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Newton hits grisly milestone
County sees 7 murders

The year 2007 was one of the deadliest on record for Newton County, as the county hit a new all-time high for murders with a total of seven.

The year's first murder occurred in January, when the bullet-riddled body of 55-year-old Rufus Tony Richardson was discovered on the side of a dirt road near Ga. Highway 162.

Four suspects, Xavier Damone Dyer, 19, his cousin Willie Dyer, 18, along with Christopher Jarrell Rozier, 20, and Liberty Harris, 37, were later arrested and charged in connection with Richardson's slaying.

Authorities say that the suspects initially tried to kill the victim by giving him crack cocaine laced with rat poison, before deciding to take him out to the dirt road and shoot him.

The defendants' cases are expected to head to trial early next year.

The following month, 25-year-old Larry Richardson Jr. was gunned down by Steven Bernard Lackey in the driveway of a home on Morningside Drive.

Richardson was shot once in the neck with a 9mm pistol after he and his girlfriend arrived at Lackey's residence to pick up her 4-year-old son.

Lackey, 26, was found guilty of Richardson's murder in October and sentenced to life in prison.

In June, five people were arrested in connection with the shooting death of Kawasikis Shawnte Ricks, 29, following an attempted robbery and dope deal gone awry on Hidden Pines Drive.

The suspects - Clarence Lamar Benton, 17; Brandon Lenard Hudnal, 20; Terrance Tremaine Reid, 21; Marino Tuggle, 16; and Tervarius Dexter White, 16 - have since pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Less than a month later, Christopher Nicholas Masiello, 30, allegedly shot and killed his stepfather, 56-year-old Paul Laren Larson, at his home on Island Shoals Road near the intersection of Ga. Highway 212 and Ga. 162.

Masiello was scheduled to appear for arraignment on murder charges earlier this month, but that hearing was postponed until a later date.

In August, Aslam Muhammad, 46, owner of the Pure Food Mart located at 50 Morningside Drive, was found shot to death behind the counter of his business following an armed robbery.

Muhammad's alleged killer, Carronis Neville Hurst, 20, was taken into custody the following week at a residence on Mote Road. Hurst has since pleaded not guilty to charges related to the victim's slaying.

The county's most publicized slaying would occur more than two months later when a resident found her dogs fighting over a human foot in a wooded area off of Ga. Highway 212.

Authorities would later find the remainder of the victim's extremities and identified them to be those of 49-year-old Leslyan Williams. Williams' boyfriend, Franklin Elliot Benson, 47, of Atlanta was later arrested and charged with her murder.

Benson was denied bond at a hearing held earlier this month. Williams' head and torso have yet to be recovered.

The most recent murder occurred on Nov. 6, when Rick Breedlove, 54, allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, 49-year-old Pam Spencer, with a .357 magnum before turning the gun on himself.

Breedlove has been at an Atlanta area hospital since the shooting incident and remains in critical but stable condition.

Authorities say that the county has also seen a rise in several other categories of violent crime. As of last week, there had been 126 aggravated assaults and 27 armed robberies recorded by the Newton County Sheriff's Office this year.

Just three years ago, the NCSO recorded one murder, nine aggravated assaults and one armed robbery.

As far as other crimes are concerned, the NCSO has to date recorded 127 batteries, eight rapes and 10 felony statutory rapes.

Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols attributes the rise in violent crime to the rapid growth of the county in recent years.

"All the numbers are up over yearly averages," he said. "It's just growth."

The sheriff also added that the detention center has had the highest number of inmates ever throughout a yearly period in 2007.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.