No criminal charges in cemetery desecration - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

No criminal charges in cemetery desecration

July 5, 2006

Dougherty County  -- The District Attorney has decided not to file any criminal charges in the case of a Dougherty County Plantation desecrating a 160-year-old forgotten cemetery. The D.A. says the law leaves a loophole for the plantation owners, and he doesn't feel the case will stand up in court.

District Attorney Ken Hodges has decided his office will not file criminal charges against the owner or workers of Ecila Plantation. A sheriff's criminal investigation found that in April or May 2003 the plantation's workers cut down brush that had overgrown a cemetery surrounded by their property next to Tallahassee Road.

Several gravestones were disturbed, one for Fanny Roby, who died in 1853, and another for Mary J. Turner, dated 1863, were plowed up. But Hodges said the investigation found that the Plantation owner, A.J. Clark from Bethesda, Maryland, was not involved, and under Georgia law the criminal charges stop there.

Hodges said, "The law specifically applies, in this instance applies to the owner of the property have knowledge that this activity occurred. The investigation reveals that the owner did not direct that this occurred, but the manager of the property."

Sheriff's Investigators say Ecila Plantation workers admitted they harrowed over the cemetery by mistake. Hodges said, "We have got to follow the law. I can only prosecute what the law is, not what I want the law to be."

 Hodges said the Georgia law protecting cemeteries gives plantation owners an out criminally, and legislators may need to take action to protect the cemeteries. Hodges said, "If this is a problem that is occurring with any frequency, certainly the General Assembly can address it at the next session and clarify the law."

 Hodges suggests that relatives of the people buried in this plantation can file a lawsuit against the plantation. Hodges said, "Certainly with us not proceeding criminally does not preclude them from proceeding civilly."

But since this cemetery was overgrown and forgotten, that seems a remote possibility. The D.A. never took this investigation report before a Grand Jury, saying he did not feel the case would stand up in a criminal trial.

 Georgia criminal law says disturbing cemeteries can be punished by up to six months in jail, a fine of five thousand dollars per grave site disturbed, and have to pay for the restoration of the cemetery.

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