Rick Reeves vividly remembers the day he learned that his colleague and close friend Jeffrey Labord had been shot to death.
“Devastating; that’s the best word I can use,” Reeves said.
It was equally troubling to learn that the man accused in Labord’s death, Seth Rouzan, 26, was released on probation because of a hung jury. Now Rouzan is facing another charge of murder after a homicide last week on First Street.
Labord “was a real good friend of mine, and this guy walked,” said Carl Collins, another of Labord’s former co-workers at the Richmond County Department of Traffic Engineering. “Now he’s charged with taking somebody else’s life.”
Rouzan was arrested on charges of armed robbery and murder in the Aug. 21 shooting death of 64-year-old Joseph Williams Jr. A 15-year-old boy is also charged with murder in the case.
Richmond County sheriff’s investigators found Williams shot in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 400 block of First Street. He died at Medical College of Georgia Hospital about 6:30 p.m.
Attempts to reach the families of Rouzan and Williams were unsuccessful.
Six years ago, Labord was found dead by a newspaper carrier at Doublegate Court, a cul-de-sac off Walden Drive.
“Originally I thought he was drunk and swerved around him in order not to hit him,” the carrier, Joshua Paulsakos, said at Rouzan’s trial in December 2007. “As I pulled back around, my headlights pretty much settled on him where I could see him … and
realized he wasn’t breathing.”
Paulsakos drove to the Daniel Village sheriff’s substation to report the death.
Residents of Doublegate Court said they heard two shots and a car peeling out but could not see anything in the darkness.
Collins said he heard about the homicide while driving to work. When he arrived at the public works shop off Mike Padgett Highway, everyone was wondering why Labord was not at work. Labord was identified as the victim about 10 a.m.
“It was like a ball of fire just came through me,” Collins said. “We had just talked to him 12 hours prior.”
THE RICHMOND County Sheriff’s Office collected strong circumstantial evidence pointing to Rouzan. Several of his friends testified that he told them he had killed a man the night before. They also said that the morning after the homicide, Rouzan was driving Labord’s car, which was loaded with a TV, liquor bottles and other items stolen from Labord’s house. During his drive around the East Boundary area, he stopped at a friend’s house and posed for cellphone pictures with a .380-caliber pistol – the same caliber bullet that killed Labord.
A drop of Labord’s blood was found on a pair of shoes hidden under Rouzan’s bed.
Under oath, Rouzan adamantly denied having any role in Labord’s death. He said he was in bed sleeping all night, though there was no evidence to substantiate this claim.
“Are you aware of any reason why your best friend would come in here and say that you admitted to him that you had committed murder?” Assistant District Attorney Rex Myers asked.
“No, sir,” Rouzan said.
The jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the trial transcript, Superior Court Judge Michael Annis talked with the jury after about three hours of deliberations.
“They said that they’ve been hung up since early in the deliberations and that everybody seems to be pretty much dug in,” Annis told Myers and Rouzan’s attorney, Willie Saunders.
CONTACTED LAST WEEK, three of the jurors described the mixed opinions in the jury room five years ago. Pauline Cornelius said the blood on Rouzan’s shoes made the case seem like a slam dunk. But while she was convinced of Rouzan’s guilt, “some of the (jurors) … wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
All three jurors said the witnesses who testified that Rouzan confessed had little to no credibility.
“The witnesses were a bunch of liars,” Mamie Wright said. “It seemed like they were trying to pin (the murder) on him.”
Wright said she tried to weigh the different possibilities but couldn’t get past her doubts in the case.
Dorothy Alderson was convinced of Rouzan’s guilt but found fault with the state’s presentation of the evidence.
“They didn’t quite prove anything,” she said.
Some of the jurors weren’t convinced that someone would be so stupid as to leave bloody shoes under his mattress, Alderson said.
On July 13, 2009, Rouzan pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter and burglary. He was sentenced to five years’ incarceration and 15 years of probation. With credit for the 2½ years he’d spent in jail, plus good behavior, his release was granted that day.
At the Department of Traffic Engineering, Labord’s presence is still sorely missed.
“We’ll never have a gentleman like him,” Reeves said.