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TOP STORIES OF 2009: Justice is served to lawbreakers

COVINGTON -- Justice came in 2009 for many of those who committed crimes earlier.

Among them was Brian Keith Terrell, who had been convicted in the 1992 murder of 70-year-old Newton Countian John Watson. The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 1 to reinstate the death penalty that had been set aside by a lower court based on the defendant's contention of alleged ineffectiveness of counsel at his trial. Attorneys for Terrell had been John T. Strauss and Tanya Greene of the firm of Strauss & Walker.

Newton County prosecutors maintained Watson was killed by Terrell after he stole and forged checks amounting to nearly $9,000 from the elderly dialysis patient. Watson had been shot four times and severely beaten around the face and head as he entered his car to leave for a dialysis appointment.

There are three Newton County men on Georgia's Death Row awaiting execution: Terrell; Melbert Ray Ford Jr. for the shooting death of former girlfriend Martha Chapman Matich and her 11-year-old niece, Lisa Renee Chapman; and William David Riley, who was convicted of setting his mobile home on fire with three small children inside.

Courtney Courtmentez Thornton, 26, was found guilty by a Newton County jury in June of the New Year's Day 2008 murder of 38-year-old Denis Rogers.

The murder apparently took place during a drug deal when Thornton shot Rogers in the back of the head while he was seated in a vehicle on Gum Creek Trail.

Thornton was charged with murder and armed robbery and will have to serve 30 years on a life sentence for the murder followed by a full 20-year sentence for the armed robbery, meaning he will serve 50 years in prison before the possibility of parole.

Almost two years to the date, Franklin Benson was found guilty in October of murdering and dismembering the body of his girlfriend Leslyan Williams in October of 2007.

Williams was reported missing by her family, spurring a DeKalb County police investigation into her disappearance. On Oct. 30, 2007, a severed foot belonging to a female was discovered by a Newton County resident living off Ga. Highway 212 after she witnessed her dogs fighting over the remains. Subsequently, more severed body parts were located and later determined to belong to Williams.

Judge Horace Johnson handed down the maximum sentence of life, plus 11 years, plus 12 months.

Days later, it took a Newton County jury only 20 minutes to find Rick Ray Breedlove guilty of the Nov. 6, 2007, murder of Pamela Evans Spencer.

Evidence was presented that showed Breedlove and Spencer had lived together for about two years, sharing their passion for rescuing abused dogs. There were 14 dogs living in the home at the time Spencer was murdered. Most had come to Spencer due to some traumatic situation and it was her love and concern for these dogs that kept Spencer at her home despite her growing fear of Breedlove. He refused to leave and continued to want to restore their relationship. Testimony was given that Breedlove not only threatened Spencer's life if their relationship didn't continue, but the life of the dogs, as well.

The blood-chilling audio recording of her murder was the central piece of evidence presented by the prosecution. Testimony was given showing that, on advice from a veteran law enforcement officer, Spencer had dialed 911 and left the phone line open when an argument escalated between her and Breedlove at the home they shared on Hickory Hill Drive in Oxford. There were three terrified screams, a gunshot followed by a second gunshot, then silence. Those sounds told the story of what happened the night Spencer lost her life.

A single gunshot penetrated Spencer's hand, which was held protectively to the back of her head, and then went into her brain, killing her instantly. Breedlove then turned the gun on himself, and was found lying not far away with a gunshot wound to his face and his hand only inches from the .357 Magnum that was used to shoot them.

Superior Court Judge John Ott sentenced Breedlove to life plus five years in prison.