Two of the co-defendants in the botched murder for hire case planned from inside a state prison appeared in Tattnall County Superior Court Wednesday morning to ask a judge to reconsider giving them bond.
Aerial Murphy and Keisha Jones both appeared with counsel before Judge Jay Stewart, who previously denied bond for both parties back in September.
Murphy, and Jones were charged in August with the January 30 murder of 88-year-old Bobby Carlton Kicklighter of Glennville, who was found deceased in his home from apparent gunshot wounds. A GBI agent testified in a previous bond hearing that the death of Kicklighter was a botched murder for hire plan of a corrections officer who lived next door to Kicklighter in Glennville. The corrections officer was a target because he took an aggressive approach to contraband inside the prison walls and, according to the GBI agent, the defendants and others were part of a “multi million dollar contraband ring.”
Defense attorney Kendall Gross said his client, Keisha Jones, has been in custody since July 30, 2021 and, having been jailed for more than 90 days, is entitled to a bond under OCGA 17-7-50. That statute requires a judge to order a bond if a defendant has not been indicted within 90 days of being arrested.
He asked the court to consider a reasonable bond in the amount of $250,000. “I think that would satisfy any concern about attending any further court dates,” Gross said.
Gross said Jones has a sister who works in law enforcement in Hinesville who has offered to allow Jones to live with her in the event that she is granted bond.
Not Ready for Grand Jury Presentment
Assistant District Attorney Joe Skeens told the Court that the case was not presented at the October 2021 grand jury proceedings because the GBI Crime Lab has not yet returned the autopsy and he wanted to have the full report before taking the case before grand jurors.
Special Agent Christian Johnson, who is the lead agent on the case, was present to corroborate that information but did not testify.
Skeens said as soon as the report was made available to the district attorney’s office, the state intended to move quickly.
In the interim, however, Skeens said the defendant should remain behind bars. He argued against bond, citing a 2013 case which does not show a conviction, but indicates Jones was charged with trading with inmates without the consent of the warden. Skeens said her behavior has escalated.
“This was an intended hit on a correctional officer who was prohibiting the movement of contraband,” Skeens said. “I have concern from other correctional officers and civilians.”
Skeens also said that he expects additional charges to be added to the cases for Jones and Murphy, based on the evidence, which would only place the defendants in a position to flee.
“I have severe concerns,” he said.
“But you don’t deny she is entitled to bond?” Stewart asked Skeens.
“No, your honor. It’s been 90 days,” Skeens replied.
Stewart said he also had great concerns about the possible release, which prompted his setting of bond at $250,000 for each count (Conspiracy to Commit a Felony (that being Murder), Tampering with Evidence (felony) and Party to a Crime, for a total of $750,000 cash bond or $1.5 million property bond. He also ordered that Jones be ordered to house arrest, be prohibited from contacting witnesses, codefendants, and any Georgia Department of Corrections employees and inmates.
Sheriff Kyle Sapp, who was present in the courtroom for the hearing, asked the judge to consider an ankle monitor as well.
Gross said he was opposed to ankle monitors due to their “less than reliable,” stating it was a waste of money.
But Judge Stewart disagreed and said that money was not his ‘paramount concern.’
Aerial Murphy also appeared with her counsel, public defender Brandon Clark, after Jones left the courtroom.
Clark said Murphy was similarly situated, having been arrested on August 2, 2021 in Michigan.
Skeens once again opposed bond, saying Murphy has a 2019 misdemeanor battery case from Bulloch County and a pending Long County case where she is charged with Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony and Felony Marijuana Possession.
Murphy is charged with Conspiracy to Commit a felony (the felony being murder), Party to a Crime, Tampering with Evidence (felony), Hindering the Apprehension or Punishment of a Criminal (being Christopher Sumlin), and False Statements.
Stewart ultimately set Murphy’s bond at $200,000 each for counts 1, 2, and 3, $100,000 for Hindering, and $50,000 for false statements. She is also prohibited from contacting witnesses, codefendants, GDC employees, or GDC inmates, and will be subject to the supervision of an ankle monitor. Finally, Murphy is banished from the six county region that makes up the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
Their co-defendants remain behind bars. Christopher Sumlin was given a $750,000 cash bond or a $1.5 million property bond, but was denied bond in Wayne County, and Nathan Weekes, a state inmate, remains in the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections.
You can read the full details from the September, which includes GBI testimony during a preliminary hearing, here.