Beatrice Powell testifies Thursday. (Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — A former sheriff’s employee under indictment for lying to a special purpose grand jury testified Thursday that she was “confused” on the dates she traveled with Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill in 2008.
Beatrice Powell, who lives in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where she works at Walmart, took the stand as the state’s 10th and last witness of the day. She said she lived with Hill “a lot” while also working for him as a corrections officer.
Special prosecutor Layla Zon gave her immunity in exchange for her testimony against Hill. Hill faces 28 felony counts of mostly theft by taking in connection with trips he took with Powell and another former employee, Naomi Nash. Nash is also expected to testify.
Powell testified Thursday that she was confused, not lying, during her appearance before the grand jury.
“They were going back and forth on dates and it made me feel like I was the defendant,” she said. “I shut down, I locked down and just said, ‘No, no, no.’ I’m a single woman, I travel a lot. I was confused.”
Zon alleges that Hill used his county-issued vehicle to travel with the women out of state after he lost the runoff election in August 2008. Zon said Hill filled the vehicle with gas from the county pumps and used his county credit card during the trips.
Powell’s role in the accusations centers around her time away from work. Prosecutors said she drew a paycheck despite being on the road with Hill because she claimed to be suffering from fibroid tumors from Aug. 6, 2008, to Nov. 20, 2008. Powell said Thursday her doctor told her she was too sick to work and told her to take off using the Family Medical Leave Act. When she testified before the grand jury, Powell reportedly said she didn’t vacation with Hill in 2008 because she was too sick to travel or work.
Powell and Hill’s former driver, Grant Kidd, each testified that Hill became depressed after losing the Aug. 5, 2008, runoff to Kem Kimbrough. Powell said the trips were a way to “cheer up” Hill. Hill and the women went to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi over a period of weeks.
Kidd, who was hired under former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle in 1998, testified that Hill promoted him officially as a lieutenant over the work release program but in actuality, he was one of three drivers who carted Hill wherever he needed to be.
“Did you ever supervise work release?” said Zon.
“No,” Kidd said. “I picked him up in the morning and took him to work. I drove him anywhere he needed to go. I also drove him back home after work.”
There hasn’t been much dispute so far that Hill didn’t take those trips or spent the money he’s alleged to have spent. However, defense attorneys Steve Frey and Drew Findling said Hill was entitled to use the vehicles and money for fuel because his job required him to be on call 365 days a year.
Hill maintains his innocence. After losing his first re-election bid in 2008, Hill ran again last year and took office in January.
Hill’s supporters have packed the courtroom every day this week and included elected officials such as state Reps. Keisha Waites and Darryl Jordan.
Although trial Judge Albert Collier admonished spectators to refrain from reacting to testimony, sounds of support for Hill could be heard Thursday afternoon without reprimands from sheriff’s deputies posted in the courtroom.