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Jury awards $1.35 million in Housing Authority lawsuit

Photo by Shelley Bortz

Photo by Shelley Bortz

COVINGTON -- A jury has ordered the Covington Housing Authority to pay $1.35 million to the family of murder victim Tammara Erica Reed, who was visiting a resident in the authority's complex on Alcovy Road when she was killed in 2006.

The verdict came Oct. 15 after six hours of deliberation following a nearly five-day trial in Newton County Superior Court. Reed family attorney Andy Rogers said the money will go to Reed's two sons, now ages 6 and 7.

The jury awarded $1.5 million initially but that was reduced by 10 percent, to $1.35 million, in accordance with Georgia apportionment law. In the civil trial, the jury determined that Reed's murderer was 10 percent at fault and the Housing Authority was 90 percent at fault, thus the reduction of the award amount by 10 percent.

"We appreciate how hard the jury worked on this case and understand it was a difficult case to be a jury on," said Rogers. "We didn't get a chance to speak to them afterwards, but we do appreciate their time and consideration and hard work. I think it certainly speaks to the jury's understanding of the value of Erica Reed's life."

The attorney for the Covington Housing Authority could not be reached for comment.

Willie R. Gunn pleaded guilty to malice murder in the death of Reed and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Gunn also pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony for which he received an additional five years.

Gunn had previously pleaded guilty to murder in Newton County Superior Court in 1963 under the name Billy Gunn.

The lawsuit alleged that Housing Authority staff should have known Gunn's criminal history and should not have approved his lease application, based on their own leasing guidelines. It further stated that the Housing Authority breached its duty to keep residents safe by leasing the property to Gunn and failed to provide adequate security. The family sought compensatory damages for the full value of Reed's life and for mental and physical pain and suffering and funeral expenses.

According to Rogers, Gunn lied about his criminal background during his interview and on his application for residence. A criminal background check revealed four convictions: one for sexual battery and solicitation to commit criminal sodomy, which involved a minor; two for DUI and one for shoplifting. The murder conviction did not appear on the criminal background check but it was on file in the county clerk's office. During the trial, former Housing Authority Director Faith Johnson testified that she was aware of the murder conviction.

"Her testimony was that she had seen something saying he was convicted of murder...and they let him in anyway," Rogers said.

Reed was found by authorities lying on the front porch of Gunn's apartment on September 27, 2006 with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. She was later pronounced dead at Newton Medical Center. According to statements made by witnesses, Gunn and Reed had an argument the night before the shooting over a set of car keys.

News Editor Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.