Originally created 03/07/03

Jury says Rhodes guilty of murder



Five years after an Evans couple was gunned down in their bedroom, a jury convicted Jimmy Lee Rhodes of murder, armed robbery, burglary and a weapon charge.

The Columbia County Superior Court jury that convicted Mr. Rhodes, 46, on Thursday will be asked today to determine his punishment for the murders of Fred and Yong-Suk Walker - life in prison with or without parole, or death.

"This case strikes at the very heart of this community," District Attorney Danny Craig said in his closing arguments.

On Feb. 2, 1998, after the Walkers had retired for the night, two men sneaked into their Country Place subdivision home, according to testimony this week. The armed men shot the couple and made off with more than $34,000 the Walkers had earned that day in their Kissingbower Road liquor store.

The two men, according to their self-confessed accomplice, David Easterling, were Mr. Rhodes and his nephew Dag Rhodes, who isin jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Easterling confided in his then-girlfriend that he had driven the two men to Columbia County the night the Walkers died and that Dag Rhodes told him they had killed the couple, the prosecutor argued. Dag Rhodes later told a fellow prison inmate more details about what happened that night, Mr. Craig said.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Clayton Jolly implored the jury to reject the testimony of a "prison snitch." Russell Sharp, a convicted killer, could have learned incriminating details from documents he received from Dag Rhodes' wife, Mr. Jolly argued.

But Mr. Craig countered that the jury should not speculate about what details might have been included in that package. If the defense believed Mr. Sharp learned the details that way then Dag Rhodes' wife could have been called to testify.

Mr. Easterling should also be mistrusted, the defense attorney said, because his account of how he came to be duped into driving for killers was unbelievable as he account of being forced at gunpoint to be the driver for the men who killed Sam's Club Manager David Holt in June 1998.

Mr. Easterling pleaded guilty to murder in the Walkers' case. In exchange for agreeing to testify against his former co-defendants, Mr. Easterling did not have to face a capital murder trial and a possible death sentence. He is serving two consecutive life sentences in prison.

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