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Butts Co. man charged in double homicide

Herman Lenard Jackson, III

Herman Lenard Jackson, III

A manhunt for a suspect believed to have killed his wife and her 10-year-old niece in their Butts County home ended Sunday, when the man went with his pastor to the Henry County Jail to turn himself in, authorities said.

Herman Lenard Jackson III, 43, faces charges of murder, aggravated assault and cruelty to children in the deaths of his wife, 41-year-old Penny Phillips, and Phillips' 10-year-old niece, who investigators say she had adopted.

Jackson appeared in Butts County Magistrate Court Monday morning, to hear the charges against him. Butts County Sheriff's Lt. Timothy Filbeck said bond was denied and the charges were bound over to Superior Court, and that Jackson asked for an attorney to be appointed to represent him.

Butts County Sheriff Gene Pope said Phillips and the child, whom authorities declined to identify, were found dead Saturday morning in the couple's home, which is located at 151 Southern Shores Road.

Investigators put out a lookout for a white 2003 Ford F-150 extended-cab pickup with no tag that Jackson was thought to be driving.

The pickup was found later Saturday afternoon, at a convenience store near the intersection of Keys Ferry Road and Ga. Highway 81. Investigators said when they reviewed the store's security video, they saw the pickup pull in a little before 4 a.m., Saturday.

Pope said it appeared both victims had been killed sometime between 2 a.m., Saturday, and daylight. He said authorities were called about mid-morning, after one of the children in the home could not get a response at the couple's bedroom door and went inside. Pope said the 10-year-old victim was found in her bedroom nearby.

Investigators said two knives were located at the home that authorities believe to have been used in the killings. Filbeck said both were found in the couple's bedroom, and that Phillips, in addition to a stab wound to the neck, also sustained blunt force trauma to the head.

Pope said Monday that a sledgehammer and a knife were found near the door to another bedroom, and that investigators believe Jackson may have intended to kill the other people in the house.

Filbeck said the sledgehammer is not believed to have been used in the crime and that the third knife appeared to be from a cutlery set in the kitchen.

Filbeck said a teen in the house described to investigators waking up and seeing Jackson in his room with something in his hand the night of the killings. The teen told investigators he asked Jackson what he was doing, but Jackson did not respond. The teen told investigators Jackson gave him a cigarette, said goodbye, and left the room.

"We believe that he was going to kill all of the rest of the kids," Filbeck said. It's not clear why he may have altered course.

The same teen, whom authorities did not identify, found Penny Phillips' body on the floor of the bedroom, Filbeck said.

He said investigators found the 10-year-old laying on the floor in her bedroom with a cut to the throat. Filbeck said investigators were told it was not unusual for the child to sleep on the floor, although she did have a bed in the room.

He said a total of six children were living at the home -- Phillips' natural and adopted children. He said after the incident, they were all taken in by other family members.

Filbeck said that investigators believe the couple -- who had been married about a year, and living in the home about six months -- began arguing in their bedroom sometime after 2 a.m., Saturday morning, and that the argument was partially about money.

Filbeck said Phillips and Jackson had both recently lost their jobs -- hers in retail sales and his as a forklift driver -- though he had found work at a nearby car lot doing detail work.

Investigators said that once the white Ford pickup was abandoned -- it may have had mechanical problems -- Jackson apparently left on foot. Jackson apparently made his way down Ga. 81 and up Ga. Highway 42 over the course of the night and camped out near a Dollar General, Filbeck said.

On Sunday, according to Filbeck and Investigator Sgt. Ken Mundy, Jackson contacted his pastor, who advised him to turn himself in, went to pick him up near the intersection of Ga. 42 and Ga. 138 in Stockbridge, and took him to the Henry County Jail.

Eddy Wright, the family's pastor at Crossray Baptist Church in McDonough, said he met with investigators at the family's home Saturday, and that he had a feeling Jackson would be calling him soon.

Wright, who said he was asked by the family to act as a spokesman, said Jackson did call him twice on Sunday, while the pastor was delivering the Easter Sunday sermon.

"He said, 'Hey, I need you to come pick me up,'" Wright said.

The pastor said he and another church official went to meet with Jackson, and had a brief conversation and a prayer before leaving for the Henry County Jail.

"I said, 'now it's time we do the right thing, and the right thing is to turn ourself in,'" Wright said he told Jackson.

Filbeck said Jackson has a prior criminal record.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections web site, Jackson has been in and out of prison since 1987. The web site shows he was released from prison most recently in 2005, after a DeKalb County robbery conviction. He was sentenced in Fulton County to five years after a 1995 aggravated assault.

At Stark Elementary School, where the 10-year-old girl was a student, counselors and central office staff were on hand Monday to support students at the school who knew her, the school's Principal Melinda Ellis said. She said the girl has a brother in another grade at the school as well.

"She will be missed. She was a good student and she was very sweet," said Ellis, adding that some classmates broke down at the news of her death.

She said counselors were also there to support two teachers at the school who taught the girl.

Wright, the pastor at Crossray Baptist Church, said he had Baptized the child, and remembered Phillips as a very giving person.

"She had a very big heart," Wright said. "If she could help you, she helped you. She found a way."