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DA to seek death penalty in double-homicide case

Herman Lenard Jackson, III

Herman Lenard Jackson, III

— The district attorney for Butts County says he plans to seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing his wife and her 10-year-old niece in April 2011.

Herman Lenard Jackson, III, has been jailed since turning himself in more than a day after the killings.

Richard Milam, the district attorney for the Towaliga Judicial Circuit which includes Butts County, said in a phone interview last week that he planned to file notice with the court that he intended to seek the death penalty against Jackson.

He said Jackson’s case was presented to a Butts County grand jury for indictment, and that he told grand jurors of his intent as well. The grand jury returned indictments Jan. 10 against Jackson, on two counts of malice murder and two counts of felony murder.

Milam could not say when the case could potentially be brought to trial, but death penalty cases can take several years to resolve. Jackson is currently being held in the Butts County Jail, and is being represented by the circuit public defender’s office, but his case will be transferred to the state’s capital defender’s office after the DA’s notice is filed.

The notice had not yet been filed Tuesday, but Milam reaffirmed his intent in a subsequent phone interview.

Capital cases involve numerous pretrial hearings, and motions, some of which can wind up being heard by the state Supreme Court before the trial begins. “It’s not uncommon at all for a number of them (motions) to go up” to the state Supreme Court, Milam said.

“We just want to try this one time,” he added. “It’s going to be a very time consuming and expensive proposition.”

Jackson, 43, is accused in the stabbing deaths of his wife, 41-year-old Penny Phillips, and Phillips' 10-year-old niece, Rebecca Steele, who investigators say she had adopted. The two were found dead in their Southern Shores Drive home April 23, 2011.

After spending a day and a night on the run, Jackson, with his pastor by his side, turned himself in to the Henry County Jail April 24, Easter Sunday.

Butts County Sheriff Gene Pope said at the time it appeared both victims had been killed sometime between 2 a.m., and daylight. He said authorities were called about mid-morning, April 23, after one of several children in the home could not get a response at the couple's bedroom door and went inside, where Phillips was found. 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. Former sheriff’s Lt. Timothy Filbeck -- the commander, at the time, of the criminal investigations division -- said in an interview after the incident that both knives 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.

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.

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.