Originally created 02/14/01

Cases await in Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania



Prosecutors from Georgia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania are lining up to see who will get the first shot in trying a Tennessee man suspected of a weeklong series of brutal crimes.

Eric Jerome Fant, 37, of Memphis, Tenn., is wanted in McDuffie County in connection with the killing of Dorothy C. Street, 65, of Dearing - found dead Sunday on her back doorstep with wounds to her head and neck.

Mr. Fant is being held in New Jersey on $250,000 bail on charges of eluding police during a traffic stop Sunday, receiving stolen property, weapons possession and being a fugitive from justice in four states.

Police say Mr. Fant also is responsible for the slaying of a gas station attendant in Pennsylvania on Sunday and an attack on a store clerk in Sweetwater, Tenn., the day before.

Although Ms. Street was killed Thursday, Tombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders said the chronology of crimes doesn't give McDuffie County precedence over other states in extraditing Mr. Fant.

"The time on the incidents doesn't matter because they all happened in the same period of time," Mr. Sanders said. "It would be different if they had happened a few years apart."

Mr. Fant surrendered Sunday night to New Jersey officers who found him asleep in a stolen car off Interstate 80 in Warren County, then followed him on a slow 10-mile chase until he pulled over, police said.

Also known as Abdul Rahman Ali, Mr. Fant appeared on video for an initial appearance in Warren County Superior Court, wearing a gray prison sweat suit and leaning against a wall, stroking his long, black beard.

"Absolutely," Mr. Fant told Superior Court Judge John Kingfield when asked if he understood the charges against him.

Judge Kingfield set another hearing for Mr. Fant for March 29, but his attorney, William Bizub, said Mr. Fant would likely appear again soon to be extradited to Pennsylvania to face charges in the slaying of Avinash Kaushal in Snow Shoe, Pa.

"Pennsylvania might have first dibs on him," Mr. Bizub said, although he said he had been told that Georgia "is really anxious" to prosecute him for the death of Ms. Street.

Centre County (Pa.) District Attorney Ray Gricar did not return a telephone message left at his office Tuesday.

A probable cause affidavit filed in Centre County says Mr. Fant can be seen on videotape of a Citgo gas station convenience store jumping over a counter, demanding cash from Mr. Kaushal and stabbing him several times in the back of the neck.

After New Jersey State Police officers arrested him with blood on his clothes, a 24-inch machete and several knife sheaths, Mr. Fant told a New Jersey State Police investigator he had killed and robbed Mr. Kaushal, the affidavit says.

"I took his head off," Mr. Fant said of Mr. Kaushal, the affidavit says.

Georgia authorities say the slaying of Mr. Kaushal and that of Ms. Street have obvious similarities.

"The cause of death were chops to the side of the head and neck," Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Mike Seigler said of the Dearing killing. "At this point, we suspect that (the weapon used) is a machete because of the nature of the wounds and the machete that (police) found on (Mr. Fant)."

Investigators from McDuffie County and the GBI arrived in New Jersey on Tuesday and will return to Georgia on Thursday.

Tennessee authorities were also in New Jersey to question Mr. Fant in the aggravated assault of Annette Richeson of Athens, Tenn. The western-wear store clerk was attacked with a machete and robbed Saturday. Ms. Richeson is recovering from injuries to her hands and arms at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Jerry Estes, district attorney for the 10th Judicial District in Athens, said he is cooperating with prosecutors from Georgia and Pennsylvania to see whose case will be tried first.

"I don't have a homicide," he said. "I'm willing to defer in the best interest of their cases."

In Richmond County, investigators want to talk to Mr. Fant about two other crimes - the robbery of a woman outside a Washington Road hotel and a break-in at a south Augusta pharmacy.

Lashell Pace, 33, of Hephzibah, told police she was robbed and threatened with a knife in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn & Suites by an "Indian-looking man" with a full beard who wore a yellow turban. Ms. Pace said the suspect was driving a blue Chevy Lumina with South Carolina license plates.

There are questions, however, concerning whether Mr. Fant is involved in the burglary of Terry's Pharmacy in Hephzibah on Feb. 6.

A witness told police he saw a white male leaving the pharmacy in a blue Chevy Lumina. But the car Mr. Fant was found driving in New Jersey - a blue 1993 4-door Chevy Lumina - was reported stolen Feb. 7 from a gas station in Ladson, S.C.

Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said it is possible that someone else committed the burglary.

"There was no tag information in Hephzibah," Maj. Autry said. "The connection for both incidents was made from the vehicle description.

"I do believe we will be working a case against him for the armed robbery."

According to The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, Mr. Fant has a long record of arrests in Shelby County, Tenn., but no major convictions. Mr. Fant was one of three men charged with murder in the 1996 slaying of a carpet store employee and the wounding of another during a robbery.

Mr. Fant spent three years in jail awaiting trial before charges were dropped against him and another suspect. The third suspect was later acquitted.

Mr. Fant was most recently convicted in Shelby County of simple assault and vandalism and was sentenced to 30 days in jail in March.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339.