Originally created 01/26/00

Parole status changes



A convicted child killer who had been serving his sentence in a minimum-security Augusta prison facility was transferred to Hancock State Prison on Tuesday afternoon.

Louis Bennie Phipps, whose scheduled parole release Monday was canceled by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, had served most of his prison sentence in the Richmond County Correctional Institute, driving the facility's work-detail bus throughout the community.

Mr. Phipps, 42, was transferred Tuesday to the higher-security prison in Sparta on the orders of Jim Wetherington, commissioner of the state's prison system, said Mike Light, the commissioner's executive assistant.

The move came after Mr. Weatherington's orders Monday that Mr. Phipps was not to step outside the gates at the Richmond County Correctional Institute until the commission had an opportunity to review the inmate's records.

Mr. Weatherington issued both orders after learning of recent articles in The Augusta Chronicle about Mr. Phipps' case and after receiving at least one call from Georgia Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta.

"I was shocked to find out this person is in a minimum-security prison within a very short distance from the victim's family," Mr. Cheeks said. On Monday, he voiced his objections to Mr. Weatherington, the senator said.

Mr. Phipps, who has served less than half of a 15-year prison sentence, was convicted in Richmond County Superior Court of involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children. Although he was found guilty of the January 1987 slaying of 22-month-old Brian Williamson, Mr. Phipps remained free on bond until August 1992.

According to Department of Corrections records, Mr. Phipps was transferred from Central State Prison in Macon to the Augusta minimum-security facility Jan. 11, 1994, Mr. Light said. Alan Ault was commissioner at that time.

Mr. Phipps was transferred Tuesday to a Level V prison, one step below the state's highest-security prisons, because his parole was denied and because of the notoriety of his case, Mr. Light said. An inmate's security ranking is often increased if an anticipated parole doesn't materialize, Mr. Light said.

"We take no chances. It was our duty and obligation to move him to a higher-security facility," Mr. Light said. The commissioner, he added, has no intention of returning Mr. Phipps to the Augusta facility at this time.

The toddler's mother and father both told The Chronicle that they often saw Mr. Phipps in the Augusta community, driving the prisoners' work-detail bus.

Glenn Martin, the toddler's father, complained he had even seen Mr. Phipps working on the road where he lives.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.