2 men charged in Burke County grave robbery

The iron casket of a 14-month-old was removed at Old Church Cemetery in Burke County.

Two Waynesboro, Ga., men were charged Monday in a Burke County grave robbery in which the remains of an infant casket and the corpses of five Confederate and Revolutionary War soldiers were dug up.

Jerry Atkinson, 39, and Ralph Hillis Jr. could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the seldom-used felony charge of malicious removal of the dead from a grave. The charges were filed by the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.

Hillis, who goes by the nickname “Bubba,” was in custody in Richmond County on Monday night, but Atkinson remained at large, said Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey.

Burke County deputies searched Atkinson’s Morris Village home Monday off Georgia Highway 24, where a methamphetamine lab was discovered, Coursey said. More charges are expected in the case.

The desecration of five graves at Old Church Cemetery was discovered April 13 when Roy Bell, the commander of American Legion Post 120, the memorial’s caretaker, went to the burial grounds to mow the grass.

Bell said he found parts of an old uniform on the ground and at least five graves looted.

A $2,000 reward generated a number of solid leads to police, one of which Bell said was made by a witness to the grave robbing.

Bell said “without a doubt” the reward will be paid, but he could not say who will receive the money and when.

“After the sheriff’s office has completed their investigation, the witness will receive their reward,” Bell said.

Bell said members of American Legion Post 120 have temporarily sealed the five graves with sheets of aluminum and formed a work committee to permanently rededicate the sites.

“The sheriff’s office has done an excellent job,” Bell said. “I am proud to have them serve Burke County.”

Malicious removal of the dead from a grave carries a prison sentence of one to five years.

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