David Fulkrod wasn't the suspicious type, especially with someone he spoke to regularly while working security at CMC Recycling on Old Savannah Road.
Fulkrod worked evenings. Often, Charles Maxwell Tyler would stick around to chat while waiting for his ride after his shift ended, said Cameron Chance, Fulkrod's nephew.
Fulkrod couldn't have known Tyler was the last person he should trust. With a criminal record that stretched back years, Tyler could have been locked up, instead of out looking for easy cash, when he murdered Fulkrod on June 4, 2008.
Like Tyler, nearly a third of the 139 suspects arrested on murder charges in Augusta since 2005 had a criminal record. He and 20 others who faced murder charges over that nearly six-year stretch were on the streets because they were on probation.
Tyler, then 26, was following his usual routine of stealing in the early morning hours that day in June. This time, however, he also killed Fulkrod in the process.
"Uncle Dave was soft-spoken. He was just a big ol' teddy bear," said Chance, who grew up living next door to Fulkrod.
District Attorney Ashley Wright said criminal behavior becomes "easier to do the second time around. Normal, law-abiding citizens can't understand why common criminals are given so many chances."
Tyler was given a number of chances before eventually committing the crime that sent him to prison for life, plus 25 years. By the time he killed Fulkrod, Tyler had already been arrested 16 times in Augusta.
His criminal history started with a misdemeanor marijuana arrest in December 2000. Then there was a theft in 2001. He faced armed robbery and aggravated assault charges when he was accused of taking part in the mugging of a restaurant delivery man. Those charges, however, were dropped because someone else took the blame, the prosecutor wrote in court documents.
Tyler went into shoplifting in 2003 and 2004, then moved on to stealing and breaking into businesses.
Tyler got probation for breaking into his girlfriend's mother's home in April 2004 to steal jewelry. He was caught thanks to a pawn shop's record-keeping. The case was dropped to a misdemeanor when the victim told prosecutors she didn't want to press charges.
Six months later, in October 2004, Tyler was stopped by a deputy who spotted him casing businesses along Wrightsboro Road in the wee hours. Tyler was arrested on traffic charges and, during an inventory of his car, officers found a weapon stolen in July 2003, $3,536 in lottery tickets that were stolen during a 4 a.m. gas station burglary earlier that month, $300 in cash, a stereo and bolt-cutters. He was charged with two counts of theft by receiving for the stolen weapon and lottery tickets.
Out on bond again, Tyler was arrested two months later. On Dec. 28, 2004, at 4:45 a.m., an employee at the Bojangles' on Peach Orchard Road was in the back getting things ready when she heard a crash at the front of the store. When she went to investigate, she found Tyler standing in the middle of the restaurant. He was charged with burglary.
When the theft and burglary cases went to court, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet sentenced Tyler to 18 months in jail, followed by 31/2 years on probation.
Tyler could have been sentenced to as much as 40 years in prison.
Overstreet said he didn't remember Tyler's case or what the prosecutor and defense attorney said at the sentencing hearing. But he would have relied on the attorneys, he said, because they are the ones who know the details of the crimes as well as the strengths and weaknesses for each side.
You could write a book about the different things a judge has to consider at sentencing, Overstreet said. "There's no easy answer to it."
One of the hardest duties Neal W. Dickert had as a judge was sentencing, he said. He served as a Superior Court judge for nearly 11 years before returning to private practice in 2007.
"It's a judgment call you have to make. It's tough," Dickert said. A judge has to do his best to concentrate, review all the information possible and rely on the attorneys and staff. As a judge, Dickert said he always sought to do the best with the facts in front of him when it came to sentencing, but many days he faced more than 20 people on a sentencing calendar -- people whose lives would be deeply altered by the decisions he made.
A pattern of behavior
Jimmy Lee Jones altered Layotya Singleton's life on April 14, 2007, and he should not have had that opportunity, officials say now.
Jones put a gun to the back of Singleton's head that day and pulled the trigger. Her death mirrored that of another victim of Jones -- Stacy Rollins -- nearly 11 years earlier.
In both cases the women had broken off relationships with Jones. In both cases Jones claimed he just went to the victims' homes to talk, and that the gun fired by accident.
Singleton was on her knees when shot in the back of the head. Jones' earlier victim was running away when he emptied his gun, hitting her three times.
Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for the July 5, 1996, shooting. He could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. Overstreet gave him seven.
In hindsight, it is obvious Jones' first sentence was inadequate, Wright said. But with Jones, if it was seven or 17 years, he was likely to do it again.
Locking criminals up keeps them out of the community and protects society for a time, but there are only so many cells, she said. They need to be reserved for violent criminals and those who make crime their business.
Joshua B. Ferguson, 53, was a career crook before he was charged with stabbing to death Rodney A. Crane and Jesse Haynes last year.
The longest Ferguson has ever made it in the world outside prison since he was a teenager is 33 months.
His first arrest, for robbery, was in May 1971, when he was 15. Three years later, Ferguson was sent to prison for theft. He was free on parole only eight months when he was accused of burglary and attempted rape -- charges a prosecutor dismissed because the Augusta Police Department did nothing to investigate the case, according to court records.
In June 1979, he was caught breaking into a building supply business. He got a 10-year prison sentence in 1980 for that crime, but was paroled two years later.
On June 3, 1984, Ferguson stabbed Alfred N. Golack to death after an argument outside a Sunset Avenue nightclub. The charge was reduced from murder to manslaughter, and Ferguson was sentenced to five years in prison.
Ferguson served all five years behind bars before returning to Augusta. He made it 33 months before committing two burglaries. He was convicted, imprisoned and released again on May 3, 2007.
Just over two years later, on May 20, 2009, sheriff's officers found Crane, 27, with Haynes, 42, who was bleeding to death inside an apartment.
Most of those found guilty of murder in Augusta who had prior convictions didn't have long records like Ferguson. Most only had a single conviction or two. But more than half were on probation or parole.
Nathaniel Smith was sentenced to five years probation for theft in June 2009. He was arrested on murder charges the following month.
Kelvin Johns was paroled on May 14, 2009. He was charged with murder and armed robbery on Aug. 26.
Tavaris Samuels participated in the robbery and murder of Daniel McGee only five days after being sentenced in December 2008 to a five-year probation term for cocaine possession.
Finding a solution
Imprisoning everyone for every possible crime won't solve the problem of criminal behavior, said Tod Burke, criminal justice professor at Radford University in Radford, Va. It would mean endless expansion of expensive prisons.
"I don't blame the community for being angry," Burke said. "But (crime) is a community problem. All the blame can't be thrown on the criminal justice system."
People need to think rationally about what is the best approach to not only punish but deter and rehabilitate, he said.
Burke agrees that violent criminals should be imprisoned, but prisons are mostly filled with nonviolent criminals.
Tyler fell into that category until he killed Fulkrod. He had no prior conviction for a violent crime but he didn't hesitate to kill Fulkrod for a 2-ton bale of copper tubing, according to evidence presented during Tyler's trial.
Chance, who had to testify at his uncle's trial, said there were discussions with the prosecutor about plea negotiations.
One offer was that Tyler would plead guilty for a 30-year prison sentence. Chance said he understood that going to trial is always a risk to both sides, but believed that this time Tyler shouldn't get any breaks.
Chance said he wanted Tyler in prison for the rest of his life.
"(My uncle) didn't have a chance," he said. "He had a flashlight -- no way of defending himself."