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Murder pleas, deployments big news in early 2012
2012 in review
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As we close the door on 2012, the Courier is recalling stories that grabbed attention, piqued interest and affected the community in the last 12 months. This is the second in a four-part series.

Ludowici welcomes new mayor, seven lose city posts — When the Ludowici City Council convened in January, James Fuller replaced Mayor Myrtice Warren. Also new to the board were Mark Chesser and Mary Hamilton. During a January meeting, seven employees were not rehired during the city’s annual hiring process. Four from the police department and three from city hall did not retain their positions. The vote passed 3-2, and some of those who were not retained asserted that the move was political, that Fuller was eliminating staffers who did not support his mayoral bid.

Former Liberty tax commissioner released on parole — Former Liberty County Tax Commissioner Carolyn Brown returned home after serving 10 years in prison for four counts of theft by conversion and racketeering. Brown, who had been sentenced to 30 years, was paroled Nov. 21, 2011, according to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles’ online database. Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Hinesville hosted a Dec. 15 welcome home event.

Walthourville toddler’s death ruled a homicide — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation declared homicide the cause of death for a Walthourville toddler found dead Jan. 14. Two-year-old Jonathan Thomas Sturdy was reported missing from his Busbee Road home and found in a creek three hours later. There have been no arrests in the case.

Man pleads guilty to 2010 slaying — Maurice Dwayne Newsome, 23, in January pleaded guilty to malice murder in the 2010 death of his former girlfriend, Savannah Smith, who was 22 at the time of her death. Under the plea, Newsome was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Two plea, offer testimony in Fleming stabbing — Three men were arrested in January in connection with the Jan. 21 stabbing death of Terry “TJ” Floyd, 19. Arrested were Travon Walthour, 17, charged with murder and aggravated assault; Jonathan Mathew Robertson, 18, charged with murder and robbery; and Damien Walthour, charged with tampering with evidence. In early February, the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office uncovered the suspected murder weapon in Peacock Creek. Two of the three co-defendants in November took plea agreements. Damien Walthour entered a guilty plea for tampering with evidence and was sentenced to three years probation. Co-defendant Jonathan Mathew Robertson pled to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years probation. Both agreed to testify against the third defendant, Travon Walthour.

Stewart-Hunter ranked No. 1 again — For the fifth time, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield brought home gold in the Army Community of Excellence awards. The installation also was recognized for a best practice award. Former Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Milton said the award proved Stewart “is the best installation in the U.S. Army to train, deploy, live and raise a military family … it is a testament to the resiliency of the soldiers, families and Army civilians that live and work here.”

Deployments to Afghanistan continue — More than 2,200 3rd ID soldiers were tapped this year to deploy to Afghanistan, with three battalions scheduled to join 91,000 soldiers still in the region. Two battalions with the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team deployed this spring. The 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment deployed in February, and the 3rd Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment deployed in April. And the 3rd ID’s Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion left in August to assume authority of Afghanistan’s Regional Command South.

Army announces drones at Stewart — The Army announced in mid-February that it plans to station Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft systems on Fort Stewart.

Murder suspect Jason Howard takes plea — Murder suspect Jason Howard shocked a Liberty courtroom in March when he accepted a deal his trial in connection to the 2004 deaths of his mother and stepfather, Mildred and Jewel Cleveland, in their Gum Branch home. Howard pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and received two concurrent 20-year sentences, with credit for time served.

Richmond Hill pilot baffles with behavior — JetBlue Airlines Capt. Clayton Osbon, a Richmond Hill resident, made national headlines in March after he was restrained during a New York to Las Vegas flight. Osbon initially faced federal charges of interfering with a flight crew but was found not guilty by reason of insanity in July and released by a Texas judge in November.

Liberty Teacher of the Year a state finalist — Liberty County PreK Center teacher Sara Taylor was among the finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year, according to a Georgia Department of Education release in March.

Backpack Buddies launches to combat hunger — Frank Long Elementary teachers Sarah Carrier and Sharon Long enlisted the United Way of Liberty County in February to launch a program that provides underprivileged children with weekend meals. Students in need are identified by teachers, and two-days worth of food are sent home with students for weekends. The program began with 34 FLE students and has expanded since to half of Liberty’s elementary schools. UW Liberty director Jennifer Darsey recently said the program received funding to provide in 2013 for Liberty’s eight elementary schools and the PreK Center.

Long County couple rocks boat with sticker — A Long County couple received fire in March for an anti-President Barack Obama bumper sticker sold on their website. Local officials said the message is unpatriotic, racist and a blight to the area. Billy and Paula Smith sold the stickers on, and when national news outlets picked up the story, the couple said the matter had been blown out of proportion.

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