Use the form below to filter for articles containing certain key words. Use the calendar on the right for articles published during a certain Month, Year.

June 30--  U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., along with 26 of their Republican colleagues, have sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeating an earlier demand for answers on why she has solicited money from regulated health care companies to help the private, non-profit group that is enrolling Americans in Obamacare.

The new letter comes in the wake of Sebelius failing to provide the detailed answers sought in earlier letters on this issue, including one sent by Isakson and his fellow Republican senators on the Senate Finance Committee.

In the earlier letters sent in May to Secretary Sebelius requesting information on reports that she was fundraising for Enroll America, HHS responded with identical letters merely confirming the news reports from recent weeks that Secretary Sebelius has been soliciting money and other support to benefit Enroll America.  The follow-up letter this week from the 28 senators is requesting information and documents that were omitted in the agency’s response and that should give further information on the extent of the Secretary’s fundraising and the nature of the relationship with Enroll America.

Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) were also signatories on the letter.

 The full text of the letter below:

 June 27, 2013

 The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius


Dear Madam Secretary:

We are writing to follow up on identical letters from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Senator Alexander and, separately, to Senator Hatch and Finance Committee Republicans dated June 3, 2013, in response to their letters questioning your fundraising efforts as reported in The Washington Post and The New York Times.  The letters provided confirmation for the first time that you solicited entities HHS regulates. They also revealed that the relationship between Enroll America and HHS is closer than previously known.  The letters unfortunately did not respond to several questions asked by Senate Republicans and neither did your agency provide documents that were requested, despite referencing the documents in the responses.

Your agency’s letters confirmed news reports from recent weeks that you have been soliciting money and other support to benefit Enroll America, a nonprofit HHS describes as a “valuable partner” that is “playing a central role” in promoting enrollment on the new health insurance exchanges.  Your agency stated that you have asked two non-regulated entities to give money to Enroll America since January, and revealed that you have asked at least three other entities in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries to give support to Enroll America.  The letters state that you made these phone calls in your official capacity as Secretary of the Department and that these solicitations occurred at the request of Enroll America.  Enroll America even suggested talking points for these calls.

The letters read:

“[T]he Secretary has applauded [Enroll America] publicly and in private conversations numerous times and urged others to support its important work in a number of ways outside of financial contributions.  The Secretary has publicly described Enroll America as a valuable partner ….

“In addition to the Secretary’s public statements of support, over the last few months, at Enroll America’s suggestion, she has made telephone calls to three other organizations—Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson, and Ascension Health—to ask that these corporate leaders support Enroll America’s work through their own public expressions of support, and by providing the organization technical support and advice.”

Since receiving these letters, we have also learned that you and President Obama attended a meeting at the White House on May 1, 2013, with private foundations during which the private sector’s work with Enroll America was discussed.

Your agency’s letters defended these actions by comparing them to outreach for the new Medicare Part D and Children’s Health Insurance Program laws passed during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  HHS did engage in broad public outreach efforts and in some cases worked with the private sector to support these programs.  However, we can find no evidence that an HHS Secretary ever solicited money or services for any specific third-party organization, particularly one run by a former White House aide as a “Plan B” when appropriated funds were denied to HHS by Congress.  In this case, you have admitted to asking, in your official capacity, private sector entities to donate money and services to help a specific entity, Enroll America, carry out a job for which Congress has expressly denied HHS additional funding.

Your agency also compared Enroll America to the federally chartered National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.  However, those foundations are specifically created in statute and chartered as public-private partnerships.  The statute and legislative history direct HHS to work with the foundations, to provide resources to the foundations, and to set up funds for non-federal donations.  Enroll America, a private-sector non-profit working with the administration on activities for which Congress refused to provide additional appropriations, is not analogous to the federally chartered foundations.

Regarding ethics issues, your agency asserts that federal ethics laws “do not purport to dictate the ethical parameters under which agencies may act” when fundraising in an official capacity.  However, the rules governing fundraising in an official’s private capacity are not the only relevant laws.  The federal ethics rules also prohibit gifts from prohibited sources, and a gift includes money or other services “[g]iven to any other person, including any charitable organization, on the basis of designation, recommendation, or other specification by the employee.”  5 CFR 2635.203.  Health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies certainly fall under the definition of “prohibited sources” who “conduct activities regulated by [HHS].”

Thus, your agency’s arguments hinge entirely on its claims that two provisions added to the Public Health Service Act in 1976 give the Secretary authority to fundraise for Enroll America.  These amendments state, “The Secretary is authorized to conduct and support by grant or contract (and to encourage others to support) new and innovative programs in health information and health promotion, preventive health services, and education in the appropriate use of health care….”  42 U.S.C. § 300u-2.  Your agency claims this provision “provides the Secretary broad authority beyond that available to other government officials.”  This is an unprecedented interpretation of the statute, and in 37 years we are not aware of it ever having been used to fundraise for a private entity in this manner.  No reasonable reading of this language could allow an HHS Secretary to bypass Congressional appropriations and ethics laws to fundraise for any third-party entity that can be vaguely described as promoting health information.

The Appropriations Clause is arguably the Constitution’s single most important curb on executive branch power.  Article I of the Constitution gives Congress alone the power of the purse.  Your agency requested additional money to implement the exchanges, and Congress denied that request.  You cannot evade Congress’ Constitutional power of the purse through gifts or donations to an entity that appears to be “just an arm of the administration,” as one health industry official described Enroll America in The Hill.

Many questions remain about the level of coordination between Enroll America and the administration, and the degree to which HHS has been seeking support for it or other third-party entities.  Your agency’s letters do not answer specific questions raised in Senator Alexander’s May 13, 2013, letter or requests from Senator Hatch and other Republicans on the Finance Committee on May 14, 2013.

We urge HHS to immediately stop its solicitation for, and coordination with, Enroll America until these questions have been answered.


June 29-- Southeastern Technical College’s cosmetology program is primarily concerned with sharpening the skills students use behind the chair, but Swainsboro and Vidalia classes got an education on the skills used to get the chair itself.

Lady Renee Industries, a longtime partner of STC Cosmetology, hosted both classes at their facility in Cedar Crossing, a trip intended to shed light on the business side of their profession.


“This trip gives the students the opportunity to see a manufacturing facility where quality salon equipment is made,” said Linda Hairr, cosmetology instructor for the Vidalia campus. “We hope it helps them to see the benefits of buying equipment and services from a local company.”

The instructors emphasize that what you buy is just as important as what you can do with it, though that necessitates more shrewdness than extravagance.

“I want them to learn to shop smart for furniture when planning to open a salon or rent a booth,” said Peggy Braswell, cosmetology instructor for the Swainsboro campus. “Also, they must watch the supplies they purchase and understand that more money spent does not always mean better quality.”

Lady Renee and Southeastern Tech have enjoyed a long relationship, bolstered by the company’s support of the school and the instructors’ faith in the company’s products.

“We have been using Lady Renee at the school for years and have always been satisfied with the equipment and products,” said Althea Telfair, Vidalia campus cosmetology instructor. “We’ll continue to take our students to visit Lady Renee facilities.”

“They have always supported the school with donations,” said Braswell. “The students and instructors were all given a gift bag yesterday with various products that are usable in the profession.  Lady Renee has also contributed to fund raisers and competitions that the students have attended.”

Those years of support make it easy for the instructors to be fans of Lady Renee, but the fact that each of them has great confidence in the company’s products makes it even easier.

“Lady Renee is a reliable company, they manufacture their equipment using products made in the USA, their products come with a great warranty and they do their own service work,” said Hairr. “They will even come to your business to pick up the equipment and give you a loaner—something unheard of in today’s world.”






June 28--  The Toombs County Tax Assessors Office is playing catchup and it's latest property revaluations are alarming some property owners.

George Powell is chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors and says recent revaluation notices should have been done years ago.

"We should have done it about four years ago.  We got pricing from an outside firm and it was going to cost the county almost $450,000.  We decided because of the economic times at the time to do it in our office to save the county money and we've been working on it about two-and-a-half years now," he said.

Commercial property owners are being hit the hardest with some seeing their property values doubled or tripled.

"The commercial property has not been within the state ratios for probaby seven or eight years or more and the State Department of Revenue was at the point they were going to start levying a fine against the county.

"There were a lot of people that their commercial property went up two hundred to three hundred percent.  They were way low to begin with and they're going to paying more taxes.  At the same time, for all these years, they've not been paying their fair share of the county, cities' and school systems' operating budgets.  Somebody else has been paying their share," Powell noted.

According to Powell, owners of rural property may see increases or decreases in their acreage values based on a productivity code employed in the revaluation.

Powell says property owners who question the new property values should contact the Tax Assessors office at the Toombs County courthouse.  If they can't reach agreement, they can appeal to the Board of Tax Equalization for relief and, if thwarted there, take the case to Superior Court.

In many cases, property owners may not see a significant increase in the actual taxes they pay because taxing authorities are not allowed to reap windfall profits based on the new revaluation.  Unless they want to hold public hearings and increase millage rates, they must rollback the tax rate to offset the increased value of property in the county.

June 27--  U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today made the following statements in response to the Senate passage of S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The bill passed by a vote of 68 to 32 with Isakson and Chambliss both voting No. 

Isakson Statement:

“I believe that immigration reform is an important issue that our country must address—that’s why I voted to begin debate on this bill several weeks ago. Although this bill is in some ways an improvement from the immigration bill in 2007, I had hoped that the Senate would produce a bipartisan bill that truly solved the many issues plaguing our nation’s outdated immigration system.

“I have said for many years and from day one of this debate that border security is my top priority, and I am disappointed that S.744 does not ensure true border security. I voted against S.744 today because it contained several waivers and loopholes that could allow those who are here illegally to obtain green cards before our nation’s borders are truly secure.

“The Senate vote today is just the beginning of the process. I look forward to seeing what the House produces on immigration reform, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Chambliss Statement:
“Legal immigration is the foundation of America. Almost every American can point to the moment when their ancestors came to America to forge a better life for themselves and their families. It is with this strong tradition of acceptance that we must look at immigration reform. Any immigration bill must first secure the borders, and then make the path for legal entry smoother. We had a real shot here to do this right. Unfortunately, this bill did not include the verifiable border security piece. Additionally, the agricultural program under this bill had some major flaws.

“As someone from the heart of ag country in south Georgia, I care deeply about making sure our farmers and ranchers are able to access a stable and legal workforce when sufficient American workers cannot be found. I am disappointed and frustrated my amendments that would have fixed these problems were not considered. Unfortunately, in the end this was a bill I simply could not support.

“I hope the House can fix some of the problems my colleagues and I have identified in this bill. We still have an opportunity to do this in the right way once and for all.”

The House has indicated that it will not take up the Senate bill that was passed today. Some House members have expressed that they might introduce new immigration reform legislation that predicates a path to citizenship or legal status on securing our nation’s borders.

June 27--  The Treutlen County Board of Education is hiring the Deputy School Superintendent from Liberty County to head the Treutlen school system.

School board chairman Alvin Heath says the board wants Dr. Cheryl Conley because she brings 23 years of experience to the school superintendent's office.

{mosimage}"She has just a lot of experience that we think we need.  She's going to have to wear many hats in our system and she's worn many hats down there, so we think she'll fit right in our system.

She wants to look at our budget and our allotment sheets and she thinks she can find us some money.  We can't wait for her to get hold of that," Health said.

Dr. Conley lives near Claxton and is a former special education teacher.  She's looking forward to working in a smaller school system.

"I just felt a calling to return to a smaller district.  With all the changes in education today, I really want to be in a system that is family oriented and where I can know the students and know the staff.  I think it's just an answer to a prayer,' she said.

The new superintendent says she believes in communication and urges parental involvement in the schools.

"I hope people will feel comfortable enough to come in and share things with me, the good, the bad and the ugly.  My style is, when there is a problem, you get in a room, you close the door, you put everybody in there that needs to be there, you work it out and then you shake hands and move forward.  I don't believe in holding grudges or personal agendas.  I think we have to do everyting for the kids," she believes.

Dr. Conley holds bachelors and masters degrees from Georgia Southern and a doctorate from NOVA Southeastern University.  She spent seven years at Bradwell Institute before moving to work with the Liberty County Board of Education.

She and her husband have two daughters and three grandchildren. 


June 26--  Five people were arrested in Montgomery County Tuesday on drug charges.

Montgomery County Sheriff's Investigator Justin Fountain says four were apprehended at the residence of Clara Williams at 5336 Highway 221 South in Uvalda.  Williams and Shannon Newsome, Robert Lee Johnson and Robert McCoy, all of Toombs County, are charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.

Fountain says Robert Presgraves of Montgomery County has also been arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

Fountain says citizens can help fight drugs in Montgomery County by providing his office with information about suspected drug users and dealers.  If you have info, call the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, 583-2521.

June 26--  A 1991 graduate of Vidalia High School takes over as Warden at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville Monday.

{mosimage}Robert Toole joined the Department of Corrections after getting his degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia Southern in 1996.  He served as Superintendent at Smith, Telfair and Milan State Prisons and Warden at Wilcox and Ware State Prisons before being assigned to the maximum security prison at Redisville.

"Reidsville is a different inmate population.  It's some of the more hardened criminals in the system and has some of the inmates who can't be managed at other facilities.  The biggest challenge is keeping a convicted felon behind the fence, protecting the public and insuring the safety of the inmates and the staff at the facility," he says.

Another mission the warden takes seriously is giving inmates a chance at rehabilitation.

"Ninety percent of all offenders are going to return to the free world at some point.  It's our job to insure they are rehabilitated and become tax paying citizens.  

"Any offender that does not have a GED, we give them the opportunity to earn a GED while they are incarcerated.  If an inmate has a substance abuse problem, we give them some treatment for that so maybe they don't go back out and get back on the substance that possibly caused them to come into the system," Toole reports.

As Warden Toole arrives at Reidsville, he notes his grandfather was a guard there and his mother, Barbara Taylor of Vidalia, lived on the prison grounds as a girl.

"My mother was actually raised there on the reservation.  My grandfather worked there before he passed away and it's sort of come full circle for my mother," he says.

Warden Toole's wife, Ann Michelle, teaches at Vidalia High School and they have an 11-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy in the school system. 

June 25--  Former Lyons Mayor John Moore died Monday evening at his home in Lyons.  He had been suffering with brain cancer for the past two-and-a-half years.

{mosimage}"We will  honor his life, but it's definitely a relief that he's not suffering anymore," said Lyons Mayor Willis NeSmith who called Moore his mentor, "I looked to him for a lot of things, he was my mentor."

Mayor Moore led Lyons as mayor for 14 years and before that served on the city council.

"Any kind of modernization we've got going on are just things we are carrying on from him from our wastewater treatment plant to our downtown revitalization.

He always said he was adopted by this town because he grew up in Cobbtown, but he said this is his town, that Lyons is his hometown, and he really did take that to heart," Mayor Neesmith noted.

Mayor Moore was elected the Third Ward city councilman in Lyons in 1986 and served until his election as mayor in 1996.

Mayor Moore's funeral is Thursday morning at eleven o'clock at the First United Methodist Church of Lyons.  

The family will receive friends at the Ronald v. Hall Funeral Home in Vidalia Wednesday from five until eight p.m.


June 25-- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday gutted a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to end a century of attempts by former slave-holding states to block blacks from voting.

In a 5-4 ruling with the court's conservatives in the majority, the justices ruled that Congress had used obsolete reasoning in continuing to force nine states, mainly in the South, to get federal approval for voting rule changes affecting blacks and other minorities.

The court ruled in favor of officials from Shelby County, Ala., by declaring invalid a section of the law that set a formula that determines which states need federal approval to change voting laws.

President Barack Obama quickly called on Congress to pass a new law to ensure equal access to voting polls for all.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision today," Obama said in a statement, adding the court's action "upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent."

The ruling upended important legal protections for minority voters that were a key achievement of the civil rights movement of the 1960s led by Martin Luther King Jr. The decision also placed the burden on Congress — sharply divided along party lines to the point of virtual gridlock — to pass any new voting rights law like the one sought by Obama.

Writing for the majority, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said the coverage formula that Congress used when it most recently reauthorized the law in 2006 should have been updated.

"Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions," he wrote. "It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day."

The coverage formula therefore violates the sovereignty of the affected states under the Constitution, Roberts said.

One of the most closely watched disputes of the court's current term, the case centers on the civil rights-era law that broadly prohibited poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures that prevented blacks from voting. In the 1960s, such laws existed throughout the country but were more prevalent in the South with its legacy of slavery.

The Shelby County challengers said the kind of systematic obstruction that once warranted treating the South differently is over and the screening provision should be struck down.

The Obama administration, backed by civil rights advocates, had argued that the provision was still needed to deter voter discrimination.

The ruling is a heavy blow for civil rights advocates, who believe the loss of that section of the law could lead to an increase in attempts to deter minorities from voting. They said 31 proposals made by covered jurisdictions to modify election laws had been blocked by the Justice Department under Section 5 of the law since the measure was re-enacted in 2006.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, accused the Supreme Court of leaving "millions of minority voters without the mechanism that has allowed them to stop voting discrimination before it occurs."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, on Tuesday pledged to move quickly to try to restore voting rights protections after the ruling.

"I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting," Leahy said.

The court, split on ideological lines, did not go so far as to strike down the core Section 5 of the law, known as the preclearance provision, which requires certain states to get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making election-law changes.

But the majority did invalidate Section 4b of the act, which set the formula for states covered by Section 5 and was based on historic patterns of discrimination against minority voters.

Although Section 5 is technically left intact, it is effectively nullified, at least for the near future, as Congress would now need to pass new legislation setting a new formula before it can be applied again.

In her dissenting opinion on behalf of the liberal wing of the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Section 5 is now "immobilized."

Ginsburg read a summary of her dissent from the bench, quoting the late civil rights leader King. In her written opinion, she accused Roberts of downplaying the authority Congress has under amendments to the Constitution that were enacted after the Civil War when slavery was first prohibited but concerns remained about how former Confederate states would treat black people.

Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization "with great care and seriousness," she added. "The same cannot be said of the court's opinion today."

Section 5 of the law required certain states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change does not discriminate against black, Latino or other minority voters.

The nine fully covered states were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said of the ruling: "Make no mistake about it, this is a back-door way to gut the Voting Rights Act. As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don't have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance."

"It is confounding that after decades of progress on voting rights, which have become part of the American fabric, the Supreme Court would tear it asunder," Schumer added.

Tuesday's ruling leaves intact Section 2 of the act, which broadly prohibits intentional discrimination in the voting arena. The Justice Department will still be able to intervene to enforce the law in that respect.

The issue of voting rights remains prominent in the United States. During the 2012 presidential election campaign, judges nationwide heard challenges to new voter identification laws and redrawn voting districts. The most restrictive moves ended up being blocked before the November elections.

Just last week, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona state law that required people registering to vote in federal elections to show proof of citizenship, a victory for activists who said it discouraged Native Americans and Latinos from voting.

Democrats say that and similar measures, championed by Republicans at the state level, were intended to make it more difficult for certain voters who tend to vote Democratic to cast ballots.

In February, Obama decried barriers to voting in America and announced a commission to address voting issues.

June 25--  Monday the United States Senate voted to end debate on the Leahy substitute amendment #1183 to S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.

The motion to end debate requires 60 votes in favor, regardless of the number of senators voting against. Due to flight delays, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., missed the cloture vote. Chambliss and Isakson would have voted no on the motion to end debate.

The motion to end debate passed by a vote of 67-27. There will now be a vote to adopt the Leahy amendment #1183 later in the week.

“I regret my flight delay tonight prevented me from voting against ending debate on the 1,200 page Leahy substitute amendment,” said Chambliss. “We all know our immigration system is broken and we need to fix it. However, we should be having a full and open debate on solutions, not rushing to finish the bill before Sen. Reid’s artificial deadline.  I have serious concerns with several provisions in the bill including border security, interior enforcement, and the program designed to address our agricultural labor workforce, and until those concerns are addressed I cannot support limiting debate.”  

“I regret that I missed today’s vote because my first flight was canceled and my next flight was delayed by bad weather. Had I been here for the vote, I would have voted no on this motion to end debate on this amendment,” said Isakson. “While I appreciate and applaud the vast improvements in the border security provisions, I feel there were still too many waivers and other loopholes that could have allowed green cards to be issued before our nation’s borders were truly secured.”


June 24--  Georgia's 12th District congressman is criticizing President Obama's trip to Africa.

{mosimage}Democrat Congressman John Barrow made his remarks on the House floor as the President and his family embark on a multi-million dollar trip while at the same time furloughing federal workers.

"Madam Speaker, very soon thousands of folks in my district in Georgia and even more across the state, will be furloughed because of the budget sequester.

"Studies have shown the sequester will cost the Georgia economy approximately $107 million.  Meanwhile, reports circulated this week that President Obama's trip to Africa will cost taxpayers nearly $100 million.

"Madam Speaker, no one here questions the need for security for our Commander-in-Chief.  But, we do question the need for such expensive trips when so many folks across the country are being forced to cut back because Congress can't get its act together. 

"A trip of this magnitude is not unusual, but these are hard times. One hundred million dollars could be better used to keep people on the job.  I urge the President and everybody on the federal level to lead by example and not take the fact that Congress can't get its act together and rub that in the face of hardworking Americans," Barrow said.

Meanwhile, the White House confirms President Obama and his family have cancelled plans to go on a safari while in Africa.  According to The Washington Post, the plans were changed after the paper asked the White House how much the safari would cost.


June 24--  The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office is continuing its crackdown on drugs in the county.

Investigator Justin Fountain says the latest arrest occurred earlier this month at a house located at 206 Peterson Road.

The resident, Slade Clements, was arrested and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.  He's being held without bond in the Toombs County jail, according to Fountain.

June 24--  The Toombs County Commission has approved a bid to resurface two county roads.

At its June meeting, the commission accepted a low bid of $541,907.45 from Everett Dykes Grassing Company of Cochran to resurface B.A. Darley Road and Sanders Road this summer.  Four other companies submitted bids for the work.

The commission also renewed the county's property and liability insurance policy with Bishop-Durden Insurance Company in Vidalia.  The annual premium is $131,000, an increase of about $10,000 from the current policy.

June 24--  A week ago our readers were furnished a video link detailing how the Internal Revenue Service paid over $4 billion in refunds to illegal aliens in the United States.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports millions of those dollars were sent to illegals in Georgia.

IRS sends 23,994 refunds to “unauthorized” workers at Atlanta address

Carla Caldwell, Morning Call Editor

The Internal Revenue Service sent 23,994 tax refunds worth a combined $46,378,040 to “unauthorized” alien workers who all used the same address in Atlanta, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The refunds, issued in 2011, were discussed in a TIGTA audit. And it wasn’t just one Atlanta address that received a tremendous amount of refunds for “unauthorized” alien workers receiving millions in federal tax refunds in 2011, reports

Four of the top 10 addresses to which the IRS sent thousands of tax refunds to “unauthorized” aliens were in Atlanta, the audit revealed.

The audit says 11,284 “unauthorized” aliens at another Atlanta address received $2,164,976, a third Atlanta address received 3,608 refunds for $2,691,448, and a fourth Atlanta address received 2,386 refunds totaling $1,232,943.

Other locations on the IG’s Top 10 list for singular addresses that were theoretically used simultaneously by thousands of unauthorized alien workers, included:

*An address in Oxnard, Calif, where the IRS sent 2,507 refunds worth $10,395,874.

*An address in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the IRS sent 2,408 refunds worth $7,284,212.

*An address in Phoenix, Ariz., where the IRS sent 2,047 refunds worth $5,558,608.

* An address in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where the IRS sent 1,972 refunds worth $2,256,302.

*An address in San Jose, Calif., where the IRS sent 1,942 refunds worth $5,091,027.

*And an address in Arvin, Calif., where the IRS sent 1,846 refunds worth $3,298,877.

Click here to access the audit. Note that information specific to Atlanta is on page 18.



June 24--  The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is giving Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon a year to get off accreditation probation.

College President Dr. Mike Simoneaux says the "Good Cause" extension means students who attend BPC don't have to worry about the credibility of their college courses.

"Students can come and have no worry about transferability.  We are what we call 'fully accredited' and kids can come, parents have no need to be concerned and I'm just very, very pleased," he said.

Dr. Simoneaux says the decsion validates the work that has been going on at the college.

"SACS believes we have everything in place to have probation taken off next year.  We're fully accredited and have a year to fix a couple more things and we're excited that SACS has recognized the good work we've done this year," he said.

The Georgia Baptist Convention helped the college with a challenge grant which Dr. Simoneaux says helped influence the SACS decision.

"Their administration committee pitched in and gave us a $500,000 Challenge Grant which we matched in just a little over six weeks.  I'm so pleased with the community.  They responded to this $500,000 grant which was a major ingredient in this decison for SACS.  Thank you Vidalia, Montgomery County and Toombs County, it's great," Dr. Simoneaux noted.

June 22--  A couple of political action groups have issued statements in the aftermath of two votes last week in the U.S. Congress.

U.S. House Passes Bill to Protect Unborn in Sixth Month and Later; National Right to Life Commends Seven Georgia Lawmakers


WASHINGTON, June 22, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives today passed landmark legislation to provide nationwide protection for unborn children who are capable of feeling pain, beginning at 20 weeks fetal age (equivalent to "22 weeks of pregnancy"), the beginning of the sixth month.

The legislation, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797), is based on model legislation developed by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the federation of state right-to-life organizations. The bill passed by a vote of 228-196, with six House members crossing party lines in each direction.

"This legislation reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of both men and women," said NRLC President Carol Tobias. "The Obama White House, and all but a handful of House Democrats, fought for essentially unlimited abortion in the sixth month or later, despite growing public awareness of the violence perpetrated by late-term abortionists such as Kermit Gosnell and the pain they inflict on unborn babies."

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson strongly commended seven members of the Georgia House delegation, all Republicans, for voting for the bill: Doug Collins, Phil Gingrey, Tom Graves, Jack Kingston, Tom Price, Austin Scott, and Lynn Westmoreland. He said NRLC was "extremely disappointed" in Republican Reps. Paul Broun and Rob Woodall. "In the 435-member House, Broun and Woodall are the only lawmakers who identify themselves as pro-life but who voted against this bill."

H.R. 1797 would allow abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization if the mother's life is endangered, or in cases of rape and incest reported prior to the abortion to appropriate authorities. H.R. 1797 is based on an NRLC model bill that has already been enacted in nine states, including Georgia (but the Georgia law contains an exception to allow abortion of handicapped unborn babies, not found in the federal bill).

In a nationwide poll of 1,003 registered voters in March, The Polling Company found that 64% would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks -- when an unborn baby can feel pain -- unless the life of the mother is in danger. Only 30% opposed such legislation. Women voters split 63%-31% in support of such a law, and 63% of independent voters supported it.

AFP Applauds House for Defeating Farm Bill
Rep. Kingston voted to pass bloated corporate welfare bill.

ATLANTA -- Last week, Americans For Prosperity launched a major grassroots effort utilizing emails, phone calls, web videos, and social media to pressure lawmakers to vote no on the farm bill. That effort specifically targeted 10 House Republicans and 5 Democrats, including Rep. Jack Kingston (GA-1).

Unfortunately, Kingston joined the minority and voted for final passage on a bloated, corporate welfare bill that also provides cover for passage of a food stamps program that has undergone precious little reform.

AFP-Georgia State Director Virginia Galloway said, "I'm heartened by the bipartisan opposition to on display in the House today; it's a victory for taxpayers and small farmers that lawmakers will now have to go back to the table. They will need to have a real debate about nutritional assistance programs, the cost of which has skyrocketed, and take a hard look at who else the Farm Bill has actually been helping -- the small farmer, or large corporate farm operations and even sitting congressmen? I'm hopeful that when this bill returns to the floor, it will be significantly altered, with adequate taxpayer protections."

AFP Director of Policy James Valvo said, “It is long past time to separate the farm and food components of this legislation and consider them on their own merits. Today’s defeat is a signal that the big spending alliance in Congress is breaking down and a new way of doing business is coming to Washington 


by Tom McLaughlin, Defuniak Springs, FL

June 20-- A Walton County jury has decided that Seagrove Beach resident Steven Cozzie should die for the murder of 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes.

The 12-member group spent two hours in discussion before returning to the courtroom about 11 a.m., Thursday to notify Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells that they believed he should sentence the 23-year-old Cozzie to death.

Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother, addressed the media after the jury made its recommendation. It was the first time the family had spoken publicly since the Cozzie trial began almost two weeks ago.

“We feel relieved. We feel vindicated. We feel this is the penalty he should have gotten,” Wilkes said. “It doesn’t relieve our circumstances, but today may be the first day of our healing.”

A Spencer Hearing, at which Prosecutor Bobby Elmore and the Cozzie defense team will have one more opportunity to argue for the death penalty or an alternative of life in prison without parole is to be scheduled. Wells will impose his sentence at some point after the Spencer Hearing.

{mosimage}Cozzie looked somewhat stunned in the moments after the jury announced that each of its members shared the belief he should be executed. A couple of jurors did appear to be crying after the recommendation was read to the court by the clerk, but when polled each member said that they agreed with the call for death by lethal injection. (Photo Northwest Florida Daily News)

A tired Elmore said he was “comfortable” the jury had made the right decision.

“The world was a better place with Courtney Wilkes in it,” he said. “And the world will be a better place with Steven Cozzie removed from it.”

Courtney Wilkes was a bright, happy high schooler in June of 2011 when she arrived in Seagrove Beach to spend a week vacationing with her parents, sister and brother.

On June 16, Cozzie, who the Wilkes’ had seen hanging around the Beachcrest Condominium at which they were staying, asked Courtney Wilkes to accompany him on a walk and her mother, seeing the enthusiasm in Courtney’s face, agreed to allow her to go.

At the secluded Cassine Gardens nature trail nearby, Cozzie turned on Wilkes, throwing his shirt around her neck and subduing her through strangulation. He then dragged her limp body 75 feet into the dry Cypress swamp, where he raped her and then beat her viciously to death with a heavy piece of lumber.

Friday, the same jury that recommended the death penalty found Cozzie guilty of first degree premeditated murder, sexual assault, aggravated child abuse and kidnapping.

During the penalty phase that followed the actual trial, attorney Sharon Wilson presented Cozzie family members who described the defendant as a mentally challenged young man who had been physically, emotionally and sexually battered both inside and outside of his home for most of his life.

In her final statements to the jury Wednesday, Wilson asked that they grant Cozzie mercy by sentencing him to life in prison.

Courtney Wilkes’ family was present every day at the trial and during the penalty phase. When it was over Thursday, Toni Wilkes said the family would be going back home to their small community of Lyons, Ga., and there she would visit Courtney to let her know the outcome of the proceedings.

“She was an amazing girl. Maybe too good for this world,” Toni Wilkes said.

She thanked the Walton County community that has embraced her family as well as her own rural town in Georgia for support.

“We felt like they made it as easy as it could be for us,” she said.

An emotional Gwendolyn Schmidt, Cozzie’s sister, spoke briefly with the Wilkes’ family after the jury recommendation was announced. She apologized for the family’s loss.

“We’re sorry for you too,” Toni Wilkes told the young woman.

June 19-- Wednesday Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the U.S. District Court (Southern District of Georgia) ruled in favor of the Ogeechee Riverkeeper (ORK) in an attempt by King America Finishing to have the lawsuit against it brought by ORK dismissed in its entirety.

The lawsuit against King America Finishing, Inc. (KAF), owned by Chicago-based Westex, Inc. alleges that KAF has in the past and continues to this day to violate the federal Clean Water Act by continuing to discharge pollutants into the Ogeechee River. The suit filed by Stack & Associates and GreenLaw on behalf of ORK seeks to force KAF to cease such discharges and be held accountable for its contribution to the May 2011 fish kill that led to the death of nearly 38,00 fish of a dozen different species.

In her order, Judge Wood ruled that ORK properly alleged that KAF's discharges were not wholly past and that ORK further properly brought claims against KAF for its actions relating to the discharge, monitoring, or reporting requirements for formaldehyde, ammonia, color, and pH.

She further ruled that even though the State EPD had taken what KAF claimed was a comparable enforcement action which would preclude ORK's citizen's suit, the State regulatory scheme was not comparable inasmuch as it did not afford the general public the same rights to involvement that are provided by the federal Act.

Judge Wood did grant KAF's motion to the extent that it sought relief for claims at this time relating to some specified secondary pollutants. However, the Order does not prohibit ORK from bringing such claims following a 60- day notice of intent to do so should ORK determine such is necessary and appropriate.

The lawsuit alleges that King America knowningly violated the Clean Water Act for more than six years and that this illegal discharge caused one of the largest fish kills in Georgia history. Under the Clean Water Act, when the government does not adequately punish a polluter involved in an ongoing illegal discharge, private citizens and citizen groups can file a lawsuit seeking to have a court do what the State did not.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper's case also seeks to have a court fine King America Finishing for its pollution of the river and to issue an order stopping the illegal discharge.

"We are very pleased that the Court has recognized the legitimacy of ORK's efforts to protect the citizens of the State and has upheld the heart of our case- the fact that King America Finishing has been discharging without a permit," said Emily Markesteyn, Executive Director of Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

"In addition to addressing the continuing illegal discharges into the River from KAF, Judge Wood also ruled that the State's regulatory scheme for allowing citizens of this State who are most directly affected by such illegal discharges is not comparable to the minimum standards intended by the enactment of the Clean Water Act more than 40 years ago" said Don Stack of Stack & Associates, co-counsel in this case. "It is our hope that together with recent prior rulings issued by federal District Court judges in Macon and Atlanta on this same issue, the State will immediately begin to take steps to bring its practices in line with those required by the Clean Water Act," Stack expressed.

King America Finishing produces fabric for a number of purposes. Around 2006, the company added two flame retardant process lines to its wastewater discharge but failed to get a permit to discharge the pollution from these additional process lines into the Ogeechee River.

In May of 2011, one of the largest fish kills in Georgia history occurred below King America Finishing's discharge pipe, affecting nearly 70 miles of the river and killing over 38,000 fish. There were no dead fish found upstream of the King America facility, and attention quickly turned to the company's discharge site as the culprit. EPD belatedly concluded that the company's discharge was harmful to aquatic life. Testing revealed that excessive levels of ammonia, one of the unpermitted pollutants King America was discharging, was the primary contaminant.

June 19--  Wednesday was a long day of expert testimony and cross-examination in the death penalty phase of the Steven Cozzie trial in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

The 23-year-old Cozzie was convicted last Friday of brutally murdering 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes of Lyons two years ago while she and her family were on a beach vacation.

Our Courtroom Reporter Tom McLaughlin reports...

" Twelve jurors have spent seven days listening to testimony during the trial and penalty phases of the first degree murder trial of Steven Cozzie.

Thursday each will be asked to decide whether he or she believes Cozzie should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.

In closing penalty phase arguments Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore laid out the reasons that he believed Cozzie should die for the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” means he used to end the life of 15-year-old Georgia resident Courtney Wilkes.

“Now it’s for you to decide whether what Steven Cozzie did to a special, precious, exceptional child deserves the ultimate punishment,” Elmore said. “I submit if it does not, no crime does.”

Defense Attorney Sharon Wilson pointed to the “parade of horribles” that Cozzie’s 23 years on earth have been and asked jurors to take mercy on “a very sick boy.”

“I call him a boy because mentally and emotionally he is a child,” she said.

Cozzie was convicted Friday of first degree premeditated murder for the June 16, 2011 killing of Wilkes, who he lured away from the South Walton beachfront condominium she was staying at with her family.

He convinced Wilkes to visit the Cassine Gardens Nature Trail with him and when she mentioned she needed to leave he attacked her with a shirt, strangled her into submission, then raped her and beat her to death with a heavy piece of lumber.

Cozzie was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated child abuse and sexual assault along with the murder.

{mosimage}  Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells confers with attorneys during the penalty phase of he Cozzie trial. (Photo Northwest Florida Daily News)

Thursday morning, after receiving final instructions from Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells, the jurors will retire to their quarters and decide individually what their recommendation regarding Cozzie’s fate will be. The conclusion of the majority will serve as the recommendation of the body.

Wells must, by law, give “great weight” to the recommendation provided, but ultimately the final decision on sentencing will be his. He may impose sentence immediately or he may take the jury recommendation under advisement and pass sentence at a later time.

Wilson noted in her closing that Cozzie’s “parade of horribles” had been laid bare for jurors during the course of the weeklong trial and two-day sentencing phase. At trial Elmore had presented graphic evidence as he described the gruesome nature of the crime and the injuries inflicted on Wilkes, a popular Lyon’s, Georgia resident one month away from her 16th birthday.

During the sentencing phase, it was the defense team’s turn to discuss the awful circumstances surrounding Cozzie’s upbringing. Family members and later psychologists described physical, emotional and sexual abuse inflicted on a mentally deficient child by his father, step mother and siblings at home and others outside the home environment who found him “weird” and an easy mark for bullying and exploitation.

“I’m not asking you to forgive Steven Cozzie,” Wilson said. “Do we execute a 13-year-old in a 23-year-old’s body?

“Mercy is not something that can be earned. Mercy is something granted. I’m asking you all to grant mercy to Steven Cozzie,” Wilson said.“I’m asking each of you to recommend a life sentence for Steven Cozzie.”

Elmore told jurors Cozzie knew what he was doing when he lured Wilkes to the place he intended to rape and kill her. He had attempted a violent sexual attack on a 14-year-old at the same place a week before Wilkes’ murder, he argued.Life in prison would allow Cozzie to see the sun and the stars, Elmore said, a luxury he did not afford his victim.

“He deserves the ultimate penalty for what he did, how he did it and for the thoughts he was thinking as he did it,” Elmore said.



June 19--  The Emergency Management job in Montgomery County is being transferred from the County Commission's office to the county sheriff.

County manager Brandon Braddy says the Commission and Sheriff Ladson O'Connor reached agreement to transfer the position at a called meeting Tuesday.

The EMA manager's office will be located in the courthouse where the manager will also be in charge of courthouse security as well as county code enforcement.

In other actions, the Commission okayed an agreement with Treutlen County allowing Tarrytown firemen to be called first in case of fires in the vicinity of the Treutlen-Montgomery county line.  Treutlen County will pay $150 a month for the service which is expected to lower fire insurance rates for residents in the area.

The Commission appointed Geraldine Mead and Francis Timon to the Heart of Georgia Area Aging Committee.

It also approved a $220,000 lease-purchase of a John Deere motor grader from Flynt Equipment Company in Macon.

June 18--  A Florida jury learned Tuesday that the man who killed Toombs County teenager Courtney Wilkes attempted to rape another girl a week before killing Courtney.

Our courtroom correspondent Angel McCurdy files this report.

"A young Kentucky girl took the stand Tuesday laying
out the details of an attack at Cassine Garden that took place just
one week before 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes’ body was found.

The now 16-year-old Glasgow, Ky. Girl told the jurors the boy, who she
only knew as Steven, tried to strangle her, who pushed her onto the
ground and demanded she remove her clothes.

“I was scared to death,” said the girl who was 14 at the time of the
attack. “He kept telling me to take my clothes off and I was about to
but I said no and just yelled ‘No, no, no.’
“Then he said, ‘OK, OK. I can’t do this’.”

Jurors listened to the girl during the second day of the death penalty
phase for 23-year-old Steven Cozzie, who was convicted Friday of
first-degree murder.

The girl’s grandmother, who picked her up after that alleged attack,
told the jurors that because she hadn’t been actually hurt they
decided not to call law enforcement.

“We just made a poor choice,” the woman said, reaching for a tissue as
she began to cry. “That failure was on our part. Maybe if we’d let
(the girl) decide we would have called the police and there would have
been a different outcome.”

This week began the penalty phase of his trial that will decide if he
is sentenced to life without parole or the death sentence. The jury
will recommend a sentencing to the court once statements are complete.
Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells will make the ultimate decision.

The defense for Cozzie brought several members of his family to the
witness stand, each of them retelling the troubling young life of

“He was being bounced back and forth … he didn’t have a stable life,”
said his uncle, Robert R. Cozzie. “He needed a secure place to grow
up, but I don’t think he got that.”

Cozzie’s half-sister also was called to the witnessstand. The 21-year-old Mississippi woman said as a young girl she was molested by Cozzie. “I didn’t trust him,” she said, crying. “… But he’s my brother and I still love him.”

The woman said while in school Cozzie was constantly picked on saying it
seemed like he “had a target on him.” She said the small boy would
never stand up for himself, even when it was his half-brother beating
him up.

The Cozzie children, according to the woman, grew up in challenging
circumstances. Cozzie’s two youngest half-sisters were allegedly
molested by a family member while they lived with him, his mother slept with
several young boys while Cozzie was in high school, constant moving from state to state, and constant bullying at home and school.

“He was a vulnerable person,” she said. “He was easy to mess with
and he couldn’t stick up for himself and if he did it was just him

The woman's brother, Anthony Kirby, added to the details of Cozzie’s early
life discussing drug use in the home, sexual exploits between the two
brothers and constant beatings from family members.

Psychologist Stephen Zieman of Pensacola said if Cozzie had a
structured home he could have surpassed the impact it had on him

“He has an IQ of 83. … That means he is only smarter than 13 percent
of the 23 year olds in the U.S.,” Zieman said. “This is who Steven is.
He just can’t think the way the rest of the world can.”

Court will resume at 8:30 Wednesday at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs."

June 17--  Last Friday Steven Cozzie was found guilty of brutally murdering Courtney Wilkes of Lyons two years ago.

Monday Courtney's family took the stand as Florida prosecutors presented a case on why Cozzie should be put to death.

Angel McCurdy filed this report from the courtroom in DeFuniak Springs, Florida late Monday.

"Juror members grabbed for tissues Monday morning as they heard about the life of Courtney Wilkes and the things the Lyons, Ga. girl hoped to achieve before her life was cut short.

Family members for Courtney, who was killed June 16, 2011, and her convicted killer, 23-year-old Steven Cozzie took the stand in court during the first day of the death penalty phase of Cozzie’s trial.

“A third of my heart has been ripped out,” said Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother, as tears streamed down her face. “… She was going to do something to change the world. She was going to make it better. … I’ll never be the same. My world will never be the same.”

Cozzie was convicted Friday of the first-degree murder of Courtney. Now, the jurors will hear testimony and decide to recommend life without parole or the death sentence for Cozzie. Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells will make the ultimate decision.

Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore started the morning off with Wilkes’ parents and her godfather testifying on the bright young girl who was found strangled, raped and beaten to death two years ago.

“She was the first one in our family plot, that wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Courtney’s father, Cordy Wilkes, his voice cracking as he spoke of his daughter. “ … I remember when she left (with Cozzie) and didn’t return. After a period of time, we came to the realization that she wouldn’t be back. If she could have come back she would have.”

After a morning of tears, the courtroom reconvened to hear from Cozzie’s family about his past, mental health and the stress he was under at the time of Courtney’s death.

“This is tragic for Courtney Wilkes family, but it’s also tragic for Stephen Cozzie’s family,” said Sharon Wilson, defense attorney for Cozzie. “They’ve been separated by bars and glass walls for two years and that will be the case for the rest of his life no matter what you decide.”

Cozzie’s half brother, Jeffery Pedersen, and half sister, Gwen Schmidt, testified that Cozzie was “slow” all of his life.

“He was book smart, but not street smart,” Pedersen said. “He was very immature, always hanging out with younger kids.”

Pedersen added that he was the only family member to keep in contact with Cozzie after he was kicked out of his mother, Melody Ellis’, home just two weeks before Courtney’s death.

“He had been living on some boardwalk (and) at the pool house at Cassine Gardens and he kept his stuff on an empty cul-de-sac  on Robert Ellis Road,” Pedersen said.

His sister added to that testimony stating that Cozzie didn’t appear to suffer from mental disability, but was not on the same level as his peers.

“He’s 23 now, but I think mentally he’s 17 or 18,” Schmidt said.

His mother, Melody Ellis, said Cozzie was the son of a violent man. She testified that at the age of four he was taken away from her by his father until he was 16. During that time, Cozzie told his family he lived in abusive circumstances.

“I was choked, hit. His father raped me once,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if Steven saw that or not. (Steven’s father) used to use Steven as a pawn and he would hurt Steven and blame my ex-husband. …  But Steven stayed somewhat on track in school where he was in special education classes, but he was always somewhat slow.”

Court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the DeFuniak Springs Courthouse for further testimony. Wells said he expects the proceedings to go on until at least Wednesday evening.

The following report was filed at noon Monday by Angel McCurdy.

" Courtney Wilkes had a future. She was going to be valedictorian of her class, she was going to be a veterinarian when she grew up and she was going to change the world.

Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore presented his case Monday for the jury to advise the court to sentence 23-year-old Steven Cozzie with the death penalty for the June 16, 2011 killing of the 15-year-old Lyons, Ga. girl.

The only options for a sentencing are life without parole or the death sentence. The decision will ultimately fall on Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells.

Elmore told the court Monday morning he would prove that the first-degree murder Cozzie was convicted of Friday was a premeditated murder meriting the severe sentencing.

“He had the intent to rape and kill young females,” Elmore said. “The evidence proves a culmination of being cold, calculated and premeditated.”

Sharon Wilson, Cozzie’s defense attorney, told the jury in opening statements that she will never argue that Wilkes was a wonderful person. Her position is that Cozzie was brought up in challenging circumstances and with mental disabilities that contributed to his killing Courtney.

“This is tragic for Courtney Wilkes family, but it’s also tragic for Stephen Cozzie’s family,” Wilson said. “They’ve been separated by bars and glass walls for two years and that will be the case for the rest of his life no matter what you decide.”

Toni Wilkes, Courtney’s mother, opened up the proceedings telling the jury about her daughter who preferred cowboy boots to heels and baling hay to chasing boys.

“A third of my heart has been ripped out,” Wilkes said as tears streamed down her face. “… She was going to do something to change the world. She was going to make it better. … I’ll never be the same. My world will never be the same.”

At the time of Courtney’s death, Wilkes said her entire town commemorated the life of the popular teen from storefront signs to sports teams dedicating their season to her.

“She would have been 16 three weeks after her death and I wanted to throw her a big party, but she didn’t think anyone would come because it was summer. Three thousand people came to the church to remember her and 900 people came to the funeral. … She was loved. That was my girl.”



June 17--  Toombs County State Court has a new prosecutor.

Attorney Justin Franklin has a law practice in Metter and lives in Vidalia.  He was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to fill the unexpired term of Paul Threlkeld who moved to practice law in Savannah.

{mosimage}Franklin (R) was sworn in Thursday by Toombs County Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld.

"It's an opportunity to serve and grow in this community where my wife and I are raising our kids," he said.

The State Court handles misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases.  Franklin says he's already found out the Toombs County case load is heavy.

"I was sworn in Thursday and we had calendar call Friday with roughly 160 cases on the calendar, so it appears to be very busy.

Franklin graduated from Metter High School and the University of Georgia.  He got his law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. 

June 17--  State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons is not running for Congress.

{mosimage}Williams had earlier said he was considering entering next Summer's Republican primary to challenge incumbent Democrat Congressman John Barrow in the Fall election.

He went to Washington and met with members of the Georgia congressional delegation, but in the final analyis, said now's the time to put his family first.

"I have young kids at home and I'd have to be in Washington about 40 weeks out of the year.  If I'd had kids when I was young, I'd jump right on that, but I just have a hard time pulling the trigger with kids at home," Senator Williams said.

"I'm going to continue in the state Senate.  There are still a lot of things I want to get done there," he said.


June 15--  Two Toombs County men are facing murder charges in Candler County.

Rasheen D'Angelo Jones of Lyons and Denzel Akins of Vidalia are charged with killing 24-year-old Perry Herbert.

Herbert's body was found in a ditch on a Candler County rural road June 1.  The two men were arrested four days later. 

June 14-- Two days prior to the second anniversary of the brutal killing of 15-year-old vacationer Courtney Wilkes, Steven Cozzie has been convicted of her murder.

An eight woman, four man jury deliberated two hours Friday afternoon before announcing it had found Cozzie, 23, guilty of first degree premeditated murder, sexual battery, aggravated child abuse and kidnapping.

Wilkes battered, naked body was discovered June 16, 2011 in a dried-up Cypress swamp off of South Walton County’s Cassine Gardens Nature Trail. She had taken a walk with Cozzie earlier in the day and authorities found he had strangled her nearly to death with a shirt, dragged her behind a tree, raped her and beaten her brutally with a piece of lumber he located nearby.

The murder shocked both Wilkes’ small town of Lyons, Ga., where she was a popular high schooler, and the typically quiet beach town of Seagrove Beach that Cozzie called home.

Wilkes family and a courtroom full of supporters were present when the verdict was read. As per the instructions of Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells, they waited until the jury had left before exchanging tearful hugs. Several stopped on the way out of court to embrace Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, who was also visibly emotional following the verdict.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the Wilkes’ family,” Adkinson said. “I hate for them to have had to go through with this.”

The murder conviction carries only two possible penalties, life in prison without parole or death. The state is seeking the death penalty against Cozzie and the “penalty phase” of the trial, in which the same jury will be asked to recommend one of the two sentences for Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells’ determination, will get underway Monday at 8:30 a.m.

“It was obviously the verdict we were asking for,” Prosecuting Attorney Bobby Elmore said. He declined further comment on the case until after completion of the penalty phase.

Defense Attorney Spiro Kypreos declined comment on the verdict.

Friday opened with closing arguments in the case. Elmore spent about an hour going over the evidence he had presented during the course of the week-long trial and discussed the elements of each charge Cozzie faced along with the murder charge. Convictions on any of the charges of sexual battery, kidnapping or aggravated child abuse give the prosecution “aggravators” they can use in arguing for the death penalty for Cozzie.

“Justice requires you convict Steven Cozzie, according to the evidence and the law, of all the crimes he committed against that child,” Elmore said. “Justice requires it.”

Kypreos informed the court during a break between Elmore’s closing argument and his own that he and his client had made the decision to forego any effort to obtain an acquittal.

Kypreos instead argued that Cozzie had indeed killed Courtney Wilkes, but was guilty of second degree rather than first degree murder.  He told jurors Elmore had not proven premeditation in the case.

The second degree murder conviction could still have carried a life sentence, but it would have taken the death penalty off the table for prosecutors. Kypreos referred in his closing to an interview Cozzie had given to investigators where he admitted killing Wilkes, though he said he was forced to do so at gunpoint.

 “Mr. Elmore said he (Cozzie) admitted he killed her and the prosecutor is correct, he admitted it,” Kypreos said as he addressed the jury for the final time . “Does that mean he is guilty of first degree murder?”

Kypreos sought to convince jurors that Michael Spencer, the young man who Cozzie had shown Wilkes’ body to, had lied, exaggerated or perhaps even misspoken due to shock when providing information about what he’d seen or what Cozzie had told him on the day of the murder.

Kypreos tried to raise doubts that the Wilkes’ murder had been as brutal as Elmore had attempted to make it appear,  and even questioned whether the blood-covered piece of lumber found at the scene of the crime – and described by Cozzie himself as what he had beaten the girl with – was indeed the murder weapon.

“At some point in time we have to get away from the theatrics and down to hard evidence,” Kypreos said.

On rebuttal Elmore assured the jury, “you’ve heard all the evidence and arguments, if there’s reasonable doubt it will find you.”

“Seek the truth.”

(Special to SoutheastGeorgiaToday by Tom McLaughlin)


June 14-  Area businesses are being warned about a credit card scam.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says a black male using the name Desmond Andrews has been going to businesses buying large ticket items such as golf carts, ATV's and furniture.

He uses a Debit/Credit Card which must be manually entered using an authorization number he provides or by phone from a number he provides.  However, when it hits the bank, it is declined.

He drives an early 1990's white Ford Dually pulling a trailer or a green and white Ford Expedition with a trailer.

If you have contact with this person, call the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, 912-526-6778.

New Warden Named at Georgia State Prison - Toombs County Native Robert Toole Reassigned

June 14 - Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens announced the reassignment of Robert Toole as the Warden of Georgia State Prison effective July 1, 2013. The facility is located in Reidsville, Georgia. As Warden, Toole will be responsible for overseeing 539 staff members and 1,530 special mission security male inmates.

"Robert has worked his way up through the ranks in the Department," said Commissioner Brian Owens. "His experience and knowledge will serve him well as he assumes his new role.

Toole has 17 years of experience with the Department of Corrections. Toole has served as a Correctional Officer, Counselor, Senior Counselor, Chief Counselor, Unit Manager, and Superintendent at Smith, Telfair, Milan State Prisons. He was transferred in April 2010 to the Office of Investigations and Compliance where he served as Compliance Manager. In August 2010, he was promoted to Warden of Wilcox State Prison. He was then transferred to Ware State Prison in 2012, where he most recently served as Warden.

Toole has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia Southern University and a Master's degree in Public Administration from Columbus State University. He has completed Basic Correctional Officer Training, Basic Management Training, Corrections Leadership Institute, Pre-Command College and Command College.

The GDC has one of the largest prison systems in the U.S. and is responsible for supervising nearly 60,000 state prisoners and more than 160,000 probationers. It is the largest law enforcement agency in the state with approximately 12,000 employees.

Obama ‘Strongly Objects’ to Religious Liberty Amendment

By Todd Starnes

June 14-- The Obama Administration “strongly objects” to a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday that would have protected the religious rights of soldiers – including evangelical Christian service members who are facing growing hostility towards their religion.

The amendment was authored by Rep. John Fleming, R-La. It would have “required the Armed Forces to accommodate ‘actions and speech’ reflecting the conscience, moral, principles or religious beliefs of the member.”

The Obama Administration said the amendment would have a “significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”

“With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief,” Fleming told Fox News. “This administration is aggressively hostile towards religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.”

Fleming introduced the amendment after a series of high-profile incidents involving attacks on religious liberty within the military- including an Air Force officer who was told to remove a Bible from his desk because it might give the impression he was endorsing a religion.

He said there are other reports of Christian service members and chaplains being punished for their faith.

  • The Air Force censored a video created by a chaplain because it include the word “God.” The Air Force feared the word might offend Muslims and atheists.
  • A service member received a “severe and possibly career-ending reprimand” for expressing his faith’s religious position about homosexuality in a personal religious blog.
  • A senior military official at Fort Campbell sent out a lengthy email officially instructing officers to recognize “the religious right in America” as a “domestic hate group” akin to the KKK and Neo-Nazis because of its opposition to homosexual behavior.
  • A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because, consistent with DOMA’s definition of marriage, he could not allow same-sex weddings to take place in the chapel.

Last month Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee told a National Day of Prayer audience that religious liberty was being threatened by Pentagon lawyers and service members are being told to hide their faith in Christ.
“Leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued by lawyers that put us in a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional right to express our religious faith,” he said.
Fleming said the purpose of his amendment is to clarify ambiguities in the Pentagon’s policies.

“The bottom line is the military is bending over backwards to remove – even in the case of chaplains – expressions of faith and conscience,” Fleming said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the Obama Administration’s edict a “chilling suppression of religious freedom.”
“The Obama administration has joined forces with those who are attacking the religious freedoms of those who serve in our Armed Services,” Perkins said.

“The Administration’s opposition to Rep. Fleming’s religious freedom amendment reveals that this administration has gone beyond accommodating the anti-Christian activists who want to remove any vestige of Christianity from the military, to aiding them by blocking this bipartisan measure.”

June 13--  After hearing two-and-a-half days of testimony, a Florida jury may decide Friday on the guilt or innocence of Steven Cozzie, the man accused of killing Toombs County teenager Courtney Wilkes two years ago this month.

Assistant State's Attorney Bobby Elmore rested the state's case Thursday afternoon and defense attorney Spyro Kypreos informed the court he is not calling any witnesses for this phase of the case.

Our Court Reporter Tom McLaughlin says the defense move means they expect a guilty verdict in the case and will call witnesses in the penalty phase of the trial.

Under Florida law, if the jury finds Cozzie guilty of capital murder it must decide if he will be executed.

Thursday the state presented evidence that showed Cozzie's DNA was all over the crime scene and that none from his friend Michael Spencer was found.

Cozzie's attorneys have tried to link Spencer to the crime.  In a police interview after his arrest, Cozzie claimed Spencer made him kill Courtney by holding a gun on him.

According to McLaughlin, if the verdict is reached Friday, the penalty phase would start Monday and could last at least a couple of days.  Pensacola attorney Sharon Wilson specializes in capital murder cases and would lead the defense team's efforts to save Cozzie's life.

Tom McLaughlin Reports From the DeFuniak Springs, FL Courtroom

" Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore let Steven Cozzie’s own words put the final touch Thursday to his case for conviction on a charge of first degree murder.

Two weeks after his arrest for the June 16, 2011, killing of 15-year-old vacationer Courtney Wilkes, Cozzie requested and received an interview with 30-year Walton County Sheriff’s Office veteran Stephen Sunday, the lead investigator in the murder case.

When Sunday arrived at the jail he was presented with a written document that laid out what Cozzie was going to tell him that day, and then he told the investigator that he had killed Wilkes, but was forced to do so, at gunpoint, by his friend Michael Spencer.

“He pulled out a gun and told me to kill her, so I killed her,” Cozzie told Sunday. “I’ve never had anything like that happen to me in my life.”

The taped conversation was played Thursday afternoon for the jury trying Cozzie on charges of first degree murder, rape, child abuse and kidnapping. The state will pursue a death penalty if Cozzie is convicted. Following the playing of the tape, Elmore rested the prosecution case.

Cozzie is accused of luring Wilkes away from her family vacation and leading her to the secluded Cassine Gardens Nature Trail in the Seagrove Beach area of South Walton County. There, when she decided she wanted to return to her family, he pulled off his shirt and began strangling her. The strangulation continued until the 6-foot-2 Cozzie was able to subdue his smaller, younger victim and then he raped her and beat her to death with a piece of lumber.

In a tape from the night of his arrest, also played for the jury Thursday, Cozzie denies over and over again that he had killed Wilkes.

In the second tape, recorded Aug. 1, 2011, Cozzie told Sunday that he had lied in an original interview by telling investigators he had never taken Wilkes to the nature walk where her body was found. He said he was there with the girl when he slipped and fell on her and she was knocked unconscious when she hit her head on a Cypress stump.

“I seen blood, that’s why I panicked,” Cozzie told Sunday. He also said in the interview that he was high on marijuana and Ecstasy.

Though a deputy testified Thursday that Cozzie had slept in his car on the way to the Walton County Jail the night of the arrest, Cozzie said in his written statement to Sunday “I had remorse” after killing Wilkes.

“It was my job to bring the girl back safely and I failed,” he said.

“The killing was not one of violence, it was me being forced to do it,” he said in his statement. “The truth is I was drug induced, and the truth is I was forced by Mike Spencer.”

He told the investigator that Spencer wanted Wilkes dead and even discussed mutilating the body of the victim.

Spencer had been a key figure in the investigation that led to the discovery of Wilkes’ body and the arrest of Cozzie. Spencer testified Wednesday that Cozzie had shown him the girls’ body and described what he’d done to her. On the day of the murder it was Spencer who led officers to Wilkes.

In the tape made the night of Cozzie’s arrest, officers inform him that Spencer had been cooperating with law enforcement.

Jennifer Hatler, a DNA expert with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, provided testimony early Thursday that put Cozzie at the Courtney Wilkes’ murder scene and presented a pretty strong case that Spencer, the man Cozzie would later say forced him to kill, was not.

Cozzie’s DNA was found on a Hawaiian shirt soaked with Wilkes’ blood that was found near the dry Cypress swamp bed where the body was located, Hatler testified. His DNA was also discovered on the girl’s thigh, and hers found under his fingernails.

The likelihood the DNA taken off Cozzie’s hands did not belong to Wilkes, Hatler testified, was “one in one quadrillion.”

Defense attorney Spiro Kypreos rested the case for the defense as well Thursday, choosing not to call any witnesses. He told Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells that he would save his witnesses for “the next phase” of the trial, indicating perhaps that he believes a murder conviction is a foregone conclusion and he’s preparing for battle in a death penalty phase of the trial.

Both attorneys will present final arguments Friday morning before the jury begins deliberations."






June 13--  One has to wonder what it will take to get Americans upset enough to clean house in Washington.

Here's another example of U.S. government incompetence with the IRS, the same government agency that harasses U.S. citizens for political purposes and throws away millions of dollars on conferences for its employees.

This report details billions of dollars given each year to illegal immigrants.  Click below.



June 13--  A Vidalia man has been found guilty of killing a 13-month-old baby girl.

{mosimage}Thirty-five-year old Sean Davis was found guilty Thursday afternoon in Toombs County Superior Court in the death of Nyla Flagler in April, 2009. 

The girl was found unresponsive in her crib in the Raymonia Apartments and later was transferred to Memorial Hospital in Savannah where brain injuries were discovered.

Davis was the boyfriend of the girl's mother, Morissha McLain, and was keeping the child was she was at work. 

Assistant District Attorney Tripp Fitzner says five medical experts testified that the girl's injuries were consistent with being thrown against a hard surface such as a wall or floor.

Superior Court Judge Bobby Reeves sentenced Davis to life in prison for felony murder and 20 years to be served concurrently for cruelty to children.

June 12--  A friend of accused murderer Steven Cozzie testified during day three of the Courtney Wilkes murder trial in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

Our courtroom correspondent Tom McLaughlin filed this report.

"Michael Spencer, who spent summers in Seagrove Beach with his aunt, was best friends with Steven Cozzie during the summer of 2011.

But two years earlier Spencer had lied to Cozzie when, in a burst of bravado, he told him he had once fought 20 men and killed two of them using martial arts his special forces father had taught him.

 On June 16, 2011, only a couple hours after authorities say he raped and brutally murdered 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes, Cozzie arrived at the Spencer’s aunt’s house and asked his friend, then 18, to confirm “if I had killed two people like I said I had?”

Spencer testified in court Wednesday that he repeated his lie, and when he did Cozzie stunned him with a revelation of his own.

“He said, ‘I just killed this chick,’ ” Spencer told prosecuting attorney Bobby Elmore.

Cozzie, 23, of Seagrove Beach, is facing charges of first degree murder, kidnapping, rape and child abuse and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Elmore, an assistant state attorney, said in an opening statement Tuesday that Cozzie had lured Wilkes away from her vacationing family’s South Walton condominium complex to a nearby nature trail. There, Elmore said, he used his shirt, then hers, to strangle her nearly to death. Finally, he dragged her off into a dry swamp bed, raped her and beat her at least 10 times over the head with a piece of lumber to kill her.

Spencer’s testimony could prove particularly valuable for the prosecution because, according to his story, after making his “I just killed this chick” pronouncement  Cozzie insisted on taking Spencer to show him Wilkes’ body.

Spencer told the jury Wednesday things that Cozzie told him as they traveled the mile or so from his aunt’s house to the crime scene. How he said “I wrestled with her for like 20 minutes” and “he had taken off his shirt and strangled her with it and took off her shirt and strangled her with it.”

And then he presented to his friend the badly beaten, nude body of his victim, Spencer testified.

“I got close enough where if I had wanted to I could have reached out and touched her dead body,” Spencer told the court.

At the body, Spencer testified, Cozzie removed his bloodied shirt from over Wilkes’ head, muttered, “Oops, I need this, and stepped to the side and threw it into the bushes.” He then told Spencer he had debated how he wanted to club her to death “do I want to use the flat end or side, flat end or side, then I said (expletive) it and hit her like 10 times with the side.”

Elmore told jurors in opening statements that medical examiner testimony would prove a cause of death of both strangulation and blunt force trauma. He has already shown jurors photos that he says indicate a fierce struggle at the site of the attack and indicated a bloodied shirt belonging to Cozzie will at some point be introduced into evidence.

The law enforcement officers and the emergency personnel who participated in the missing person search for Courtney Wilkes that became a homicide investigation also testified for the prosecution Wednesday. They confirmed seeing Cozzie and Spencer together on the day Wilkes’ disappeared and that Spencer had indeed led them to the teen’s body.

Cozzie’s half brother, Jeffery Pedersen, worked in a beach services capacity and met the Wilkes family, including Courtney, during their vacation in 2011. He, in fact, gave authorities the name of the man, his brother, Courtney was last seen with.

Pedersen also testified that he had noticed his sibling’s apparent attraction to girls of or about Courtney Wilkes’ age, and “four or five times talked to him about pursuing young girls.”

Pedersen testified that a trespass order had been issued against Steven Cozzie at a neighboring condominium complex where Cozzie’s advances on young girls had been noticed.

Spencer admittedly wasn’t forthcoming to everyone he talked to on June 16, 2011 as he and Cozzie increasingly drew attention during the search for Wilkes.

Defense attorney Spiro Kypreos keyed in cross examination on Spencer’s omissions and questioned why a martial arts expert would have anything to fear from his client, particularly while in the company of an armed police officer.

Spencer testified he was afraid to say anything about what he’d seen on the Cassine Gardens Nature Trail with Cozzie nearby.  He said he was scared of what Cozzie might do to him if he turned him in right away, so he didn’t tell an officer that gave him a ride home what he had seen earlier in the day.

 “I wanted to get back to my aunt’s house so I could go to the police,” he told the defense attorney.

McLaughlin says he expects day four of the trial Thursday to include testimony from the medical examiner and include DNA evidence.



June 12--  Two members of the Thunderbolt Junior ROTC Regiment Drill Team demonstrated their close order drill proficiency at Tuesday night's meeting of the Vidalia school board.

{mosimage}  {mosimage}

Cadet Sergeant Pearla Hernandez from Toombs County High School and Cadet Regimental Sergeant Major Kristopher Owens from Vidalia High School represented the Regiment.

Command Sergeant Major (Ret) David Draughn told school board members the regiment has an enrollment of 220 students from Vidalia and Toombs, Treutlen and Montgomery Counties.

Forty-two cadets graduated this year.  Seventeen entered the U.S. Armed Forces and one enrolled in Georgia Military College to earn her commission as an Army Second Lieutenant. 

The school board approved the recommendation of School Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox to give lunchroom workers a pay raise.  The 25 cents an hour raise will cost the system an additional $6,207 in salaries.

June 11--  A jury of ten women and four men including two alternates will decide the fate of a Florida man accused of murdering Toombs County teenager Courtney Wilkes.  The trial started Monday and it took a day-and-a-half to select the jury in the Walton County, Florida circuit court.

Opening statements and the testimony of Courtney's mother started Tuesday afternoon.  Here's the report from the courtroom by our correspondent Tom McLaughlin.

"Toni Wilkes, the mother of 15-year-old murder victim Courtney Wilkes, teared up on the witness stand Tuesday as she described the last words she spoke to her daughter.

“OK baby, but be responsible.”

Courtney, the oldest of three children of a family from tiny Lyons, Ga., looked ecstatic that day on the beach, more so when she received permission on June 16, 2011, to take a walk down the beach with “the lifeguard dude” who had become a casual acquaintance during the Wilkes’ weeklong vacation at the Beachcrest condominiums on Seagrove Beach.

For Courtney, it was the first boy or man she’d been allowed to spend time alone with, Toni Wilkes explained.

“She was not allowed to date until she was 16. She never even asked,” she said.

The Wilkes family watched Courtney walk off with the man they would only later come to know as 21-year-old Steven Cozzie, and some five hours later they would learn that she had been killed and Cozzie charged with her murder.

Prosecuting attorney Bobby Elmore made sure in his opening statement Tuesday afternoon jurors knew just how brutal Courtney Wilkes’ death had been, and he said evidence would show beyond any reasonable doubt that it was Cozzie who had committed the crime.

“Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam,” Elmore shouted across the courtroom. “Ten times I hit her.”

Cozzie bragged about his deed to a witness, Michael Spencer, as he showed off Wilkes’ dead body, Elmore said.

The crushing blows to the skull ended the life of a girl who Cozzie had strangled nearly to death with his shirt, drug into the bushes off of a nature trail, beaten, stripped and raped, Elmore told the jury.

Though those in the courtroom had been warned against emotional outbursts, Wilkes’ family members  had to walk out twice during Elmore’s opening statements, some of them sobbing openly.

The veteran assistant state attorney furthered his argument with photos, including those of the crime scene and Wilkes’ ravaged body that drew an objection from defense attorney Spiro Kypreos.

The trial got underway about 2 p.m. Tuesday after a day and a half were spent selecting a jury. Cozzie, who wore glasses and a crew cut, could face the death penalty if convicted of first degree premeditated murder. He is also charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and child abuse.

Kypreos compared Elmore’s opening to dragging a skunk through the jury box. “How do you get the smell out?” he asked.

He reminded jurors that they will convict or not convict Cozzie based on evidence introduced in the case, not the theatrics of a prosecuting attorney.

“Every single word he said to you for the last hour and 15 minutes are not evidence in this case. The photos he showed you are not evidence in this case at this time,” Kypreos said.

Both attorneys urged jurors to listen to evidence as it was presented during the trial that is expected to last two weeks. Kypreos said witness Michael Spencer could be particularly key.

Spencer, 18, at the time of the killing, had once boasted to Cozzie that he had killed two men, according to Elmore. Cozzie went to Spencer after killing Courtney Wilkes and took him to show him the body.

Spencer was with Cozzie when emergency personnel, looking for Courtney Wilkes, questioned them. He told them nothing at first, but later, after being urged by an Internet chat room friend and a relative to step forward he took Walton County deputies to the body.

Spencer, according to statements given much later by Cozzie, held a gun on Cozzie and forced him to kill the young vacationer."




June 11--  A week after starting work as the Director of Emergency Management in Montgomery County, Jimmy Braddy turned in his letter of resignation.

{mosimage}Braddy resigned Monday after being charged with child molestation.

According to a warrant filed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Braddy allegedly molested a girl under the age of sixteen on three occasions during the period from December, 2011 to April, 2012. 

The GBI claims two of the molestations occurred at the Higgston City Hall and the third at Braddy's residence, 2705 Thompson Pond Road, in Montgomery County.

He was released on bond after the warrants were served Monday afternoon at the Montgomery County Sheriff's office.

Braddy is the former chief of the Higgston Volunteer Fire Department.  He resigned in order to take the new job with Montgomery County.

Montgomery County manager Brandon Braddy says county Sheriff Ladson O'Connor will serve as interim EMA director until a replacement is hired.



June 11--  Uvalda Mayor Paul Bridges was part of the delegation gathered in the White House Tuesday morning as President Obama urged passage of immigration legislation in the U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, eleven state senators from Georgia are urging Georgia's U.S. senators to vote against the bill in the Senate. 

{mosimage}Mayor Bridges has testified before congressional committees in support of legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

According to a White House press advisory, "The President delivered remarks in the East Room reiterating his strong support for commonsense reform legislation to fix our broken immigration system, and the economic and national security benefits that reform will deliver.

"At the event the President praised the bipartisan progress that continues to be made in the Senate, which has its first floor vote on the bill this week, and highlight the broad coalition of leaders who agree that the shared principles of strengthening and increasing border security, providing an earned path to citizenship, holding employers accountable, and bringing our immigration system into the 21st century must be central to any effort.

"Joining the President were law enforcement representatives, business and labor leaders, faith leaders, and Republican and Democratic elected officials who are all also calling on the Senate to pass a bill that meets these important principles," the statement said.


In addition to Mayor Bridges, those joining the President today included:

.        Chief William Bratton, Former Chief of Police, LAPD and NYPD

·         Tom Donohue, President and CEO, US Chamber of Commerce

·         Steve Case, President and CEO, Revolution LLC

·         Julian Castro, Mayor, San Antonio, Texas

·         Luis Cortes, President, Esperanza USA

·         Barrett Duke, Director of the Research Institute, Southern Baptist Convention

·         Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Harris County, Texas

·         Carlos Gutierrez, Former Secretary of Commerce 

·         Mary Kay Henry, International President, SEIU

·         Marlon Hill, Former President of the Caribbean Bar Association

·         Gary Loveman, President and CEO, Caesars Entertainment

·         Sheriff Margaret Mims, Fresno County, California

·         Mee Moua, President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center

·         Gabriela Pacheco, DREAMer and Director, The Bridge Project

·         Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia Police Commissioner 

·         Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO

·         Tolu Olubunmi, DREAMer

State Senators Urge "No" Vote

June 11, 2013

TO: U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

Dear Senators Chambliss and Isakson: We the undersigned urge you to vote “no” on the proposed immigration bill currently being considered in the United States Senate.

While we recognize numerous flaws with the proposal pending before the U.S. Senate, there are a few we would care to comment on in detail: First, the start of real conservative reform on immigration is very simple — that is to provide for tight security along our borders at our ports and other points of entry to our nation. The remedies offered in the proposed bill are pitiful and provide no assurance that our territorial integrity will be maintained. Amendments offered in the Senate Judiciary Committee to provide for such security were voted down. When we cannot control ingress and egress into and out of the United States we not only lose control over immigration policy but a vital portion of homeland defense as well.

Second, we oppose a path to citizenship for anyone who willingly and knowingly comes into our country illegally. Amnesty is contrary to the rule of law, fundamentally unfair to those who play by the rules and wait to immigrate legally, and will only encourage more illegal immigration. Amnesty was part of the 1986 federal effort to comprehensively address immigration at that time when we had fewer than an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants. Despite that blanket amnesty today we have over 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and Georgia now ranks 6th in the nation in the number of illegal immigrants. In short another blanket amnesty will do nothing to address the long term root causes of this problem.

Third, we have seen no cost estimate on how great a financial burden this bill will place on the State of Georgia and local governments in terms of the increased burden on state and local services. Even Los Angeles County officials in California are expressing concern over additional burdens being placed on local services as a result of the new proposal. Additional burdens on public health care, our education system, and other state and local services will only aggravate already precarious budget issues in our state. The Medicaid liability alone created by instantly creating hundreds of thousands of new enrollees would be sufficient to bankrupt our state.

Immigration problems are in reality a series of very different, complex, and difficult issues. They deserve a thoughtful, reasoned dialogue that should include federal, state and local elected officials as well as other stakeholders if we are to develop a real immigration reform package. We also should be able to expect aggressive enforcement of existing immigration law. Passage of the proposal now pending would do nothing to address these systemic problems and would create an even greater unemployment problem by expanding vastly thelabor pool at a time when our economy is beginning a very slow and sluggish recovery process.

In conclusion, we the undersigned respectfully ask that you vote against this proposed immigration bill as it is not in the best interest of the people of Georgia. We need to stand firm on border security and only then move on to addressing other related issues.


Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon, Georgia State Senator Judson Hill, Georgia State Senator John Albers, Georgia State Senator Buddy Carter, Georgia State Senator William Ligon, Georgia State Senator Mike Crane, Georgia State Senator Renee Unterman, Georgia State Senator Chuck Hufstetler, Georgia State Senator Barry Loudermilk, Georgia State Senator Burt Jones, Georgia State Senator Lindsey Tippins



June 11-- Three area high school students have been selected to attend the Washington Youth Tour, an all-expense paid leadership trip sponsored by the electric membership corporations in Georgia, including Altamaha EMC.

{mosimage}Matthew Powell from Treutlen High School, Emma Venable (left) and Madison Lynn, both from Toombs County High School, will be among 105 Georgia high school students during the event set for June 13-20. 

Upon arriving in D.C., the Georgia delegation will join over 1,500 students from across the country.  As Georgia’s oldest leadership program for teens, the Washington Youth Tour is designed to teach students about U.S. history, the role of government, and the importance of community and public service.

Matthew Powell is the son of Joey and Tammie Powell of Soperton.  He is a junior at Treutlen High School.  Among his many school activities, Matthew is the starting quarterback, pitches on the baseball team, and is a member of the Gentlemen of Quality Club, Beta Club and FBLA.  His career goal is to be an Orthopedist and have his own practice.

A junior at Toombs County High School, Emma Venable is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mike Lothridge and Mr. and Mrs. Shan Venable.  Emma is a spirit cheerleader, a member of the golf team and belongs to many clubs including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, FFA and Beta Club.  She also serves as a class officer.  She plans to pursue a career in the medical field.

Madison Lynn is the daughter of Shawn and Heather Lynn.  In her junior year at Toombs County High School, she is involved in many extra-curricular activities like cheerleading, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Beta Club and FFA.  She also serves as a DARE role model.  After high school, Madison plans to pursue a career in Agribusiness. 

The trip will involve stops in Georgia and D.C. and include historic attractions such as the Little White House in Warm Springs, and D.C. landmarks including the Smithsonian Museums, Holocaust Museum, Mount Vernon, Supreme Court, Capitol, Washington Monument, and the FDR, Jefferson, World War II, and Lincoln memorials. 



June 11--  The Treutlen County school board is a step closer to naming a new county school superintendent.

At a called meeting Monday, board members named two people to the short list of job applicants.

They are Dr. Cheryl Conley, an assistant school superintedent in Liberty County, and Eddie Morris, the principal of East Laurens High School.

Twenty-six people applied for the job and seven were interviewed.

Once the names of finalists are announced, state regulations require the school board to wait 14 days before announcing its final selection.

The successor willl succeed Chuck Ellington who resigned last December.  Regina Harris has been serving as interim superintendent.

Meanwhile, the school board is holding a public auction to sell the old primary school and elementary school in Soperton.  The buildings and land will be sold to the highest bidder Saturday, June 22.

June 10--  U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston met with Vidalia Onion farmers Monday morning at the Vidalia Onion Committee offices in Vidalia.

{mosimage}Much of the conversation centered around labor regulations and inspections being imposed on farmers by the U.S. government.  One farmer told the Congressman the government is trying to make the guest worker program so expensive  that farmers will turn to immigrant workers already in the country.

Special to SoutheastGeorgiaToday by Tom McLaughlin

June 10-- The trial of the man accused of one of the most heinous crimes in recent Northwest Florida history gets under way Monday when a jury is selected to hear the case against Steven Anthony Cozzie.

{mosimage}Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Cozzie is convicted of murdering 15-year-old Courtney Wilkes, who died after being sexually assaulted and brutally beaten on a nature trail a half-mile from where her Georgia family was vacationing in Seagrove Beach.

“This is nothing more than pure evil,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson said when Cozzie was taken into custody two hours after investigators located Wilkes’ body. “You don’t do what this man did to a child and tell me that he has a soul.”

Wilkes was a month away from her 16th birthday at the time of her death. She was an excellent student and starting sweeper on the soccer team at Georgia’s Toombs County High School.  She and her family were all active at the Bible Baptist Church in the nearby town of Vidalia, where her grandfather was pastor. 

Cozzie, who was 21 at the time of the murder, had been kicked out of his Seagrove Beach home days before Wilkes’ death in an act of “tough love” on the part of his mother.

He was described as a school outcast who apparently made at least some of his acquaintances uneasy.

Cozzie and Wilkes were seen together about 2 p.m. on the day she died near the Beachcrest condominiums on County Road 30A, where the Wilkes’ family was vacationing. 

 Her family reported her missing about 4 p.m. and the body was found about 6:30 p.m., just off a nature trail behind a house at 107 Pine Grove Circle, near the Cassine Gardens neighborhood.

Walton County deputies were led to Wilkes’ body by an acquaintance of Cozzie, who told investigators Cozzie had showed him the dead girl earlier in the day and said he’d killed her with a stick.

Bobby Elmore, an assistant state attorney with the First Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney’s Office, will prosecute the case. He said picking a 12-person jury for the first degree murder trial will consume the entire day Monday.

Spiro Kypreos will serve as the lead attorney in Cozzie’s defense.



June 10--  Vidalia's radio stations won four awards from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters (GAB) in ceremonies Friday night in Atlanta.

Two of the GAB's top awards for broadcasting excellence were presented to NewsTalk 970, WVOP and Sweet Onion Country, 1017 FM, WYUM. 

WVOP received a "GABBY" for its production of the monthly program "Vidalia Today."

WYUM won the top award in the Best Sports Series category for its "Sportsbreak" on the Vidalia High School football playoffs.

GAB Awards of Merit were presented to Your Favorite, 98Q.  The Best Sports Play-By-Play Merit Award went to John Koon for coverage of the Vidalia Indians.  The station also won for its weekday morning "Sportstime" production.

{mosimage}John Koon (left) and Jeff Raiford accepted the awards on behalf of Vidalia Communications Corporation at the GAB awards program held at the Georgia headquarters of PBS in downtown Atlanta.

June 10--  Vidalia's private Christian school is growing and adding new facilities to accomodate new students.

Vidalia Heritage Academy Headmaster Jeff McCormick says the school is paying $200,000 for the old Murchison property at the corner of Durden and Second Streets.

"We're going to move all of our middle and high school operations down there.  It's an acre-and-a-half and the building is 8,400 square feet.  There will be seven new classrooms down there, a chapel area and cafeteria area as well," he says.

McCormick says the school is spending about $125,000 on building renovations and he expects the work to be done in time for school to start in August.

Vidalia Heritage Academy has an enrollment of 220 students.  

The headmaster says the school has adopted stringent graduation requirements and is adding advanced placement classes to prepare students for college.

"We believe we have the strongest graduation requirements of any school in Southeast Georgia.  Now in public high school students need 23 credits to graduate, here you have to have at least 28 and seven of those must be AP or dual enrollment classes," he notes.

Future plans call for the construction of a gymnasium on the rear parking lot of the new property.

June 7-- A Swainsboro teenager died in a Toombs County wreck Thursday afternoon.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports 16-year-old Hannah L. Henry of Swainsboro was killed in the one-car wreck on Georgia Highway 86, south of McClain's store.  She was thrown from the vehicle when it overturned.

Three others were injured in the accident.  Kaylie Brooke Oglesby, the six-month-old daughter of the dead girl, 19-year-old Mathew Oglesby of Swainsboro and four-year-old Michelle Weyhrauch of Collins were taken to Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia.

The accident is being investigated by the Georgia State Patrol.

June 7-- U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today sent two letters to Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki demanding answers in response to the Inspector General (IG) report that describes egregious mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center (VAMC). The IG report linked three recent suicides to these deficiencies.

In their letters, Isakson, who is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Chambliss, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked the VA to follow up on reported problems with inpatient and contracted outpatient mental health care at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. The senators asked the VA to provide information on its progress to correct the problems identified by the IG report to ensure that veterans do not fall through cracks in the future. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, joined Isakson and Chambliss in sending the letters to Shinseki.

The senators wrote that the IG report is “troublesome due to the number of veterans experiencing mental health conditions, the number of veteran suicides, and the lack of access to mental health services at VA medical centers.” The senators expressed that they “are deeply concerned that veterans are not receiving quality mental health services.” 

The senators also stated, “With estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide each day, it is vital that we address problems at all of the VA’s mental health facilities and their partners…The men and women who have bravely served our country deserve better care than what was described in the IG report related to mental health services provided by the Atlanta VAMC.”


June 7-- The Toombs County grand jury has returned 21 indictments after hearing cases May 28.

Six of the indictments are for alleged drug offenses by Daniel Lee Padgett, IV., Kyle Wiggins, Tavarius Franklin, Callie Morgan, Derrick Mann, Jermariah Holland and Alexander Brewton.

Alberto Hernandez was indicted for child molestation and statutory rape.

Armed robbery and burglary indictments were returned against Brian Collins and Joseph Shepherd.  Also indicted for burglary were Kenneth Dismuke and Samantha Foret.

Charlie Cobb is facing a car theft indictment while Charity Cravey is indicted for entering an automobile to commit theft.

Devon Meeks was indicted for theft by taking and Jessie Swiatko faces three counts of receiving stolen property.

Shoplifting indictments were returned against Sherrie Wilkerson and Vivian Boynton while Jennifer Nicole Yancey was indicted for debit card fraud.

Three people were indicted for criminal activity at the Toombs County Detention Center.  They are Christopher Robinson for a riot in a penal institution, Mallory Partin for possession of contraband and James Mahoney, Jr. for procuring prohibited items for an inmate. 

June 7--  The Courtney Wilkes murder trial is scheduled to start Monday in Florida.

{mosimage}Twenty-four-year old Steven Cozzie is accused of killing Lyons teenager Courtney Wilkes while she was vacationing with her family in Seagrove Beach on June 16, 2011.

Cozzie's attorneys are asking Judge Kelvin Wells to suppress one of the interviews he did with police following his arrest, according to Florida prosecutor Bobby Elmore.

The motion was made at a pre-trial hearing Thursday afternoon at the courthouse in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

The state is seeking the death penalty for Cozzie on the murder charge.  He's also charged with sexual battery, aggravated child abuse and kidnapping.

Jury selection will start Monday for the trial which Elmore says could last two weeks.

June 5-- During the annual retirement breakfast, six retirees were honored for their years of service to the Toombs County School System. School board members, school superintendent, employees, and guests of the Toombs County Board of Education gathered at the Toombs County Agriculture Center to honor the retirees.

The event was held to show appreciation for loyal and dedicated service to the children of the Toombs County School System. After each retiree was given a tribute by their co-worker, Dr. Kim Corley, Toombs County School Superintendent, thanked the retires for a job well done and presented each with a gift.

{mosimage}The retirees (L-R) are Kevin Hill, 31 years; Diane Kersey, 16 years; Donna Ann Darley, 36 years; Wendell Howell, 17 years; Glenda Partin, 13 years; and Bobby George, 31 years.

The school system also had others retiring who did not participate in the breakfast.  They are Linda Banks, 34 years; Ingrid Byrd, 30 years; Linda Scott, 27 years; Renee Cravey, 22 years; and Bobby Akins, 14 years.

June 5--  The inspiration little four-year-old Silas Edenfield brought to the world during his short time on earth was manifest on the worldwide web last Friday.

His funeral service was streamed live on and attracted 3,097 listeners from 48 states, 602 cities and 16 countries.

June 4-- Augusta businessman Rick Allen announced today that he will be a candidate for the United States Congress representing Georgia’s 12th Congressional District.

{mosimage}Allen told Toombs County Republicans of his plans at a breakfast meeting in Lyons.

“Our citizens and our communities know how to solve problems – in fact they solve them almost as fast as Washington, D.C. creates them,” Allen said.  “We need the federal government to stay out of our way and let people help people and businesses create jobs.  Sadly John Barrow believes in the centralized, bureaucratic model of big national government.  That is out of touch with what works and out of touch with Georgia.”

 “The government is financing our standard of living on the backs of our children and grandchildren,” Allen said.  “My generation has had the opportunity to live the American dream, and I want our children and grandchildren to have the same opportunity.”

{mosimage}June 3--  A traveling exhibit is now on display at the Vidalia-Toombs County Library entitled “Witness to the Holocaust: WWII Veteran William Alexander Scott III at Buchenwald.”  The exhibit is a photographic essay of one of Atlanta’s leading African American citizens who was a photographer in a segregated battalion of the United States Army during World War II.  In April of 1945, Scott rode into Germany on an Army convoy with the 8th Corps of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. 


During the exhibit opening on June 3rd, Dr. Jerry Legge was the guest speaker.  Dr. Legge received his Ph.D. in Political Science at Emory and has taught at the University of Georgia since 1980.    “The exhibit is another attempt to document what went on during World War II especially with regard to the Jewish persecution.  We have a man named William Scott who grew up in Atlanta in a segregated society who was able to document some of the atrocities that happened to the Jewish people during the war and it had a lasting effect on Mr. Scott,” Dr. Legge said.


Dr. Legge discussed the similarities between the Jim Crow laws in the United States versus the Nuremberg Race laws in Germany.  “They are similar in many ways in that they had the effect of separating the Jews from the rest of the society in Germany; in fact it took their citizenship away.  Black people in the U.S. never had the citizenship, and couldn’t go to the same theatres as white people, the same restaurants.  The same deal happened to the Jews in Germany,” Dr. Legge stated. 


The exhibit is available at select libraries throughout the state as a partnership between the Georgia Public Library Service and the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.  It is on display through June 14th at the Vidalia-Toombs County Library and from June 14th through June 24th at the Jeff Davis County Library in Hazlehurst.   


June 3--  When school starts in August, there'll be two new leaders at the Southeastern Early College and Career Academy in Vidalia.

The school's board has named former Treutlen High School principal David Avery to succeed Dr. Ryan Flowers as the Academy director.  Shelly Smith of Vidalia, formerly with the state's Regional Education Service Agency, is succeeding Dr. Barbara Christmas Golden as the academy's development officer.

Avery credits Flowers and Christmas for the school's early success.

"If it weren't for Ryan Flowers and Barbara Christmas, you know.  They took the vision that others had and made it come true," Avery notes.

As for Avery's new role, "I know the potential this career academy can bring to this area and it's exciting to be part of it as it takes off and goes from here.  It provides opportunities that the schools can't provide.  Especially I've seen what the JROTC has done with the kids in Treutlen County plus the other classes out there and I'm really looking forward to being part of that."

Shelly Smith believes her new role is to find money to develop new programs that will lead to jobs for Academy graduates.

"We graduated this year many students from Vidalia, Montgomery, Treutlen and Toombs who are industry certified.  That gives them instant entry into the market place.  What we hope to do is to find funds, grant funds primarily, to expand the course offerings and give students additional pathways," she says.