Originally created 08/31/02

Parole officials lost track of suspect



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AIKEN - During the summer of 2000, the man Aiken police have charged in the death of Jessica Carpenter had gone off the radar screen of Georgia parole officials.

That was when Robert Franklin Atkins, 31, stopped reporting to his parole officer in middle Georgia's Baldwin County, said Heather Hedrick, a spokeswoman for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Probation officials were told he was living with his mother Susan Fussell in Milledgeville, Ga., she said. But Aiken investigators said Friday they suspect Mr. Atkins was actually living in Grovetown, Ga., at the time Jessica was killed in her Aiken home.

Parole officials had put him on electronic monitoring, but the ankle bracelet he was ordered to wear indicatedonly whether he reported home on time.

Officials say they don't know whether he removed the device during that period or it simply stopped working.

Either way, a warrant was issued for Mr. Atkins' arrest, Ms. Hedrick said.

On Oct. 11, 2000 - two months after Jessica was killed - Mr. Atkins surrendered to Richmond County authorities. At the time, he gave them an address in the 2000 block of Wrightsboro Road, according to jail records.

From there, Mr. Atkins was moved to different diversion programs within the probation system, officials said. He was released from a completed program in October 2001, Ms. Hedrick said.

At some point, he was granted a transfer of his probation to Thomaston, Ga., west of Macon, where his girlfriend was living.

He lived there until April, when he was ordered back to prison to serve out the remaining two years and nine months on his last prison stay after being arrested in Thomaston for driving under the influence and burglary, Ms. Hedrick said.

A Florida native, Mr. Atkins had lived in the Macon area since he was 13. State records show he has been in and out of Georgia prisons since he was 18, mostly for burglaries and car thefts.

Ms. Hedrick said Mr. Atkins was one of many felons the state was forced to put through a revolving door in the early 1990s because of overcrowding. He was last released from incarceration in December 1999, eight months before Jessica's death.

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.