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Facing indictment delay, murdered boy's mother asks for justice

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In the middle of the memorial song, the woman stopped to cry.

She was singing about Jesus and about trusting Jesus to make things right, and then she choked up, turned to the woman next to her, hugged her tightly, and cried.

A few dozen friends of Edward Bernard Mills, a 17-year-old who was shot to death on a Sunday afternoon in October, gathered with candles at the scene of the murder, Thursday evening. As one woman wept, another took up the singing, and then began to pray.

"Father God," she said, "we know you know what happened. Father God, we ask you for justice."

Mills, known to those who mourn his death as "Boo-Man," has been dead and buried since last year. The Clayton County Police caught someone in connection with the killing, and have charged him. But 17-year-old Jeffrey Winslow, Jr., who allegedly murdered Mills in an argument over marijuana and money, has not been indicted by a grand jury in the required time, and may be tried as a juvenile, instead of as an adult.

According to state law, a teen charged with murder is automatically considered an adult, and is prosecuted and tried as an adult. If the teen isn't indicted by a grand jury within 180 days, however, the case is sent to juvenile court, where the teen is seen as a child before the law. The county's magistrate court found probable cause to charge Winslow in November, and sent his case to the district attorney's office to be presented to a grand jury for indictment. After six months, the case has still not been presented for indictment and Winslow's case is scheduled to be sent to juvenile court.

If Winslow were to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to the maximum possible sentence in juvenile court, he would be free in four years, and then the crime would be expunged from his record.

Tammy Mills, the mother of the murdered boy, said Winslow would be free and she would still be paying off the debt from her son's funeral.

"This is really driving me crazy," Tammy Mills said. "If he is charged as a juvenile, he's going to do two or three years in jail and then, he's going to get out and be free. He's going to be free and he's going to do this to somebody else ... He's going to think it was that easy to do it to my son. He robbed my son and shot my son in broad daylight."

On Thursday morning, the Clayton County District Attorney's Office appealed for more time to bring the indictment. A judge can grant an extra 90 days, but only if "good cause" is shown for the delay.

Anece Baxter White, assistant district attorney, said prosecutors deserved an extension because there was some confusion about when the 180 days began. One computer record shows the 180 days starting in early January, instead of mid November, recording the date Winslow was transferred from juvenile detention to the county jail, instead of the date his case file was sent to the district attorney's office.

Judge Deborah Benefield, presiding at the hearing, said "good cause" for delay had to be something more than misreading a computer screen.

"That may be negligence," the judge said, "but that's not necessarily 'good cause.'"

Defending the district attorney's office, White's second argument was that the delay was the police department's fault.

"It's not that the district attorney's office has the case and its been sitting around," the prosecutor said. "It has not been the state's delay; it's been the police department."

Jewel Scott, the district attorney, also blamed the county police for the fact Winslow hasn't been indicted by a grand jury.

"We can't indict a case when we don't have a case file," Scott said. "We started asking the detective for the file back in November ... We are not baby-sitters for the police department."

At the hearing, the lead investigator in the homicide, Thomas Martin, told the judge he didn't know there was a deadline, and no one from the district attorney's office ever told him about the deadline until the 180th day arrived.

Police Chief Jeff Turner said the prosecutors don't need the file to indict. They can bring the arrest warrant affidavit to the grand jury and prove probable cause. He said he didn't know why it had taken more than six months for an indictment, but the prosecutors never told the detective what they needed.

"My investigators don't know everything about prosecuting a case, because they're not prosecutors. If the DA's office needs something, they need to let us know," Turner said.

The attorney defending Winslow, Leon Hicks, said his 17-year-old client has been sitting in jail for six months and hasn't been formally charged. The law, Hicks said, is pretty clear about that.

"It's simple to get the indictment," he said. "I don't understand what could cause this delay or what could excuse this delay... Your Honor, I just don't think there's been 'good cause' shown.'"

"Well," Benefield said, "I don't know that it has either."

The judge said she was taking the appeal for 90 more days into consideration, and could rule on it sometime next week.

An assistant in Scott's office called Tammy Mills to tell her the prosecutors did what they could, at the hearing, and the decision was up to the judge. Mills said she has asked to talk directly to the district attorney about the case, but hasn't had her messages returned.

"I don't know who to turn to," Tammy Mills said. "I don't want to hear about bond hearings. I don't want to hear about court procedures. I want to hear that justice has been served. I don't want this to be a situation that's just swept up under a rug. But I don't know who to ask for help."

The friends and family of Edward Bernard Mills held candles in a parking lot, Thursday evening, near where he was killed. They sang and prayed for the couple of cameras that came to capture their vigil, and they looked into the cameras and said they love "Boo-Man" and want justice.

Then they blew out the flames -- the smoke disappearing into the May evening -- and they hugged their friend's mother, one at a time.