A man suspected of killing his mother and stepfather, a father accused of killing his 7-month-old daughter and a man suspected of sexual assault and false imprisonment all entered pleas of not guilty Monday morning during their respective arraignment hearing at the Liberty County Jail before Liberty Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart.
Murder suspect Jason Howard, who gained notoriety when his case was profiled on "America’s Most Wanted," pleaded not guilty to six counts of murder, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a crime and two counts of concealing the death of another. He allegedly killed his mother and stepfather, Mildred and Jewel Cleveland, at their Gum Branch home in 2004. He was on the lam for five years but was caught in Macon on March 27 for allegedly trying to break into cars.
Suspected child killer Travis Williams pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder, three counts of cruelty to children, criminal negligence/cause excessive physical and mental pain in the second degree and two counts of contributing to the deprivation of a child for his involvement in the death of his 7-month-old daughter, Syikiria Williams, in Hinesville in September 2008.
Williams was extradited from Lee County, Ala., after officials found him staying at a relative’s house.
According to Hinesville Police Department Det. Doug Snider, Williams became a suspect when autopsy reports concluded the infant’s death was caused by head trauma, probably from abuse.
Investigators were called when DFACS reported the girl had been taken to Memorial Health University Hospital in Savannah with injuries that appeared suspicious.
The infant was taken off life support when two separate tests, performed 24 hours apart, revealed she child had no brain functions.
According to the indictment, the child likely was shaken, burned on her toe, sustained a fractured right leg and not given proper medical care for existing medical ailments. The charges include failing to immunize the child and provide a heart monitor for her medical condition.
Co-defendant Casey Shuman, the child’s mother, is charged with three counts of cruelty to children, criminal negligence/cause excessive physical and mental pain in the second degree and two counts of contributing to the deprivation of a child. Her bond was set at an earlier hearing at $14,000.
Jalani Battle entered his plea of not guilty on three counts of aggravated sodomy, one count of robbery by intimidation and one count of false imprisonment for allegedly holding a Savannah woman against her will in a house in the 300 block of Nottingham Way in October 2008.
The crime involved the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police and Chief Michael Berkow said the incident was reportedly sparked by a possible unpaid drug debt.
Berkow has said the Savannah woman was kidnapped in Yamacraw Village in Savannah. According to the initial Savannah-Chatham police press release, a 9-1-1- hang-up call alerted authorities about armed men who forced their way into an apartment and took the woman. Within hours, units from the police, the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics team and the U.S. Marshals Service were monitoring correspondence between the kidnappers and people at the apartment. Information led authorities to Hinesville.
According Hinesville Police Det. Maj. Thomas Cribbs, his department received a call from Savannah requesting help watching the house here. Agents with the Multi Agency Crack Enforcement Drug Task Force and HPD officers staked out the house.
Two men, Antonio Smith and Chris Scott, were eventually arrested near Hunter Army Airfield by the marshals. MACE agents spotted Battle leaving the house in Hinesville and arrested him. Cribbs reported the woman was able to break free from her bonds and ran to a neighboring house where an off-duty officer lives.
According to police, the men initially went to collect $10,000 owed to them from an alleged drug deal.
Cribbs said there was evidence the woman had been tied up and held against her will.
Battle was denied bond and is at the Liberty County J ail. Co-defendant Scott was charged with one count of false imprisonment in Liberty County. His bond was set at $10,000. Smith was charged with one count of aggravated sodomy, one count of robbery by intimidation and one count of possession of marijuana in Liberty County. His bond was set at $26,000. Scott and Smith also face charges in Savannah.