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YEAR IN REVIEW: Six murders in 2009 kept NCSO busy

COVINGTON -- The murder rate for Newton County was reduced drastically in 2009 as officers had six cases added to their workload -- down from a total of 10 in 2008 -- which included both city of Covington and Newton County jurisdictions.

The first murder of the year actually occurred in May, but no charges were made until November. Jennifer Lynn Phelps, 39, of 573 Richards Chapel Road, was charged with murder by the Newton County Sheriff's Office in connection with the apparent prescription drug overdose of Kristin Deanna Williams, 31, of 1835 Access Road, Apt. A, on May 28.

However, the year was half over when the first documented murder occurred in mid-June. Fishermen stumbled onto the body of Conyers landscaper 55-year-old Timothy Clements, who NCSO investigators believe was murdered at another location in Newton County before his body was dumped in Snapping Shoals Creek on Ga. Highway 212. Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the case, one of whom, Pablo Maldonado, 22, was employed by the victim. The other three suspects are Christian Caldwell, 17, Brittney Beasley, 18, and Katria Luche McClain, 17, who was a juvenile at the time of the killing, but will be prosecuted as an adult.

Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne announced in December he is seeking the death penalty for Maldonado.

Days later, a second murder occurred in Cedar Creek subdivision south of Covington when gunfire erupted at a home on Appia Way, killing one and injuring two. Calvin Kentrell Banks, 34, of 45 Appia Way, died at Newton Medical Center shortly after the shootings at 9:45 a.m. on June 29.

Two weeks later, two suspects -- Larry Grison Jr., 29 of Lake Charles, La., and Ricky Lamont Matthews, 29, of Grand Rapids, Mich. -- were arrested in connection with the murder and shootings.

In July, William Okafor was beaten to death in front of his parents' home at 85 Faircliff Drive in western Newton County. Ronald Wilson Jr., 23, of 2914 Chesterfield Way, Conyers, has been charged in connection with the death and NCSO investigators are still seeking other suspects.

A 36-year-old woman, Tajuana Lashawn Stroud of Covington, was found dead from a gunshot wound by NCSO deputies at a residence at 120 Bell St. on Nov. 8. Steven Cadet Smith, 42, was also seriously wounded in the shooting.

The brother of the wounded man, Ricky Lewis Smith Sr., 44, was charged with the murder of Stroud and the aggravated assault of his brother.

In mid-December the body of Robert Andrew "Drew" Nichols, 38, of Covington was located in a field on the outskirts of Social Circle by a deer hunter.

NCSO investigators subsequently determined the murder actually occurred in Newton County and arrested four suspects. Charged in connection with the murder are: Michael Scott West, 31, Robert Vincent Lambert, 35, Sam Dumas Dawkins, 45, all of Newton County, and Chad Ashley Allen, 31, of Walton County.