Originally created 03/06/03

Rhodes denies murder charges



Jimmy Lee Rhodes, on trial for his life if convicted, looked jurors in the eyes Wednesday and denied any involvement in the robbery and slaying of an Evans couple five years ago.

"(Tuesday) was the first time I ever saw David Easterling," Mr. Rhodes said of the man who has pleaded guilty to the murders of Fred and Yong-Suk Walker and named Mr. Rhodes and his nephew Dag Rhodes as accomplices.

Jimmy Rhodes was the final witness to testify Wednesday in his Columbia County Superior Court murder trial. Rebuttal witnesses might be called to testify today, and the jury could begin deliberations as early as this afternoon.

Mr. Rhodes testified that every detail provided by Mr. Easterling about his alleged involvement in the Walkers' slayings was false. Mr. Rhodes also denied that he was guilty of the Sept. 2, 1998, robbery and beating of an 81-year-old man outside an Augusta market, though he was convicted of those crimes and is serving a life sentence.

No physical evidence connects Mr. Rhodes to the Feb. 2, 1998, slayings of the Walkers in the bedroom of their Evans home. But Mr. Easterling - who made a deal with prosecutors that spared him from a death penalty trial - testified that he was tricked into serving as the driver for Mr. Rhodes and his nephew the night of the killings and that Dag Rhodes later told him they had killed someone.

Another man - a prison inmate serving 31 years for manslaughter, theft and escape - testified Wednesday that Dag Rhodes also told him about the robbery and slayings.

"He just came out and started telling me. ... It was like a weight off his shoulders," Russell Sharp said.

It took from July 30, 2001, to Sept. 4, 2001, for Mr. Sharp to get the details out of Dag Rhodes, he testified and documented in letters to the prosecutor.

A few days after receiving a package of documents about Dag Rhodes and the Walkers' slayings - a package sent to him by Dag Rhodes' wife, who said she believed Mr. Sharp was helping her husband - Mr. Sharp sent the prosecutors a letter containing incriminating details.

In September 2001, Mr. Sharp testified, Dag Rhodes told him that Jimmy Rhodes came up with the idea of robbing the Walkers, who owned a liquor store and check-cashing business. Mr. Sharp testified Dag Rhodes told him that Mr. Easterling drove them to a spot near the Walker home and that they broke in and confronted the couple in the master bedroom.

Mr. Sharp also testified Dag Rhodes told him that he hit Mrs. Walker in the head and shot her because she wouldn't stop screaming, and then Jimmy Rhodes shot Mr. Walker. Mrs. Walker's autopsy revealed no head injury, however.

While Mr. Sharp initially denied on cross-examination that he was trying to help himself by writing to the prosecutors and testifying against the Rhodeses, he admitted that he wrote to the prosecutor, "All I want is your help, like what we talked about."

Days after mailing the last letter with the details he said Dag Rhodes supplied, Mr. Sharp was transferred from the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville - a maximum-security facility - to the Augusta State Medical Prison, he testified.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.