Shirley Ann Hunt was laid to rest Tuesday - four days after being shot to death in her home near Dearing and less than 24 hours after her brother-in-law was charged with her murder.
Dennis Clemons, 63, of the 400 block of First Street, Thomson, had been considered a possible suspect from the time Ms. Hunt was shot "several times" inside her single-wide mobile home off Hobbs Mill Road near Dearing about 9:30 p.m. last Thursday night.
Ms. Hunt died a short time after arriving by ambulance in the emergency room of McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson, according to Gary Nicholson, special agent in-charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 7 Office in Thomson.
Mr. Clemons, a convicted felon, who had been arrested on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon at his residence early last Friday, had two additional charges filed against him on Monday afternoon.
GBI Special Agent Charles Kicklighter swore out a pair of warrants charging Mr. Clemons with one count of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, Agent Nicholson said. The latest warrants were signed by McDuffie County Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Swan and now give Mr. Clemons, a former custodian of several years at the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, three felony charges in connection with the homicide of Ms. Hunt.
In a warrant taken out last Friday, Associate Magistrate Fred Vergeer signed an arrest warrant charging Mr. Clemons with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Later that same day, the suspect was transferred from the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center to the Columbia County Detention Center in Appling. McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall described the reason for the move there as security precautions.
"A lot of people know Dennis," Sheriff Marshall said. "He worked at our jail for a number of years."
A heartbreaking call
Melvin Floyd never did get his food.
"I was waiting in line at Checkers to get some food when I got a telephone call from Shirley telling me I needed to get down there to the house because she had been shot," recalled Melvin Floyd, who had been Ms. Hunt's boyfriend for a year. "I didn't know what to think at the time."
As he was traveling down the Augusta Highway en route to Ms. Hunt's residence, his car broke down between Harrison and Moose Club roads. Mr. Floyd said he flagged down a deputy sheriff but that he couldn't help him because he was en route to the shooting call. Fortunately, a friend of Mr. Floyd's stopped and rendered assistance. The man turned out to be a neighbor of Ms. Hunt.
"My friend drove me down here," a visibly distraught Mr. Floyd said at the scene of Thursday night's shooting. "I lost my wife a while back and now this€¦"
Ms. Hunt and family members had planned to attend a birthday celebration for a family member in Charlotte, N.C. this past weekend, according to Mr. Floyd, noting that he and some of his family had planned to join them on Saturday.
At the scene Thursday night, Mr. Floyd speculated about a reason for the shooting. He said Mr. Clemons may have gone to the Hobbs Mill Road mobile home looking for his estranged wife, Dorothy Mae Clemons. Mrs. Clemons had left her husband several weeks ago and had spent the night with her sister several times during that period, Mr. Floyd said.
McDuffie County Sheriff's Department Maj. Ronnie Williamson said the shooting may have stemmed from a domestic situation. As of Monday, local and state enforcement authorities were continuing to sort out the case and had not determined exactly what led to the tragedy that left Ms. Hunt dead and her family and friends mourning.
Shortly after the first deputy arrived on the scene of the shooting, which happened about 9:30 p.m., authorities issued a lookout for Mr. Clemons. By 1 a.m. Friday, he was in custody - apprehended at his residence off First Street in Thomson with the help of SWAT team members and investigators with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department.
Mr. Clemons was taken to the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson after undergoing questioning at the GBI office by lawmen - one of which included GBI Special Agent Charles Kicklighter. The suspect was transferred last Friday night to the Columbia County Detention Center in Appling, according to Pat Morgan, assistant agent in-charge of the local GBI office.
The warrant revealed that Mr. Clemons was in the possession of four different weapons: A 20-guage shotgun, a .22-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber pistol and a .32-caliber revolver.
A first appearance hearing was held for Mr. Clemons last Saturday on the gun violation. The hearing, which was conducted by Columbia County Associate Magistrate Dale Jenereaux, was for the purpose of advising Mr. Clemons of the charge against him and his constitutional rights, according to Columbia County Chief Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett. The suspect also was informed of his right to hire an attorney to defend him on the charge against him and that if he couldn't afford an attorney, one would be appointed him by the state without cost.
The suspect's past
Thursday's shooting was not Mr. Clemons' first brush with the law.
According to court records viewed by The Mirror in the office of McDuffie County Superior Court Clerk Connie Cheatham, Mr. Clemons served jail time for killing a man in March 1975.
Connell Moss, who at the time was only 22, was shot three times by Mr. Clemons outside the Ice House CafÃ© on Turner Street in Thomson. Authorities arrested Mr. Clemons and charged him with murder.
"I walked off from him twice, he pulled a knife, and I shot him," Mr. Clemons said in a 1976 story in The Augusta Chronicle.
During his murder trial, a jury convicted Mr. Clemons on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, court records show. The late Superior Court Chief Judge Robert L. Stevens sentenced Mr. Clemons to 15 years in confinement. The sentence was amended three years later by Judge Robert L. Stevens, who reduced the remaining time of his sentence to probation.
During that period, Mr. Clemons was appointed a jail trusty by former McDuffie County Sheriff William Swan. He worked in the jail doing various jobs, including that of serving as a cook.
Before his sentence for voluntary manslaughter on probation was ever over, Mr. Clemons landed a full-time job with McDuffie County - working as a custodian in the same jail where he once was an inmate.
Mr. Clemons was hired on April 3, 1978, as a custodian, according to McDuffie County Human Resources Coordinator Ruthie Thomas. He retired as a county employee in April 2000, she said.
Since then, Mr. Clemons has received a small monthly retirement check from the county.