A newly formed joint task force consisting of detectives from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and the Hinesville Police Department has been hard at work, and the members’ efforts are paying off.Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier announced the task force’s creation Wednesday, and followed up Thursday with even bigger news.
Sikes said the task force came about when he met with the Stagmeier in September to talk to him about the unsolved murder of youth coach and mentor Ernie Walthour. On Thursday afternoon, Sikes held a press conference and announced a suspect has been arrested and indicted in connection with a cold-case file that bears strong similarities to the Walthour case.Sikes said information was presented against Terrance G. “Pooch” Jones in the armed robbery, aggravated assault and murder of Orlejandro Marquise Smalls and the armed robbery and aggravated assault of eight other victims that were present at the poker game the night Smalls’ murder happened.
Smalls and Walthour knew each other, according to the sheriff. He added that the cases’ modi operandi were too similar to overlook.Sikes said that during the investigation it was determined that household items belonging to Walthour had been taken from his residence immediately after his murder, and it was believed that a burglary had taken place. The task force since has recovered those items in the case.
Jones currently is under indictment in McIntosh County for murder, along with two other suspects, and was out on bond before the LCSO arrested him. He is being held at the Liberty County Jail. Jones also may be connected to the bank robbery and shooting of a bank employee that occurred Oct. 27, 2010, in Vidalia, two days before Smalls’ death.Sikes said the task force also uncovered sufficient evidence to allow the grand jury to move forward with several other cases, including the double homicide of Jeneral Morgan and Rolando McIntosh and aggravated assault on Richard Hlliery, which occurred Feb. 9, 1996 in Walthourville. Jones and Roy Mandel Smith were both indicted for the murders of McIntosh and Morgan.
Together, the men were indicted on five counts of malice murder, five counts of felony murder, 15 counts of aggravated assault, nine counts of armed robbery and other related crimes for a total of 46 indictments.
“We formed the task force to investigate the murder of Ernie Walthour and Orlejandro Marquise Smalls,” Sikes said. “Both murders occurred during or immediately after an illegal poker game had taken place in Hinesville and Liberty County. The Walthour case occurred on June 30, 2013, and the Smalls case occurred on Oct. 29, 2010. Some of the same circumstances — witnesses and victims — were present in both cases, so the task force was formed to investigate those common leads.”
Sikes added that Jones is a person of interest in Walthour’s murder but said he still wants anyone with information related to Walthour’s death to come forward. The sheriff cautioned against focusing on one possible suspect at the risk of losing sight of others. There still is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Walthour’s murderer.
Stagmeier said HPD has worked closely with the sheriff’s office for years, but added things started moving swiftly once they formed the task force.
“It has really ramped up, and we have been able to work together on numerous serious crimes,” the chief said. “I think the people of Liberty County and Hinesville will be pleased.”
HPD Detectives Tracey Howard, Sue Jackson, Doug Snider and Maj. Thomas Cribbs joined forces with LCSO Detectives Chuck Woodall, Chris Reed, Julie Hibbeler and Tracy Jennings to form the Task Force. Together the group has spent the past few months reviewing evidence and files, mostly relating to Walthour’s unsolved murder.
Sikes said the collaboration has been so successful, he plans to keep the newly formed task force in place for future needs.
“This task force will be here for the duration of my term, I assure you,” Sikes said.
Anyone with information related to the death of Ernie Walthour should call 876-4555 or the anonymous tip line at 369-2020.