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Cleveland couple charged; minister's death shakes hospice

POSTED: December 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Frank Harris Jr.'s body was found Monday.

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CLEVELAND — A Cleveland couple remained jailed Tuesday on charges of murdering a hospice chaplain, while authorities released little additional information about the case.

William Joseph "Joey" Dyer, 20, and Jennifer Dawn Lineberger, 29, are charged with felony murder in the death of 44-year-old Frank Harris Jr. of Clermont, whose body was found in front of a vacant home in Cleveland early Monday. Investigators believe Harris was killed sometime Sunday.

Harris, a married father of three, was chaplain for Gainesville’s Compassionate Hospice for nearly two years and also served as a part-time youth minister at Pendergrass Baptist Church.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Mike Ayers said while an autopsy on Harris was completed Tuesday, authorities were holding off publicly releasing the cause of death. Withholding a cause of death is common in unsolved murders but is unusual in cases in which murder charges already have been brought.

Ayers said he didn’t want to release much information about the case publicly, because he was uncertain whether additional suspects would be charged.

Cleveland Police Chief John Foster was out of his office Tuesday and did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. White County Coroner Ricky Barrett also was unavailable for comment.

Ayers said that Harris’ Toyota Corolla was found abandoned on the side of a road near Clermont. Responding to a call, a Cleveland police officer found Harris’ body at about 4 a.m. Monday, outside an empty ranch-style home with a steep concrete driveway off Campbell Street in Cleveland. The crime scene was near low-income apartments where Dyer and Lineberger lived together.

Dyer, who also is charged with armed robbery, was arrested at the apartments Monday afternoon, and Lineberger was taken into custody later in the day, Ayers said.

Ayers would say little about how Dyer and Lineberger first came into contact with Harris. He said it was sometime Sunday night and that Dyer and Lineberger were not stranded motorists.

"He picked up some folks, but that’s really as far as I’m going to get into that at this time," Ayers said.

Harris’ wife told family that he called her at about 7 p.m. Sunday to tell her he was giving some people a ride to Cleveland.

Ayers said it remained uncertain whether Harris knew the two suspects.

"We’re in the process of trying to determine whether he knew them, and to what extent the relationship was, if any," Ayers said.

Ayers would not comment on whether the suspects had made statements to authorities.

On Tuesday, colleagues who worked with Harris at Compassionate Hospice in Gainesville gathered at the scene of his death to leave flowers and pray.

Hospice co-worker David Boal called Harris "a unique man."

"The guy just had a heart for giving," Boal said. "It was amazing how well he worked with the families. He worked with people in difficult situations and helped them become at peace with it."

Boal described a man with a "sweet personality" and "wonderful sense of humor."

"It would lighten up your day just talking to him," Boal said. "We’re not going to be able to find another chaplain that good."

Kevin Burgess, a nurse at Compassionate Hospice who also serves as pastor at Pendergrass Baptist Church, said Harris was "more like a brother than a co-worker. He never met a stranger."

Burgess said Harris was the "children’s leader" at the church and had an ability to connect with even the most troubled people.

"It’s a God-given gift," Burgess said. "It’s not something you learn. He was made for what he was doing for us."

Little was known about the two people accused in Harris’ death Tuesday.

Dyer has prior felony convictions for burglary and theft by receiving, according to court records.

In June 2007, Dyer pleaded guilty in White County Superior Court to breaking into a home on Wauka Trail in Clermont in December and taking food, alcohol and electronics. He also admitted to running from a sheriff’s deputy when the officer tried to pick him up for failure to appear in court. Dyer was sentenced to 10 years probation, with 60 to 120 days to serve in a probation detention center.

In July 2007, Dyer pleaded guilty in Hall County Superior Court to having an all-terrain vehicle that was reported stolen from a Wallace Road home in July 2005. He was sentenced to five years probation, with three months to serve in work release. Dyer pleaded guilty the same month to stealing $23 in merchandise from the Sears at Colonial Lakeshore Mall in January 2007.

Dyer lived at the Wauka Mountain Mobile Home park in Clermont at the time of the 2005 burglary, in which two others also were charged.

Lineberger has no criminal record in Hall or White counties aside from a minor traffic citation. She and Dyer both listed the same Rocket Road address in Cleveland in 2005 and 2006.

Boal, Harris’ coworker, said it would be just like him to offer a ride to the two suspects.

"He just had a passion for helping other people," Boal said.

Boal said his coworkers were struggling with the tragedy.

"It’s kind of shut us down," he said. "Nobody can function. He was such an integral part of our lives."

"This is just totally senseless," he said.



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