the Best Campsite Award went to the Friends for Life team. The Team Spirit Award was presented to Matthews Community and Friends while the award for the most money raised by a business went to J.M. Huber for their $8,605 effort and the award for the most money raised by a bank, $14,325.04, went to Firstate Bank. An award for the most money raised by a church was presented to Wrens United Methodist Church for $14,317 while the most money raised by an individual went to Jennifer Rodgers for her $14,655 effort. Matthews Community and Friends were presented awards for the most money raised by a community and the most money raised overall reaching $26,000.

O'Steen said the totals from 2002, when combined with the totals from the seven prior years, amount to approximately $771,000 raised by Jefferson County for cancer research.

"This speaks for the closeness and camaraderie of the people of this community," he said.

The 2003 Relay for Life will be held May 2 and 3 at the walking track in Wrens. The theme for the event will be the same as this year's, "It's the Spirit of the USA to Relay."

Near the close of the meeting, Walden and O'Steen told the group about an unexpected, and seemingly unexplainable, occurrence noticed Friday night after the Relay had been cancelled and the rain had ended. The luminaries lining the track had all been flattened from the late afternoon downpour. Yet standing unharmed were the luminaries near the road that spelled HOPE. And in symbolic form, the spirit that embodied the thousands whose lives only hours earlier formed the Path of HOPE refused to fall.

Relay bus visited counties

Local counties are on first annual 47-state Relay for Life bus tour

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The Relay spirit in Jefferson and Glascock counties is hard to beat. That spirit was in full bloom May 15 to welcome and celebrate cancer local survivors and the arrival of the first-ever American Cancer Society Relay for Life bus in Wrens and Gibson.

Coursing its way through 47 states, Jefferson and Glascock were stops number 203 and 204 for the Relay for Life's "Celebration on the Hill" bus tour of the nation that began in New York March 6 and will end Sept. 19 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Cancer survivors and supporters of cancer research in both counties put their signatures on the bus, all over the exterior. Present at Wrens United Methodist Church for the Jefferson County stop were nearly 150 cancer survivors, family and friends. In Gibson, first at Glascock County Consolidated School where hundreds of children rallied and later at the Bank of Gibson with more than 100 survivors and others assembled, even more signatures were added to the bus. Still in its early stages, the Relay bus has garnered more than 27,000 signatures and has traveled nearly 17,000 miles.

The stops by the Relay bus in Glascock and Jefferson was not surprising given the nationally recognized per capita contributions continuously made by each. But much more significant, and more indelible than the ink that put their signatures on the traveling testimony to hope, is the community spirit that has put the two counties on the cancer fundraiser's map.

"I get inspired by the people in Glascock County," said the cancer society's Amy Johnston. "Their volunteers to do everything and in this community everybody helps everybody else. It's like they are all neighbors."

The sentiment of the cancer society's Julie Tollison regarding Jefferson County ran in a similar vein.

"This county pulls together as a whole and puts forth more than 100 percent no matter what we're doing," she said. "This is a unified community with no division at all. Everybody comes together to make a difference."

There has been nothing that can halt the commitment of Glascock and Jefferson residents to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors and raise money for cancer research. Not inclement weather.

Not the loss of family and friends to cancer. Nothing.

That celebration will continue on June 7 and 8 at the Glascock Relay for Life event and again on Sept. 19 when Glascock County residents Gwyn Couch and Mary Chalker and Jefferson County resident Virginia Garrett will walk the track around the Capitol Reflecting Pool at the National Mall as local representatives at the national Relay for Life Celebration on the Hill. The aim of the event is to enhance lawmakers' awareness that many of their constituents intend to become a political force in their advocacy for continued legislative support in the fight to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.

Relay for Life began in 1985 with one man in Tacoma, Washington who raised $27,000 for the American Cancer Society.

In 2002, 3,300 Relay events will be held in communities across America. Relay events nationwide in 2001 raised $212 million.

Since 1985 Relay for Life has raised almost $2 billion for research, education, advocacy and patient services.

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Last modified: May 29, 2002