Friday, December 25, 2009

The Strange Tale of Brandi Lee Campbell


My brother passed away on 6/18/2008. He is missed very deeply by all of us! God rest his soul and I know I will see him again one day. - Brandi Lee Campbell


Brandi Lee Campbell entered the above quote on her MySpace page, the social networking site she opened on June 25, 2008. In reality, Brandi's brother, Bryan Ray Campbell, died around one o'clock in the morning on June 19. Brandi Lee Campbell shot her brother with a .410 calibre pump shotgun, and he was pronounced dead at Helen Keller Hospital later that morning.

Some friends and relatives of Brandi claim she had previously threatened the life of her 32 year-old brother, the single parent of a young daughter fighting acute myelogenous leukemia. Brandi, Brian, and Brandi's new husband, Charles Johnson, were all drinking the night of the shooting, so the truth may never be known, but Brandi claims she killed her beloved brother in self-defense and to protect her ten year-old son Brandon Williams, a witness to the killing.

Sheffield detectives who investigated the shooting were familiar with Campbell-Johnson, who had been involved in three previous death investigations and countless domestic disputes. They wanted her charged with murder, but the only witnesses were her husband and son. Despite her family's sworn statements, Sheffield police initially arrested Brandi Lee Campbell for felony murder, but they weren't prepared for what happened next.

Brandi Lee Campbell and her brother Brian Ray were the product of Terry Kiker's marriage to Ray Campbell. After her divorce, Terry Kiker Campbell became the breadwinner for her family, attempting to make the best life she could for her family.

Friends remember both Brian and Brandi as outgoing children, always seeking to be the center of attention. As Brian matured, he began to call himself "Big Daddy" and nicknamed both friends and family, usually including the word "Lil" in the appellation.

Brandi was "Lil Sis" to Brian, but she had big ideas. Pregnant at 17, she claimed to have graduated from Muscle Shoals High School in 1997, while according to her family, Brandi was a dropout who earned a GED. She enrolled at Shoals Community College the next year. Brandi Lee lists her major as "Paralegal" and her minor as cosmetology. Networking sites also list her occupation as paralegal, but her only job since graduation was at B & B Hair Salon in Muscle Shoals.

Brian had similar problems in settling on a career, but at the time of his death had become a truck driver, an occupation his friends thought suited his wanderlust. Both married, with Brandi Lee quickly divorcing, and Bryan finding temporary happiness. After the birth of their daughter, Madison, Brian and his wife Angela separated, but remained friends until her death from a drug overdose--a situation that enraged Brandi Lee, the last person to see her sister-in-law alive.

Single again, Brandi Lee began to live her life closer to the edge, often referring to her relationships with gang members. Sources say her penchant for flashing gang hand signals at random ultimately led to the death of a companion who took a bullet meant for her boyfriend. Another boyfriend died minutes after leaving Brandi, a veritable pharmacy in his system. By now, Brandi Lee Campbell was definitely on the local police's radar.

The year 2008 initially brought happiness to the Campbell siblings. Bryan Ray had started his new job as a truck driver, and his daughter Madison's leukemia was in remission. Brandi Lee met a new man and promptly fell in love. The fact that he was engaged to another woman didn't deter Brandi in her pursuit of her "soul mate" and she married Charles Thompson in June.

The night of June 18th, 2008, Bryan visited his sister and her new husband at their small house on Annapolis Avenue in Sheffield. Leaving Brandi's son Brandon Lee at home, the three adults decided to celebrate. After a night of heavy drinking, the three returned to Brandi Lee's home a short time after midnight. Realizing he was in no condition to drive, Bryan stated that he wanted to ride Brandon's bike the few short blocks to his mother's.

Bryan had given the bicycle to his nephew, but Brandi refused to let her brother take it. According to all present, the mood soon turned ugly, and Brandi and her husband began to beat Bryan with pool cues. From this point, the stories of the three survivors vary, but they all end the same way: Bryan Ray Campbell lay dead in the dining room of his sister's home.

Brandi stated she shot her brother as he attempted to force his way back into the house after being ejected by her new husband; however, only two empty shotgun shells were found--one on the front lawn and one in the middle of the street sixty-five feet from the front door. A trail of blood stretched across the porch into the house. After examining the scene, police took Brandi Lee in for questioning and formally charged her with murder the next day. Taking her past brushes with the law into account, the arresting officers felt the charge would be easy to prove. Even Brandi's mother announced she wanted justice for her son.

However, after reviewing the forensic evidence and reading the conflicting accounts of Bryan's death, the Colbert County District Attorney chose to charge Brandi with manslaughter, a crime that could bring up to twenty years in prison. Judge Hal Hughston set Brandi's bond at $10,000.00, an amount that would ordinarily be difficult to obtain for a hairdresser with no property. The next morning, Brandi Lee's stepfather, Curtis Johnson, arrived at the jail to post bond.

Family members were shocked by Johnson's actions, as were the arresting officers, but nothing prepared them for the grand jury's ruling. Despite the discrepancies between Brandi's statement to the police and the actual evidence, a Colbert County grand jury refused to indict her in her brother's death. Brandi Lee Campbell had once again escaped her actions unscathed.

With the threat of prosecution behind her, Brandi Lee Campbell was now free to put her life back together. A second chance is rare for many, but Brandi now had a third, or even fourth chance to become a productive citizen, a caring mother, a loving daughter.

What Brandi didn't have was a second chance to become a good wife; Charles Johnson immediately left Brandi and requested the dissolution of their marriage. According to Brandi's MySpace page, she's still looking for that perfect soul mate. Unfortunately, Campbell seems to be looking in all the wrong places.

Arrested twice in Colbert County in September for Public Intoxication, Brandi was also arrested early in October for DUI. Later that month, Sheffield police arrested Brandi on a domestic violence charge, an arrest that sources say stemmed from an attack on a new boyfriend. After her move to the Holiday Trailer Park in Muscle Shoals, the Department of Human Resources reopened its file on Campbell who faces the permanent loss of custody of her son who is now living with his paternal grandparents.

Still, Brandi told both friends and family that she was getting her life back together. On December 23, 2008, Brandi Lee Campbell drove her mother's automobile into the front of Lewis Electric on Second Street in Muscle Shoals. When the investigating officer attempted to take Campbell into custody, she resisted and was forcibly taken away.

We've heard that Christmas in jail isn't pleasant. Look for this ongoing saga to be continued.

*****

Brandi Lee Campbell, the Colbert County woman a grand jury refused to indict in the slaying of her brother, was again sought by Colbert County authorities in early November 2009. Besides several bad check charges, Campbell had three outstanding warrants for possession of a controlled substance. After being apprehended and serving a short sentence in the Muscle Shoals City Jail, Campbell entered a rehab facility.


Taken from columns originally published in Shoalanda Speaks on December 26-29, 2008, and November 9, 2009.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jennifer Hampton: Murdered by Illegal Immigrant


The following account is taken from columns that appeared in Shoalanda Speaks November 20-25, 2009.

The young Guatemalan had walked for miles. He was determined to make it to the United States for a better life. As he walked, he thought of all he would need when he arrived in his new home--a companion came to mind, one who spoke Spanish. By now he was in Mexico, having hitched enough rides to make good time in his trek. He stopped in a village filled with the poorest of the poor, a village where some families lived in cardboard shacks.

When the young man left the village, he resumed his trip north with a 14 year-old girl for whom he had paid the equivalent of $20.00. This terrified child was to be his companion for the next five years as he made his way to Athens, Alabama, and began work in the Sweet Sue plant.

His "bride" was not allowed out of the house or allowed to learn any English with the exception of what she gleaned from television. She attempted to escape, but the birth of her first child chained her to her captor. It was during her second pregnancy that the neighbors on the quiet Athens street heard her screams from the latest beating and called the police. The Guatemalan quickly headed south, ostensibly returning to his homeland. The girl was now 19, heavily pregnant, and forced to live off the charity of a Hispanic family in Decatur.

When she delivered her second child, she arrived at the hospital in so late a stage of labor that the physician would not give her any pain medication. Holding the hand of a student nurse who stood next to her while communicating in Latin and praying for the young woman and her child, the girl gave birth to a second son. Now she had two anchor children, no education, and no money. What became of this young woman and her children? We don't know...

The above story is true and is related here to present two very different sides of immigration. Are we against all Hispanic Indian immigration? No. Do we see the problems illegal immigration brings? Yes.

Valentino Miranda is a man very much like the one in this story. Last year he killed a young Florence woman who was visiting Knoxville, Tennessee, on business. Now his attorney says he didn't understand his aptly named Miranda rights when he was questioned in the death of Jennifer Hampton. Will this stop his trial? No. It probably won't even slow down the judicial process that will bring a sure punishment to this brutal rapist and murderer. What punishment does Valentino Miranda deserve? Our individual answers to that question say a great deal about us.

Jennifer Lee Hampton was 21 years old when she died, scores of miles from her high school friends in Waterloo and the various homes in which she had lived during her short life. According to officials at Waterloo High School, Jennifer lived with a sister while attending school. Her mother was barely in the picture, and no one knew if a father even existed.

If these things discouraged Jennifer, she tried not to show it. While at Waterloo High she was voted Homecoming Queen her senior year and acclaimed the most dependable. If one looks at photographs of Jennifer, one may not see the type of girl that is normally elected homecoming queen. She wore no fancy frock or lashings of make-up. Jennifer won the title because of what she was on the inside.

Neither was Jennifer rich; she had little or no money for college and was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. After working in restaurants for a little over a year, Jennifer announced she wanted to be a nurse. Accepted at a local nursing school, Jennifer continued to work for what she wanted. Living in an apartment in Muscle Shoals, she worked as a server at Mama Blues Restaurant in Florence. Jennifer was so proficient in her job that owner Steve Barnhill chose her to be on the team that trained new employees in other towns.

Friends say Jennifer loved the opportunity to travel and was eager to train workers at a new Mama Blues in Knoxville. It was in Knoxville that she encountered illegal immigrant Valentino Miranda, the man who brutally raped and murdered her.

Valentino Vasquez Miranda had migrated to the United States illegally and, like the Guatemalan immigrant in the above tale, was living with a common-law wife over whom he exerted total control. Miranda and Rosa Rodriguez Hernandez shared a room at the Days Inn on South Lovell Road in Knoxville, the motel at which the Florence Mama Blues' employees were housed during their stay. When Jennifer Lee Hampton entered Room 148 on the night of September 19, 2008, she had no idea it was to become her death chamber.

Nick Patel, m
anager of the Days Inn, had hired the 19 year-old Miranda and 38 year-old Rogelio Dominguez Melchor to do maintenance work at the motel. Both immigrants presented illegal social security cards--a fact that Patel vehemently hangs on to in his assertion of total lack of responsibility in the crime. Both Miranda and Melchor possessed key cards allowing them entrance into the guests' rooms. As recently as the week before, a female patron had complained of Valentino Miranda entering her room in the middle of the night, but management refused to respond to her charges.

Sometime after 3:00 a.m. on the morning of September 20th, Miranda entered Jennifer's room with the intention of raping her. Miranda is the only living person who knows what happened next, but forensic pathologists have stated that the former Waterloo homecoming queen put up a prolonged fight. When a shaken fisherman found her nude body seven days later in Melton Hill Lake, Jennifer was missing a tooth, showed marked defensive wounds, and signs of sexual attack and strangulation.

Now, with a body in their possession, the Knoxville authorities arrested Miranda, charging him with First Degree Murder. Hernandez had willingly handed over the bloody clothes Valentino Miranda had worn that night, and semen from the sexual assault kit matched Miranda. The Knox County District Attorney announced that it would, in effect, be a slam dunk case.

After medical examiners identified the body found in the lake as that of Jennifer Lee Hampton, her family in Lauderdale County began to make funeral arrangements. At first, family members were concerned over a lack of funds, but individuals who had never met Jennifer stepped in and took over.

Police departments between Knox County, Tennessee, and Lauderdale County, Alabama, escorted the former homecoming queen's body to the Morrison Funeral Home in the Central Community. KK Edgil-Hargett who works with rape victims and their families assisted the Hampton family in getting a reduced rate from the funeral home. Even as Shoals residents came forward to aid the family locally, stunned residents of Knoxville had begun their own efforts to collect funds for Jennifer's family.

After Jennifer was laid to rest in a private ceremony on October 2, 2008, it had become clear that the initial expenses had been more than taken care of by the generous outpourings of those who had never met Jennifer during her short life; but others, still in shock at the brutal murder, wanted to contribute.

Two female Lauderdale deputies initiated a nursing scholarship at Northwest Shoals Community College in Jennifer's honor. Bette Terry, a Registered Nurse who also works with rape victims, had already begun a fund in Jennifer's memory. Tina Parker, current candidate for Colbert County District Judge, assisted with the collection of funds and suggested memorializing Jennifer in the next Safeplace fundraiser. When it became apparent that the minimum funding to enter the Safeplace walk would fall short, an anonymous Florence businessman contributed the difference. Jeff Miller designed the tee-shirts, and on April 4, 2009, a team honoring Jennifer Hampton participated in the annual Safeplace Walk-a-Mile-for-a-Child.

Jennifer Lee Hampton now lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her. We hope those who have contributed in her memory to scholarships and the eradication of violence toward women know that they also have ensured Jennifer's memory will influence future generations of young women. Yet, Jennifer's story is not finished.


Yes, Valentino Vasquez Miranda brutally beat, raped, and murdered Jennifer Lee Hampton. He then disposed of her body in a nearby lake where it remained for seven days. His skin and semen were found on Jennifer's body, and his victim's blood was found on the clothes Miranda wore the night of her murder. Rosa Hernandez, Miranda's common-law wife, saved the clothes her husband wore that night, clothes with Jennifer's blood on them. Now Miranda's defense attorney says his client has been illegally detained for the past 14 months. Why? Valentino Miranda did not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him.

Joe Fanduzz, Miranda's court appointed attorney states that his client understands little or no English and may not have comprehended the fact that he did not have to answer the questions posed him by Knoxville, Tennessee, detectives. Did the Knoxville police not provide an interpreter for the suspect?

It seems the Knoxville Police Department did indeed provide Miranda with an interpreter, but the individual used was not certified by the correct authorities, whoever they may be. Does that mean the interpreter did not adequately inform Miranda of his rights--rights guaranteed by the United State Constitution? No, it seems that point is not really in question. While Miranda did not sign a release (apparently he cannot write his name), he did nod in agreement and acceptance. Fanduzz's argument is simply the lack of official status of the interpreter. A Knox County judge is set to rule on the defense motion on December 15th. Miranda's trial is still scheduled to begin January 11, 2010, at which time Fanduzz and his step-father John Eldridge will attempt to defend Miranda.

We say attempt to defend, because there can be no defense for what Miranda did. Does he deserve the death penalty? In most cases, we oppose the death penalty for a variety of reasons. In this case, we have no doubt of Miranda's guilt and feel that he, unlike most of us, would actually enjoy a better life in prison than he would in the free world. Pray for justice for Jennifer Lee Hampton.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Greg Wright - Murdered for Seventy Dollars


The following was taken from columns originally published in Shoalanda Speaks September 22-25, 2009.



How do you measure success? Obviously, we each have different bench marks in our appraisals of others, as well as ourselves. If we count success in friendship, then James Gregory Wright was a successful man. If we count success in dollars and cents, Greg Wright was lacking, and this lack led to his murder.

Wright was a 42 year-old roofer who lived by himself in the Greenhill community of Lauderdale County, just a mile south of the Tennessee State line. Due to the economy, Wright had been out of work for some time, forcing him to live frugally in his manufactured home. At some point in 2006, Wright purchased a set of used tires from Greg Leon Nard for $70.00. Those who knew Wright say that he would have paid Nard when he went back to work, but Nard became upset over the debt.

On the night of January 27, 2007, Greg Nard, 25, his father William David Nard, 47, and an acquaintance, Norman Ernest Widdowson, 42, were out joyriding. All three were residents of Iron City, Tennessee, but Widdownson had moved from Maryland only three months before. After a night of shooting pool and drinking at the Nard residence, the father and son suggested to Widdownson that he accompany them on a drive; they wound up at Greg Wright's residence on Lauderdale County Road 130. The three men were the last to see James Gregory Wright alive.

No one had seen Greg Wright since the previous Saturday; nor had anyone seen his vehicle moved from the driveway of his manufactured home in the Greenhill community. It was 7:30 the next Wednesday when a neighbor decided to check on the unemployed roofer. Reaching the steps to the wooden deck, the neighbor discovered a dried brown substance on the planks. The same substance dotted the flooring of the deck, and upon reaching the storm door in the mid-winter darkness, the neighbor's fears were confirmed as he once more saw the substance, now dark red against the glass and streaked across the storm door.

Inside, the body of James Gregory Wright lay on the living room floor, face down, rivulets of dried blood surrounding it. Lauderdale deputies arrived minutes after receiving the call, initially determining that Wright had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Friends and family who arrived at the scene could offer no insight into Wright's death; his mother and stepfather terming him universally liked.

Fortuitously, investigators didn't have to wait for blood and other trace evidence to be evaluated; Greg Leon Nard had dropped his cell phone during the struggle. When questioned by investigators in Iron City, Nard quickly offered his father William and companion Ernest Widdowson as alibis. Upon further questioning, Widdowson confessed to accompanying the father and son to Wright's Alabama home to collect the $70.00 debt, but stated he remained in the vehicle during the crime and couldn't be sure which Nard had inflicted the wounds that claimed Wright's life.

Now, sure of their case, but unsure of just who did kill Greg Wright, deputies then questioned the Nards separately. Each accused the other.

Lauderdale County investigators were faced with three conflicting statements in the murder of Greg Wright. Father William Nard accused his son Greg of the crime, while the son accused his father. Accomplice Ernest Widdowson maintained total innocence in the act itself, while both men averred their friend assisted in the murder and robbery. Lauderdale County prosecutors prepared their cases against the men, initially considering charging all three with capital murder. Denying bail to the trio, the county housed Widdowson in the Lauderdale County Detention Center, while placing William Nard in the Franklin County jail and Greg Nard in nearby Walker County.

With court dockets in Lauderdale County backed up, the wheels of justice turned slowly in the Wright case. In the ensuing months, forensics proved all three men were indeed inside Greg Wright's rural manufactured home; the blood found on the storm door and porch of Wright's home proved to be that of William Nard, who was injured in the struggle. Court appointed attorneys filed various motions, but in the end, all were denied, and prospects of the death penalty faced the three Iron City residents who had crossed the state line to commit the crime.

In an attempt to avoid death by lethal injection, Greg Leon Nard admitted to killing Wright and pleaded to the charge of capital murder with the promise of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. William Nard, who had assisted his son in the actual murder, pleaded guilty to felony murder and robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life with the possibility of parole. Such consecutive terms are highly unusual and are perhaps a de facto sentence of life without for the elder Nard who is almost 50 years old.

Ernest Widdowson pleaded guilty to felony murder, but was found to be innocent of charges of robbery in the theft of cash and a small stash of marijuana. Widdowson's testimony had backed up William Nard's in implicating Greg Nard as the actual assailant. Widdownson also freely admitted to assisting in holding Wright against his will, as well as not reporting the crime after returning to Iron City. For his part in the murder, on September 21, 2009, Judge Mike Jones sentenced Widdowson to twenty years in prison.

In all probability, Greg Wright would be alive if the Nards had not decided to spend their night drinking. In all probability, Ernest Widdowson would not have joined the Nards in their quest for the small sum of $70.00 if he too had not let alcohol cloud his judgment. Statistics show at least 80% of all violent crimes are fueled by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. In this case, it cost Greg Wright his life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Can't Get Enough Crime? Try "People You'll See in Hell"


Enjoy true crime? Not enough of it locally (so to speak)? Then we have a site for you!

People You'll See in Hell is an excellent read, just perhaps not at bedtime. From Russellville's Christie Bray Scott to miscreants half way round the world, this should sate your appetite for bizarre mysteries.

The site also has an unusual hook: the reader gets to vote on the final destination of the culprit. Our personal opinion is that the murderer/rapist/general ne'er-do-well should pay in this lifetime and have the opportunity to repent before the Grim Reaper makes his house call. So, vote or don't vote, we promise you'll enjoy this well-written trip to life's seamier sidewalks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Keith McGuire Rape Case


"He stated he had a problem." - Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely speaking of Keith McGuire

We expect those in the teaching profession to care for our children as their own and we should expect no less. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There is always the John Mark Karr or Debra Lafave. When any teacher takes a sexual interest in his or her student, we are just that more wary of them all, sometimes judging them wrongly.

How do we know the difference between an innocent touch and something more sinister? How can we judge the intent of a teacher we barely know? More importantly, what happens if we're wrong? When there's two, or perhaps three, sides to every story, how can we discern the truth from fiction?

Such is the case of Brian Keith McGuire, a Lauderdale County native, now free on bond of $125,000.00 and facing a 1st Degree Rape trial in December. The son of Bobby and Jo McGuire of Lexington, Keith attended Lexington School for 12 years. By all accounts he was an average student and better than average athlete. His parents had helped establish the Lexington Rescue Squad, and his mother was held in high esteem by the community. Bobby, the current mayor of the small Lauderdale County town, was a strong presence in both the town and his own home. Those familiar with the family generally acknowledged that the soft-spoken Jo deferred to her husband.

Keith, as his parents called him, also deferred to his father, but adolescence brought changes in the youth. Physically resembling his mother, Keith boasted a shock of red hair and an outgoing personality. Sometime after elementary school, Keith began to call himself Fox, a name that still follows him. Whether because of his auburn coloring or his fancied desirability to the opposite sex, Keith was well-pleased with this new persona. Many in the Lexington community describe him as the all-American boy, but others began to see a darker side as McGuire grew to manhood.

Graduating from Lexington High School in 1978, Keith McGuire seemed at loose ends. No longer the high school jock, he began a career as a barber, but was always dissatisfied away from the lime light of athletics. Ending one's education after high school was not unusual in the rural atmosphere of Lexington, but other things about McGuire troubled some in the small town. Still others saw nothing wrong with boys being boys or sewing a few wild oats.

In the autumn of 1992, McGuire returned to college at Athens State University, receiving his teaching degree two years later. Now married to a young woman from a well-respected Waynesboro, Tennessee, family, McGuire used family influence to secure a coaching job at Clements High School, just across the county line in Limestone. Here Keith McGuire taught Physical Education, but some students began to report that his style of teaching was just too physical, especially where young women were concerned.

It was early in 2002 when Robin Greene’s 12 year-old daughter came to her with a story of being touched by her physical education teacher. Coach McGuire had touched her breast while they were playing one-on-one basketball and she knew it wasn’t right. Soon a 16 year-old girl came forward with a similar story concerning the Clements coach.

Clements, a rural school in western Limestone County, was a tight knit institution. Such things didn’t happen at the sprawling school where Keith McGuire had access to girls in the 7th through 12th grades. The school board called a special meeting and convened behind closed doors on March 7, 2002, to accept McGuire’s resignation.

The board stressed that McGuire, who had not retained an attorney, had taken a polygraph with inconclusive results. No charges were filed against the teacher even though according to Sheriff Mike Blakely, McGuire stated that he had “a problem.” The board also agreed to take no further action on the Clements coach’s teaching license on the condition he agree to counseling. Keith McGuire attended one session.

McGuire soon returned to the hamlet of Lexington where his father was a member of the town council. The town’s water department was in need of a meter reader, and Bobby McGuire made sure the job was offered to his son. Keith McGuire’s salary at the financially strapped water department was barely enough to meet his basic needs, and he began searching for another teaching position.

Without any official black marks on his record and a still valid teaching license, McGuire found work in the nearby Haleyville school system. He began coaching at the Winston County school in September 2002, but the problem of his mounting debts remained. Not eager to give up his job with the town of Lexington, but unable to fulfill his obligations on his free weekends, he sought an assistant to help with meter reading and related duties. Soon his friend Lloyd Hayes, a former Florence City Fire Marshal and convicted sex offender, joined McGuire in the field. It wasn’t long before residents realized the two men spent an inordinate amount of time working around one local entity--Lexington High School.
When board members of the Lexington Water Department heard of the job sharing agreement between Keith McGuire and Lloyd Hayes, they too met behind closed doors. Even though Hayes was not an official employee of the town, such an arrangement was ill advised. McGuire gave up his job with the town, but once again many questioned his actions. Was Keith McGuire determined to insinuate himself into a position of familiarity with young girls, or just a man attempting to make a living during a difficult period in his life?

McGuire taught at Haleyville High School for two years, with ostensibly no complaints. In the fall of 2004, McGuire moved to J. F. Shields High School in Beatrice, a small Monroe County town in South Alabama. After a year at Shields, McGuire moved again, this time to Jackson High School in Clarke County, even farther from his Lexington home. By this time, McGuire was divorced from his wife Tammy, who had taken their children and moved to Waynesboro. While it’s not unusual for some coaches to move frequently, many found it odd that each relocation moved McGuire farther from his family.

McGuire publicly blamed any problems on Robin Greene of Limestone County. After the physical education teacher left Clements High School without any official sanctions, Mrs. Greene took it upon herself to warn Keith McGuire’s new employers of his past record. According to Mrs. Greene, she had collected the names of 50 students at various schools, all alleging to have been molested in some manner by McGuire. On February 14, 2006, McGuire filed a slander suit against Robin Greene, claiming her campaign to discredit him had hurt his reputation and brought undue hardship on him. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and this suit is still pending in Limestone County; however, McGuire also initiated a restraining order against Mrs. Greene, preventing her from contact with any school at which he is employed.

With the Clements charges now seemingly behind him, Keith McGuire began to make a reputation for himself at Jackson High School--this time a good one. Besides his duties as assistant coach, McGuire taught Physical Education, Drivers’ Education, and Health. In the autumn of 2006, the National All-Star Football Association chose McGuire to coach a regional game in Cookville, Tennessee.

Keith McGuire was finally receiving the kind of success and attention he thought he deserved. Then a Shoals area woman filed rape charges.
In 1990, Jan Simpson* was 19 years old. According to Simpson, Keith McGuire raped and sodomized her at a Florence residence--it took 16 years before Simpson was emotionally able to report the crime. McGuire, who would have been 30 at the time of the incident, steadfastly denied that any force was involved in his encounter with Simpson. Allegations that a 30 year-old McGuire had sexual relations with a teenager obviously did nothing to bolster his claims of having no prurient interest in pubescent girls, and Jackson High School declined to renew his teaching contract.

The rape allegation was not McGuire’s only worry; at this time new reports of McGuire’s misconduct with Clements students surfaced, making their way to the Alabama Board of Education in Montgomery. The Board sought the revocation of Keith McGuire’s teaching license, and an inquiry was held at Clements on June 25, 2008. The Board stated that McGuire was guilty of “immoral conduct or unbecoming or indecent behavior.”

After five hours of testimony, including statements from some who had only recently come forward, the hearing ended. The moderator then had 30 days in which to consider the evidence brought forward; however, McGuire now had more serious problems in Lauderdale County. After a police investigation spanning almost two years, a Lauderdale grand jury indicted the former physical education teacher on charges of 1st degree rape, 1st degree sodomy, and 3rd degree sexual abuse, crimes that carry a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life. McGuire turned himself in to the Lauderdale County Detention Center on August 18. His bond was set at $125,000.00. The Clements charges were then placed on hold until after the criminal proceedings.

Knowing in advance that his bail would be substantial, the ex-teacher’s family had made prior arrangements, and McGuire left the detention center the same day. McGuire’s family in Lexington had also hired Florence criminal defense attorney Jeff Austin to defend the charges. Austin had previously represented Trey Wells, the Tuscumbia youth charged with the brutal deaths of both parents, and Dewon Jones who took part in a heinous liquor store robbery and murder. The attorney announced he was prepared to present a staunch defense of his client and was seeking an immediate trial.

Unfortunately, the McGuire family’s participation in the rescue squad and other Lexington civic endeavors had made them known to Lauderdale County judges, and the trial was moved back until a new jurist could be engaged. A trial date was set for the second week in December, with Judge Terry Dempsey of Franklin County presiding and Assistant State Attorney General Pamela Casey prosecuting the rape charges.

Pretrial/Status Call was to begin December 2; at that time McGuire could assert his innocence and the trial would proceed the next week, or he could accept a plea and be immediately sentenced and remanded to the Detention Center to await transfer to Kilby Prison in Montgomery for processing. For whatever reason, Jeff Austin, who had filed copious motions, requested a delay, and the pretrial was rescheduled for December 22. Legal machinations are often unfathomable to the lay person, but in this case it would seem the intent is to allow Keith McGuire to spend one last Christmas as a free man.

Such delays are always hard on the victim, but Jan Simpson has used her time to act as an advocate for other victims of sex crimes. One can only imagine how Keith McGuire has spent his days since his dismissal at Jackson High School, but his Classmates’ profile is revealing. In the popular website, he states he’s there to find Ms. Right and lists his principal occupation as “channel surfing.”

May justice be served, the guilty punished, and the innocent vindicated.

*****

On July 29, 2009, a jury of six men and six women, after deliberating over a period of three days, returned a "not guilty" verdict in the rape and sodomy trial of Brian Keith McGuire. It is doubtful the victim will initiate any civil proceedings against McGuire, who has not worked as a teacher in over a year.

The victim is hardly a total loser in the proceedings. Testimony in the trial revealed that McGuire had been diagnosed with an STD at least two years before his unprotected sexual encounter with the young woman and that during his divorce proceedings he initiated DNA testing on his children. Such tests proved him not to be the biological parent of the older child, perhaps one reason the Lexington native has distanced himself from his family over recent years.

However, McGuire still faces the loss of his teaching license due to allegations he fondled at least four students while teaching at Clements School in Limestone County. Robin Greene of Athens has stated she has the names of at least 50 young women McGuire has sexually touched over his teaching career. The former teacher is suing Greene for slander.

Within the next few days or weeks, Chief Administrative Law Judge Walter Turner will announce his ruling in the license hearing of Brian Keith McGuire. It's a verdict for which many have waited years and one in which we should all be interested. Our children deserve a good education. While we may not be able to provide the best educators in every classroom in the state, we should be able to provide those who have their students' best interests at heart. It's time Alabama made an effort to ensure that.


* The victim’s name has been changed for the purposes of this account. This account taken from columns originally published November 29-December 2, 2008, and July 29, 2009.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Murder in Lexington - The Shaun Shapley Story


The following article is taken from columns originally published November 14-16, 2008, and February 15, 2009.


"I couldn't think of a better place to raise children. We have no crime in this town." - Clint Freeman

When Jennifer Helen Bragg and her family moved to Lexington, Alabama, friends say she finally felt she had found a home. On the night of February 7, 2008, 17 year-old Jennifer died at ECM Hospital, ostensibly the victim of her stepfather, Shaun Clovis Shapley. The 44 year-old Shapley is currently being held on $500,000.00 bond in the Lauderdale County Detention Center; his trial is scheduled for February 9, 2009. At his arraignment November 13th, Shapley pleaded not guilty.

Shaun Clovis Shapley, sometimes referred to as Shaun Glouis, was no stranger to the judicial system. Before moving to Alabama, Shapley lived in the Polk/Hardee County metropolitan area of Florida. The oft-married Shapley was regularly in court as both defendant and plaintiff.

While still living in Florida, Shapley had been in prison three times for various crimes including felony assault, the victims usually women. On the night of May 8, 2000, Shapley was intoxicated and began to follow a black couple who managed to contact police. Having been informed that the pair was being pursued by "a crazy man," police gave chase and attempted to arrest Shapley when he pulled into a parking lot. Shapley, whose pickup was adorned with Confederate symbols, told arresting officers that he was chasing his girlfriend and another man.

Doubtful of his story, officers attempted to arrest the obviously intoxicated Shapley, who resisted. Shapley, already married to Jennifer's mother, claimed numerous violations of his civil rights and sued the arresting Polk County officers. A judge subsequently dismissed the suit as frivolous.

The next year Shapley brought suit against the State of Florida for violations of his civil rights in conjunction with several child support cases that had been filed against him. He included ex-wife Kathleen White of Winterhaven, Florida, in the suit for sixty-four million dollars. This suit was also dismissed, and Shapley told sources at the local NewsChief that his record had worked against him. The Polk County paper stated at that time, "Shapley admits he has married his own cousins in the past."

In late 2001, Shapley and Jennifer's mother Kimberly left Florida for Huntsville, Alabama, where they hoped to find jobs. After more arrests in Huntsville, the Shapleys decided to move again, this time to Florence, where they found Section Eight housing. Mary Kennedy, director of the Section Eight program for the Florence Housing Authority has declined to discuss the reasons for the Shapley family's eviction, but Shaun Shapley again saw an opportunity for some quick cash and filed suit for two million dollars against the Authority and HUD. This suit was also dismissed as frivolous, leaving the family broke and looking for a place to stay. They soon found a new home in Lexington, Alabama.

Lexington sits in the northeast corner of Lauderdale County. A town of less than 800 citizens, the rural community boasts only four residents describing themselves as non-Caucasians, none of them black. For someone like Shaun Shapley, Lexington must have appeared the perfect community. Older residents have no trouble remembering when outsiders made sure they left the town before sundown, but Shapley's good ol' boy persona ensured him a measure of acceptance.

The family rented a small home on County Road 51, just two miles southeast of the building that houses both the Lexington Town Hall and the Police Department. Two blocks to the east of Town Hall sits Lexington High School where Jennifer enrolled and quickly made friends. Both Jennifer's classmates and teachers relate that she did well and was enrolled in the Upward Bound Program, requiring her to take classes at Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals. Lexington Principal Will Joiner commented that Jennifer knew where she wanted to go and was determined to make her dreams come true.

If her days in school were full and rewarding, her home life was less so. One of three children, Jennifer had been forced to move often, first with her mother Kimberly and then with Shaun Shapley after her mother's marriage. Her father's family had lost track of the three youths, only learning of their whereabouts after Jennifer's murder. Jennifer's older brother had joined the military to escape life with Shapley, but her older sister remained in the household. At age 19, the sister was the unmarried mother of two small children, a situation that had already garnered much community speculation. Only days before her death, Jennifer had told friends at Lexington High School that she had made plans to leave her home, but not before she reported her stepfather's unwanted advances to the proper authorities.

On the night of February 7, 2008, while her classmates were enjoying time with family and making plans for the upcoming Valentine's holiday parties, Jennifer Bragg found herself alone with her stepfather in the master bedroom. Shaun Shapley is the only living individual who has knowledge of the events that took place in that bedroom, but the vibrant, healthy teenage girl who walked into that bedroom left it on a gurney, her trachea collapsed and her hand and stomach bleeding from the gunshot of a .44 calibre weapon. Jennifer Bragg died at ECM Hospital later that night.

When paramedics arrived at the Shapley home on County Road 51, they found Jennifer Bragg lying across the bed in the master bedroom, a gun nearby. Shaun Shapley told of Jennifer's intention to commit suicide and how he had valiantly tried to stop her. When later questioned, Kimberly Shapley admitted to being in a nearby room, unaware of the events that claimed her daughter's life, but insistent on the kind of father Shaun had been to her children.

Upon arrival at ECM Hospital, Jennifer was pronounced dead. Both paramedics and medical personnel at the hospital noted that the gunshot had blown off two of Jennifer's fingers--an unusual wound in a suicide. When Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly became aware of the odd circumstances in Jennifer's death he ordered an autopsy. The results of the post mortem indicated Jennifer died by manual strangulation, not a gun shot wound. Lauderdale County Deputies arrested Shaun Shapley on Monday, February 11th.

Held in the Lauderdale County Detention Center on $500,000.00 bail, Shaun Shapley vehemently denied any part in Jennifer's death. Kimberly Shapley stood by her man, requesting he be allowed to attend Jennifer's funeral and listing him as Jennifer's father in the obituaries. Jennifer was buried on Wednesday, February 13th. Two days later Kimberly arrived at Lexington High School to clean out her daughter's locker. Refusing any help, Kimberly Shapley boxed up her daughter's possessions and carted them away without letting anyone else view her daughter's personal effects.

A judge appointed attorney Joseph Daniel to defend Shapley, who was found to be indigent by the court. Unhappy with Daniel, Kimberly Shapley, who had requested funds for funeral expenses in Jennifer's obituary, began selling her possessions in order to retain another attorney. Kimberly Shapley soon contacted Jim Stansell of Rogersville, an attorney known for frequently defending those accused of sex crimes.

For whatever reason, Shapley was not arraigned until November 13th. Stansell spoke for his client and proclaimed him "not guilty." Judge Mike Jones scheduled Shapley's trial for February 9, 2009--a year and two days after Jennifer's murder. As Shaun Shapley left the courtroom in his regulation green jumpsuit he turned to blow kisses at Kimberly Shapley who had come to support him. No one was present on Jennifer Helen Bragg's behalf.

* * * * *

One would expect any judge to be criticized no matter the nature of his rulings; however, Judge Jones has recently been raked over the legal coals for accepting a plea bargain in the Shaun Shapley case.Shapley, a resident of the small town of Lexington, murdered his 17 year-old stepdaughter in 2008. The murder ostensibly occurred during an attempted rape. DNA testing proved Shapley to be the father of two children belonging to the victim's older sister. Previously, Shapley had been charged with violence against women in his home state of Florida and his former residence of Huntsville, Alabama.

A murder committed during the commission of another crime is categorized as a capital offense--in other words, Shapley at the very least should have been subject to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Instead, Judge Mike Jones sentenced the convicted felon to a term of 25 years. A Class A felony, this conviction will allow Shapley to be eligible for parole after 15 years. Obviously many in Lauderdale County and the entire Shoals area have been outraged by this sentence.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Christopher Stanback Murder


The following is from a series of articles originally published November 24th & 25th, 2008:


Chris Stanback's MySpace profile lists his age as 31, but his photograph is that of a 17 year-old boy, the age at which the Colbert County teenager died. The accompanying short bio prominently features the $20,000.00 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, evidence of the desperation haunting the Stanback family for the past 14 years.

The summer of 1994, Christopher Stanback, known to his friends as Chris, returned from his home in Idaho to spend the summer with his mother Teresa, brother Harold, and sister Tara. On August 2, 1994, Teresa Stanback reported her son missing. Four days later, two children playing in a wooded area near the Carver Heights housing project found a body.

Speculation that the body was Chris' spread throughout the West Florence neighborhood, and soon a crowd of over one hundred spectators had gathered to watch Florence Police retrieve the remains. Many in the crowd of predominately young males tossed rocks and bottles at the authorities as they tried to move the body without disturbing any forensic evidence. Helicopters hovered overhead, their presence having no discernible effect on the crowd that was rapidly growing into a mob.

It had been less than three months since Florence Police officers had conducted a nighttime raid on the black neighborhood, arresting numerous drug dealers in what then Florence Police Chief Rick Thompson had dubbed Operation Copy Cat. To most of the gathering mob, Chris Stanback's death was just more proof that the police couldn't be trusted.

Fortunately, local black leaders managed to control the growing crowd when authorities couldn't. Once the barrage of rock and bottle missiles halted, police retrieved the body and secured the scene.Those who saw Chris Stanback's body realized that more than four days of summer sun had left an imprint on the murdered youth. What an autopsy later determined to be the results of a combination of beating and mutilation, the police took to be evidence that the body had been burned before it was disposed of.

While their initial finding may have been easily explained under the circumstances, it only served to enforce the black community's opinion of the Florence Police Department: Truth was the last thing on their minds.

Results of the initial autopsy indicated Chris Stanback had died of head trauma, but offered few clues as to the murderer. Many speculated that the mutilation included castration, making it a very personal crime. Chris' brother Harold, nicknamed Rudy, was a known drug dealer. The two brothers bore more than a slight resemblance to each other; was it a case of mistaken identity?

Just two weeks before his death, Chris had been apprehended in Cullman with a group of older drug dealers. Since Chris had refused to claim the confiscated drugs, was his murder in retaliation?

Perhaps the most bizarre rumor concerned the involvement of prominent Florence officials. It had been widely reported that Chris was dating the daughter of a high ranking city employee. Everyone close to the situation knew this single father had expressed grave concerns about the relationship. Had this official recruited police chief Rick Thompson to help him dispose of the problem?

Weeks turned into months, and there was still no answer to the mystery of Chris' death. Various local officials offered a $10,000.00 reward in the case, and Chris' uncle promised a matching amount if anyone could help solve the crime. Eventually local police asked the FBI to investigate, calling it a possible hate crime. Years passed, and officials were still no closer to an answer.

The Stanback family remained determined to bring the murderer to justice. Hearing that Chris' age classified the crime as a child murder, they asked the Center for Missing and Exploited Children to enter the case. In April 2003, Chris Stanback's body was exhumed for a second autopsy, but the results offered no new evidence. Several Florence police officers took polygraph tests at this time; all of them passed. The investigation was back to square one.

Currently, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the Stanback murder, considering it one of their top priorities. Teresa Stanback still places reward posters around the area and hopes that someone will come forward after fourteen years. She laments that her son's grave has been repeatedly vandalized. Some days it's hard for her to find the strength to go on, but she has never given up hope.

This case has often been compared to that of Emmitt Till, the young black man murdered in 1950s Mississippi. Emmitt's murderers were eventually found; let's hope Chris' are too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Roger Lovelace, Flogas, & the Law


The following is from a series of articles originally published January 5-8, 2009:


Retired Florence Gas Department manager Roger Lovelace was arrested Sunday for impersonating a Florence police officer. According to his defense attorney, Tim Case, Lovelace was released from the Florence-Lauderdale County Detention Center after posting a $1,000.00 bond.

Lovelace is 62 years old, lives in the exclusive Indian Springs community, and now works for the Brinks Security Company. What would compel a man in his position to commit a felony of this nature? Perhaps his previous life may offer some answers.

Roger Lovelace was reared in the North Florence neighborhood of Dulin Heights and attended Florence City Schools. Whether because of academic problems or other issues, Lovelace fell behind, graduating from Coffee High School in the late 1960s. Friends report that the he was an inveterate prankster and constant fixture on what was then known as "The Strip," a short access road running between Cherry Hill Homes and the old Florence K-Mart.

After graduation, Lovelace joined his half-brother Doyle in the natural gas industry. Doyle Lovelace worked for many years in the now defunct Alabama-Tennessee Natural Gas Company, while Roger toiled at the Florence Gas Department, commonly called FloGas.

Perhaps Lovelace would have been relegated to field work his entire career, but in the early 1980s, technology gave the future gas department manager a break. It seems that Roger Lovelace was a computer whiz.

When the natural gas industry began using computer technology in metering stations and gas accounting, Lovelace was in his element. He quickly rose to the position of assistant manager under Gas Department Manager Jack Hilliard. Many who knew the assistant manager were surprised at his sudden rise in the department, but thanks in part to Hilliard's own success, Roger Lovelace still had places to go.

When Jack Hilliard had taken over the management of the Florence Gas Department, it was considered something of a poor relation to the Electricity Department. Until Alabama-Tennessee Natural Gas completed its pipeline in the early 1950s, heating with gas was a rarity in this area. Hilliard was credited with almost singlehandedly making FloGas what it was in the early 1990s, a fact not lost on Florence Mayor Eddie Frost.

It was no secret that Frost wished to combine the management of the Electric, Gas, and Water Departments when the long-time electric manager retired. He felt that Hilliard could do for the other two entities what he had done for natural gas. There was wide speculation as to who would fill Hilliard's Gas Manager shoes when he stepped into the new position of Utilities General Manager. Very few had their money on Roger D. Lovelace who was not known for either his people or managerial skills. When the city announced Lovelace's appointment as Jack Hilliard's successor, a long-time Alabama-Tennessee Natural Gas manager was heard to have said, "He knows where the bodies are buried."

Lovelace took over the management of FloGas in 1993 and by 1995 was lobbying for its own Internet Provider Service. Florence needed a computer service, and Lovelace convinced the City Council that he could provide the needed services at a much cheaper rate than America On Line, the leading contender. When the completed ISP was in place, Lovelace dubbed it FloWeb and named himself the webmaster, a position separate from his duties as gas manager and one that offered a second substantial salary.

Elected officials were initially pleased with Lovelace's work and the money he was saving the city. After a few years of municipal use, Lovelace then proposed offering FloWeb to the citizens of Florence, and by 2000, the city became one of only three governmental entities offering Internet Service to the private sector. Lovelace then initiated an elaborate website featuring FloGas' private weather station, prominently showcasing the company's offices on Rickwood Road.

Despite Lovelace's lack of diplomacy or humility, it seems he was heading in the same direction as his mentor Jack Hilliard. Then Roger Lovelace's tower of Internet power began to tumble.

If Florence officials were initially happy with Roger Lovelace's FloWeb, many others were not. One local businessman, hoping to start an ISP in the private sector, went as far as retaining hotshot Florence attorney Marshall Gardner to sue the city over its intrusion into the private sector. The businessman decided to drop the lawsuit, but others were still skittish about FloGas' foray into the still-new realm of the Internet.

Rising costs of running FloWeb, few private subscribers, and a missing $215,000.00 Cisco router signalled the death of Roger Lovelace's pet project, but the Florence gas manager's troubles were just beginning. After losing almost a half million dollars in the FloWeb debacle, it was learned that he failed to lock in low natural gas prices during this period. Lovelace blamed subordinates, but did admit that he had not kept track of the overall workings at FloGas while he had been absorbed with the now defunct FloWeb.

Apparently, Roger Lovelace had not kept track of other matters as well, failing to take a $128,776.83 discount on a construction project. When auditors began to delve into the financial machinations of Florence's gas utility, they soon discovered that the company benefiting from Lovelace's oversight was Golden Construction, a company owned by Ronnie Golden, Lovelace's brother-in-law and brother to Donnie Golden, a former member of the infamous Colbert County Dawson gang.

Many Florence residents were enraged by the manager's actions during a period of rising natural gas prices and complained to city officials, who began a deeper investigation into Roger Lovelace's financial dealings. Having been shocked by the initial reports of the gas manager's haphazard business dealings, they were now dumbfounded by the emerging new revelations.

One has to wonder if Lovelace saw the demise of a public FloWeb as the beginning of the end of his career at FloGas. In all probability, he did not. His immediate superior was still Jack Hilliard and, earlier in his career, he had survived rumors that he had helped his son hack into Pentagon computers. Lovelace continued his rush to an FBI investigation that is still ongoing.

Contending that replacement pipe for the FloGas system did not fall under bid laws, he purchased large amounts from at least two companies at inflated prices. The Florence system was not expanding, a fact that produced dismay in several newer subdivisions, including Heritage Village to the north of Florence. Why the need for so much pipe? An official inventory found enough stockpiled replacement pipe to reach to Birmingham and back.

Lovelace also was known to use gas department labor at his home and continued to use his brother-in-law's construction company, not bothering to request official change orders to existing purchase and construction contracts. In all, over $420,000.00 additional work was given to Ronnie Golden's construction company without proper approval. To add further insult, Lovelace authorized the loan of FloGas equipment to Golden Construction, including phone lines.

Whether one is a Scott Carrier fan or not, the late Florence Councilman, along with a handful of other concerned private citizens, succeeded in bringing Lovelace's malfeasance to light. By now, Bobby Irons was mayor, and while he was reported to be no fan of the corrupt gas department manager, neither was he anxious to fire the department head.

For almost two years, Roger Lovelace remained on FloGas payroll, finally retiring in 2006. When Jack Hilliard also retired, Mayor Irons eliminated the position of General Utilities Manager and combined the Gas and Water Departments under Mike Doyle, who has managed to keep a low profile during his stint at the helm.

Roger Lovelace then went to work for the Brinks Security Company where he planned to work until retiring at the age of 70. While already drawing a substantial retirement from the city, Lovelace should have been in a position to offer his expertise to charities and other social causes, thus insuring a more inspiring legacy. Now it seems we will be filing Roger D. Lovelace's latest chapter under notoriety, and the FBI has yet to weigh in with its official report.

Visitors to the Florence Municipal Building may have noticed changes in recent months. Where a photograph of Roger Lovelace used to grace the wall, now hangs a poster of a colorful Dalmatian--a sad commentary indeed.

She Said, "Murder!"


Since October 2008, Shoalanda Speaks has been bringing the Shoals area a daily column. While primarily a political blog, Shoalanda has also published news of charity events, local arts, and, of course, crime. It has been the articles on local crime that have by far drawn the most readers, indicating a need for more reports on the darker side of the Shoals.

While not all of our chronicles will be about murder, that crime will certainly play a large role in future articles in this new blog. We plan to reprint our Shoalanda crime columns, as well as publish tales of crimes from the area's past, both recent and distant.

Enjoy, Shoalanda