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November 20, 2008 Issue

Wrens store robbed at gunpoint
On display
EPA tests soil at Vantran building
Burkett sentenced to life for wife's 2005 murder

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Wrens store robbed at gunpoint

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

About 1:15 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 17, three black males entered the Sprint Foods Store on North Main Street in Wrens. They wore masks and carried handguns, according to Investigator David Leonard with the Wrens Police Department.

“They accosted the clerk on duty and forced her at gunpoint to open the cash register, which she did,” Leonard said.

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The men left with an undisclosed amount of money and some merchandise, cigarettes and lighters, he said. “One of the men had grabbed the clerk but she was unhurt. They fled on foot.”

Leonard said this is the third robbery at this store since February.

“All three appeared to be wearing black jackets. Two of them had hoods on the jackets and they were pulled up over their heads. They were all wearing gloves. Two of them had what appeared to be dark colored bandannas around their faces. The third had a red bandanna around his face. One of them was wearing green camouflage cargo pants. The other two were wearing jeans. All were wearing dark colored shoes,” Leonard said.

The three men are wanted for armed robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault in connection with this incident, the investigator said. All charges are felonies.

In a separate incident, police responded to an alarm Saturday, Nov. 15, about 2:30 a.m. at the Jet Food Store on the Waynesboro Highway in Wrens, Leonard said.

Police arrived on the scene and found that the Plexiglas had been knocked out of the frame of the door. Someone entered the store and removed the cash register, Leonard said.

“Besides that, beer was taken,” he said. “We don’t have a suspect. We do have some fingerprint evidence to be processed. The security cameras indicate it was a white male.”

Leonard said the police are asking for anyone with information on either crime to contact the Wrens Police Department at 706-547-3000.



On display

By Leila Borders
Staff writer

From photographs to paintings to pottery, the Fire House Gallery in downtown Louisville has gone local. The Arts Guild’s Annual Fall Exhibit is underway and offers a sampling of just about every art style Jefferson County has to offer.

The exhibit opened Nov. 19 and will run through Nov. 30. It showcases local artists in a myriad of mediums, and an opening reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 22, from 7 to 9 p.m.

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“This is a wonderful opportunity for artists to exhibit and have their work acknowledged and appreciated. It’s monumental for such a small county to have such an active Arts Guild and a fine art gallery,” said Karen Lewis, vice-president of the Arts Guild.

While this exhibit is smaller than the Guild’s spring show, it boasts almost 100 pieces ranging from photographs and paintings to woodwork and pottery. The exhibit also includes jewelry and mixed media pieces. More than 25 artists from all over the county, and some from beyond, have come together to show their newest works and some old favorites.

This year, the exhibit features many pieces of photography from the newly formed Photography Club. The club has quickly become a thriving piece of the Guild, attracting new members and adding a host of new art to the exhibit. Images from all around the county and beyond are on display.

“I think it’s great for the community. I love art even though I’m not an artist. It brings out local talent,” said Marilyn Murphy, Arts Guild member.

The exhibit is open to the public free of charge, as is the opening reception. All are encouraged to come.

“We created the fall show because many families receive relatives over Thanksgiving, and this gives them a place to go and something to do,” said Lil Easterlin, exhibit coordinator.

The exhibit will be open during the Fire House Gallery’s normal business hours which are Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. The gallery will not be open the Wednesday and Thursday of Thanksgiving week.

The Arts Guild is comprised of more than 50 artists and art lovers from around Jefferson County and a few from other areas. It meets once a month and offers members lectures, trips, videos and demonstrations throughout the year. In addition to the annual Fall Exhibit, the Guild also holds an annual Spring Exhibit and members’ work is sold throughout the year in Twisted Sisters in downtown Louisville.



EPA tests soil at Vantran building

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency began a process to evaluate the soil at the former site of Vantran Electric on Hwy 17 just outside the city limits of Louisville.

Contractors from the EPA took soil samples at the site this month and should have results in 60 days, said Dawn Harris Young, a spokesperson with EPA.

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“We are doing a removal site evaluation that consists of a soil investigation,” she said. “In particular, we’re looking for PCBs and solvents.”

Young said the results should be in around Jan. 12, 2009.

“Then we will recommend what our follow up actions will be,” she said.

“Think of this as the first step. This will also let us know if further sampling or more extensive sampling needs to be done,” Young said.

Dave Reuland, a unit coordinator with the Hazardous Response Program of the Georgia EPD said the site already has a known release of PCBs.

Reuland said the site is listed on the hazardous site inventory.

“Basically we’ve asked (Vantran) to do an investigation and a clean up and they have not done that.”

The company is no longer in business. It is unclear if there are any assets the company can use to clean up the site.

PCBs are materials that have been used in transformers. The manufacture of PCBs has been banned since the 1970s, Reuland said.

Although PCBs are no longer made, transformers that were in service at the time of the ban were allowed to still be used, Reuland said.

Tom Jordan, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, has been working to resolve this issue.

“This is preliminary,” he said. “We at one time applied for the Brownfields grant but we could not get a good estimate for mitigating that site. What could be out there could be more than what the grant would cover.”

In order to mitigate the site, the development authority would have to become the property owner. If the grant did not pay for complete mitigation, the development authority would have to pay for the remainder of the cleanup.

Grants are available for assessments as well as for the clean up of hazardous sites. However, each grant is $200,000.



Burkett sentenced to life for wife's 2005 murder

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Family and friends of Janet Burkett wept in a Glascock County courtroom Monday as her husband, Julius Burkett Jr., pleaded guilty to five charges in relation to her March 1, 2005 murder.

The charges, which included malice murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, aggravated stalking and burglary netted Burkett, 41, life in prison plus 50 years in the death of his estranged wife. During the time of the murder, Ms. Burkett had a temporary protective order against Mr. Burkett. The couple had two children during their 12-year union.

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Mr. Burkett was led into the courtroom in foot shackles while staring at Ms. Burkett’s family. He faced several other charges, but made a deal to plead guilty to fewer charges than the original 10, which included rape.

As Superior Court Judge Roger Dunaway Jr. made sure Mr. Burkett understood the circumstances under pleading guilty, Mr. Burkett repeatedly answered, “Yes, to the best of my knowledge.”

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Pat Morgan of the Thomson office, who was seated with District Attorney Dennis Sanders, recounted the events of March 1, 2005, to the judge before the sentencing.

Morgan said that since Ms. Burkett did not come to work that morning, coworkers called Mr. Burkett’s mother to check on her.

“His mother and neighbors went to the residence, where they encountered Mr. Burkett in the house,” Morgan said. “They found her body lying on the bed upstairs.”

Morgan noted that the Burketts had lived together, but were separated. Ms. Burkett's temporary protective order began Feb. 11, 2005, and would have run out in August of that year.

“Arriving at the scene, Mr. Burkett had exited the home,” Morgan stated. “He was found about 45 minutes to an hour later in a wooded area. He had cut both of his wrists in an attempt of suicide.”

At the scene, Morgan said investigators discovered Ms. Burkett’s body on the bed in the master bedroom on the third floor. In the room was a metal weight bar that had an end piece removed. The bar was found bloodied from the brutal beating that was delivered to Ms. Burkett.

“The blood on the bar matched the victim,” Morgan explained to the judge, adding another piece of evidence, “The telephone wire had been cut and there were other signs of a struggle in the bedroom.”

Investigators also found Mr. Burkett’s overalls in the house with his wallet in the pocket.

The autopsy report revealed that Ms. Burkett had 25 external injuries, while suffering four internal injuries. The cause of death was reported as blunt force head trauma and strangulation.

While Mr. Burkett was being held at the McDuffie County Jail, Morgan reported that three inmates gave detailed accounts about the murder of Ms. Burkett.

“They said that he waited on Ms. Burkett to arrive and when she got ready for bed that night, he attacked her and brutally beat her,” Morgan said. “Nobody knew what type of instrument was used. We never released that information to the media, so we knew there was no way they could have known that.”

The information given by the inmates corroborated what the autopsy report was able to reveal to investigators including that she was murdered sometime during the night.

Morgan informed the judge when they began to question Mr. Burkett, he told them that he and Ms. Burkett did have some domestic issues, but quickly requested an attorney.

“She suffered a broken jaw, which is the reason for the aggravated battery,” Morgan said, shaking his head. “Two teeth were missing, one was in her body and the other was clean across the bedroom. This is one of the most violent scenes I have ever seen in my 17 years of service.”

Following Morgan’s evidence, District Attorney Sanders spoke before the courtroom.

“Anytime there is a case like this, it also comes with a horrible set of circumstances and facts,” he said. “What Burkett did, did not only affect his life or his wife’s life, it affected the people in this courtroom. These folks have a loss, a hole within themselves for the rest of their lives that is different from losing someone to uncontrollable circumstances. He took the life of another human being.

“There were two children as a result of this union, a 12 year old daughter and a 6 year old son, at the time of the murder. When we are all gone, these children will still feel the affects. They will be scarred and branded for the rest of their lives. They are living with an internal negative affect and will at sometime realize that being murdered is not an act of God.”

After his statement, Sanders offered the family a chance to speak before the judge in the courtroom. Already filled with emotion and tears sliding down their cheeks, one woman stood before the judge.

“My name is Agnes Swint,” she said in an inaudible cry. “Janet was like my daughter. She was trying to get away from him.”

Swint’s testimony before the judge led to even louder sobs throughout the courtroom.

“I just have one question, why would he want to do this to her,” she asked. “She was so good and worked so hard to have a home and family. I just wish he hadn’t done this.” T

hen the judge allowed Mr. Burkett to stand before him to say his last words to be heard by the court before his sentencing.

“We met in 1990,” Mr. Burkett said of himself and his wife. “She came into this relationship with emotional baggage inflicted by her family. My wife came from a broken home.... Her sisters and grandmother raised my wife.

“But I loved her then and I love her today. Words can’t describe how I feel about her. Everyday I regret it. I love my children and to this day I call them. It is just one side-my side taking care of this responsibility. And now they are healing. I decided to do this because of them-to save them from being traumatized any more.”

After he finished speaking, Judge Dunaway enforced the plea agreement, which included life for malice murder and aggravated assault, which merged into one charge, 20 years for aggravated battery, 20 years for burglary and 10 years for aggravated stalking.

“You receive life plus 50 years,” Judge Dunaway told Mr. Burkett.

Also a part of his plea agreement was that Mr. Burkett will neither seek or be granted parole for 25 years. He also may not file an appeal or habeas corpus, except to enforce the agreement.

Judge Dunaway called for law enforcement to take Mr. Burkett into custody as he was handcuffed with his head hanging down exiting the courtroom.

District Attorney Sanders asked Judge Dunaway after Mr. Burkett was led away, if a 2005 possession of controlled substance-oxycodone and possession of marijuana could be placed in dead docket for the time being, which was granted.




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