Originally created 08/27/99

Suspect confesses to crime



SAVANNAH -- An accused killer, whose case led the state's highest court to protect reporters from testimony in most instances, confessed during his Savannah trial and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Arthur Hill limped into a Chatham County courtroom Wednesday and decided on the spot to plead guilty to strangling a 26-year-old woman a decade ago.

The negotiated plea -- 10 years in prison in return for a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter -- had been on the table for a year. Lawyers had gathered in front of Superior Court Judge James W. Head to set a trial date when Mr. Hill, 48, made his decision to accept it.

Annie Louise Geohaghan's 1989 slaying went unsolved for eight years until Mr. Hill walked into the Hogansville Police Department in February 1997 and confessed to the crime.

In 1997, Mr. Hill told police he had been having nightmares and wanted to get the killing off his chest. Ms. Geohaghan's 5-foot, 108-pound body was found face down at the end of a cul-de-sac on Nov. 17, 1989. She had been strangled with the multicolored scarf she had worn around her head.

When Mr. Hill confessed, first to the Hogansville police, then to the Savannah police, he was arrested and charged with murder in Ms. Geohaghan's death. A few days later, Savannah Morning News reporter Keith Paul visited him in jail, and Mr. Hill confessed to him, too.

Defense lawyer Richard Darden had been attempting to get Mr. Hill's statements to police and Mr. Paul thrown out. His argument was that Mr. Hill was delusional from a beating years earlier.

But psychiatrists said Mr. Hill was competent to stand trial, and Judge Head informed the lawyers he would rule the statements admissible, Mr. Darden said.

Mr. Paul was sought to testify about Mr. Hill's confession to him, including Mr. Hill's mental disposition at the time of his confession. When Mr. Paul refused and cited a reporters' privilege under Georgia's shield law, Judge Head ordered him to testify.