Deanna Shirey’s family to ‘cherish and celebrate her legacy’

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 6:58 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2022 at 7:27 PM EST
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THOMASVILLE, Ga. (WALB) - Robert Lee Carter, Jr. is set to serve four life sentences plus 17 years in prison for crimes he’s been convicted of committing in July 2018.

Those crimes include concealing the death of another, kidnapping and armed robbery. The judge acquitted Carter for the murder and false imprisonment of Deanna Shirey.

Feeling robbed is how Shirey’s family members describe the outcome of the trial.

Her son-in-law told WALB News 10 they waited over three years for a guilty verdict that didn’t come.

Robert Carter, Jr., right, is standing trial in connection to the 2018 death of Deanna Shirey,...
Robert Carter, Jr., right, is standing trial in connection to the 2018 death of Deanna Shirey, left.(WCTV)

Nick Abiusi, Shirey’s son-in-law, said they never thought an acquittal would come in Shirey’s case.

Before the trial, they knew a lot of evidence was circumstantial. But they believed it was enough for a jury to consider the felony murder charge.

Shirey was reported missing on July 2, 2018. Her body was discovered in Carter’s backyard on July 12.

While a positive ID wasn’t made, Thomasville Senior District Attorney Catherine Smith said they had enough circumstantial evidence to prove it was Shirey.

The Deanna Shirey Case: A timeline of events in the case

Carter was found guilty of concealing her death.

Crime scene experts testified because of the level of decomposition, they couldn’t determine how long Shirey had been buried, or when and how she died.

The lack of physical evidence in that count led to the judge’s verdict of acquittal for the murder and false imprisonment charges.

Smith told WALB she believed there was enough circumstantial evidence to identify Shirey.

“Normally, you do make identification of that body first thing. In this instance, she wasn’t buried with any identifying information. Normally, a person has their purse, their wallet or they’re in a position that a person can identify their identity,” said Smith. “At this point, it would’ve caused more trauma to the family to ask them to come and identify her on the scene that night. Her jewelry that was recovered under the shed was another essential element. Her OtterBox from her phone with her DNA at Mr. Carter’s residence, all of that identified her identify for us.”

Abiusi said this has devastated the family.

“We were heartbroken. Even angry and frustrated,” said Abiusi. “Just to have gone three-and-a-half, almost four years looking to get that guilty verdict, being able to have a sense of closure in dealing with the loss of our beloved mother and grandmother and nanna and to have that taken away, honestly I felt a bit robbed.”

Carter will serve 17 years in prison related to the crimes he committed against Shirey

The reason a cause of death couldn’t be determined was because of the intense level of decomposition Shirey had suffered, according to Smith.

A crime scene expert testified that Shirey’s body was likely buried in a shallow grave in Carter’s backyard for several days.

The jury would find Carter guilty on the remaining 19 counts.

“To hear the guilty verdicts read one by one on counts three through 21, I just started to cry,” said Abiusi. “To know he was found guilty of concealing her death is a small consolation to him not being found guilty.”

Smith said she’s relieved and sad that the Shirey family only got part of the justice they were hoping for.

“I know they were disappointed they didn’t get the verdict that they felt was key to their justice for the felony murder charge. But the relief that they got the sentence they wanted,” said Smith.

“Moving forward, we want to cherish those good memories. We want to cherish and celebrate her legacy of family first,” said Abiusi.

Wednesday, Carter left the courtroom for the last time with four life sentences plus 17 years ahead of him.

“All of these women and families have suffered tremendously. Mr. Carter preyed on older, white women who were alone in their home, and that’s where we should all should feel safe and he stripped them of that safety. We believe the sentence to confining him to that life sentence is appropriate,” said Smith.

Abiusi said the family will always keep Shirey’s memory alive.

“Mom was the most loving, kind woman who would do anything for anyone. She was sweet. She was all about family, she loved her family. We stand here today as a testament of that family bond,” said Abiusi.

Shirey’s family said they couldn’t be more grateful for the support and help they’ve received from the Thomasville community when their worst nightmare became their reality in the summer of ‘18.

“Immediately the community opened their hearts, they opened their arms, they began to pray with us, they supported us, they let us hang flyers, they searched with us, they held a prayer vigil. I don’t think there’s a community in America that can hold a candle to the heart of Thomasville,” said Abiusi.

The efforts by law enforcement never went unnoticed by the Shirey family, Abiusi told WALB.

“We knew three and a half years ago those men and women were working tirelessly. Well into the night, day and night,” said Abiusi. “That manhunt out in the woods, in the river. We could not thank them enough for all that they did for helping us search for mom and then to bring justice for Deanna.”

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