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Barnes' sister demands city investigation

COVINGTON - The sister of convicted murderer Lanny Perry Barnes has sent a 33-page letter to the city of Covington demanding an investigation into alleged violations of city ordinances by her brother's victims.

The letter sent Oct. 14 by Manetta Barnes-Clemons, obtained by the Citizen through an Open Records request, alleges that Stephanie Casola and Anita King violated numerous laws by holding a demonstration outside Barnes' July funeral and placing signs on his grave.

Barnes-Clemons alleges violation of several city ordinances, including those addressing public gatherings, disorderly conduct, littering and the injury or displacement of shrubbery or plants at a cemetery.

She also references numerous state laws including those dealing with criminal trespass, placement of signs on private property and disruptive conduct at a funeral service.

She also calls for an investigation into Police Chief Stacey Cotton, the Covington Police Department and District Attorney Ken Wynne, along with the removal of Councilwoman Ocie Franklin from the City Council for what Barnes-Clemons calls libelous and defamatory statements about her family.

On Oct. 21, City Attorney Ed Crudup sent a response on behalf of the city, also obtained through an open records request.

One of Barnes-Clemons' complaints was that a protest permit was illegally issued by the police chief based on the city's definition of a public gathering as including eight or more people. There were only five protesters outside Barnes' funeral.

Crudup responded that the police chief is not prohibited from granting or conditioning permits upon request to groups smaller than required to constitute a public gathering. There is no evidence to support the claim that plants or shrubbery were destroyed or injured at the cemetery, he said.

Crudup said allegations relating to disorderly conduct and littering have already been presented to the Newton County Grand Jury, which declined to return an indictment.

Crudup said the other allegations do not fall within the Covington Municipal Court's jurisdiction and would have to be addressed in Superior Court.

"Accordingly, based on all the information currently available, there will be no further consideration or action taken regarding this matter by the Mayor and Council of the City of Covington," Crudup's letter concludes.

Numerous calls to Barnes-Clemons were not returned. In her letter, she states that the city has a legal, moral and civic duty to protect the rights of her family, that her family is seeking damages and that further action will be taken if she does not hear from the city within five business days of receipt of the letter.

City Manager Steve Horton said that he is not aware of any lawsuit or legal action being taken against the city at this time.

In May 2006, Barnes ran down King and Casola and their children in the parking lot of the Covington McDonalds, killing King's 2-year-old daughter.

Barnes was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after his arrest and a plea agreement was reached prior to trial, with Barnes pleading guilty to charges of murder and aggravated battery. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Barnes died in June of this year.

During Barnes' funeral on July 2 at Grace United Methodist Church, King and Casola and their supporters stood across the street holding signs that read "Today the world is a better place" and "Child murder" (sic).

Barnes-Clemons said protesters were in violation of a state law that prohibits conducting a public assembly or demonstration within 500 feet of a site being used for a funeral or memorial service. The law applies during the service and one hour prior to and after the service.

Later, her family found signs similar to the ones the demonstrators were holding on Barnes' grave site.

"Whatever conviction my brother received, he took his sentence, served his time and died alone and sick. We were already grieving the fact that he was incarcerated with a terminal illness and would die without his family by his side. Our last hope was to at least give him a burial that we felt would leave a little dignity for his family to be able to celebrate his life with us as well as bringing closure for all the suffering we have had to endure as a family during this extremely difficult time. The remembrance of my brother's funeral is a day that my family and I choose to forget forever. It has such a terrible stench that my family and I can't seem to remove from our memory, an extremely abnormal, insensitive and cruel way to memorialize a loved one," her letter states.

Barnes-Clemons is also requesting an investigation into Police Chief Cotton and the Covington Police Department for allowing protesters within 500 feet of the funeral; allegedly refusing to document the complaint by her family about the signs on the grave site and destroying those signs, which she said are evidence.

She is asking for a separate investigation into Police Chief Cotton for evidence tampering and conspiracy to cover up a crime, among other things, and is demanding that if found guilty, he be removed from his position as police chief.

Barnes-Clemons is also demanding that Councilwoman Ocie Franklin be removed from her post because of comments she made at the Sept. 21 City Council meeting, including that the family should "let go and let God."

Earlier this month, a Newton County Grand Jury declined to indict King and Casola after considering charges of disruptive conduct at a funeral service, criminal trespass and unlawful placement of signs.

Barnes-Clemons is also demanding an investigation into District Attorney Ken Wynne. She alleges that during the grand jury hearing, Wynne "acted as though he was attempting to prosecute me in front of the grand jury" and gave the appearance of "searching for a defense for all the alleged violators."

Barnes-Clemons said that Wynne violated the law by revealing to local media that she had testified before the grand jury.

She is asking for a new jury pool "with correct ethnicity (sic) divide," a special prosecutor from the state and a change of venue.

Wynne said he had not received a copy of the letter or the city's response.

"In light of that, I can only respond by saying that there is a legal process in place to address Mrs. Clemons' complaints, and that process was followed. No laws were broken by this office or any other agency with respect to this case. While Mrs. Clemons might not agree with the outcome, we all must respect the process and the decision of the duly constituted grand jury that heard her case," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.