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Forsyth shooting victim might have witnessed previous crime

POSTED: August 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
CUMMING — Authorities believe a 75-year-old man who was shot to death earlier this week may have been targeted because he was a witness to a previous assault involving his attacker.

Forsyth County sheriff’s investigators say 75-year-old Iowa Hill "Buddy" Preston was shot in the head sometime between Monday and Tuesday in an apartment he owned on Carlton Road.

The suspected gunman, who authorities have identified as 50-year-old John Michael Lito, later shot himself in his own apartment, which was next door to Preston’s.

Lito had been released from jail on Aug. 1, investigators said. He was arrested July 26 and charged with aggravated battery in connection with the beating of another tenant, David Payne, at the Carlton Road property.

Lt. Col. Gene Moss, commander of the sheriff’s law enforcement bureau, said Payne was taken to the hospital by Lito, who "in a rage had beaten him up severely."

Moss declined to release details of the dispute.

"All we can say about it is there was a disagreement," he said.

Payne remained hospitalized until Tuesday.

Moss said when Payne came home he found that his apartment had been burglarized and two firearms were stolen. He reported the burglary.

Capt. Paul Taylor, commander of the sheriff’s criminal investigations division, said Lito was a suspect in the burglary.

"Mr. Preston was an individual we had been trying to make contact with in relation to the assault on Mr. Payne," Taylor said, adding that Preston was thought to be a witness in the case.

Preston was scheduled to meet with an investigator Tuesday morning, but never arrived. When Preston’s body was found, Taylor said, Lito immediately became a person of interest. Authorities then decided to check on Lito, whose body was found in his apartment.

Both guns stolen from Payne’s apartment were found inside Lito’s residence.

Moss said "a considerable amount of evidence" has been recovered.

"Early indications are some of that evidence directly links Mr. Lito to the death of Mr. Preston," Moss said.

Sheriff’s crime scene technicians, Forsyth County fire personnel and officials with the coroner’s and district attorney’s offices also took part in the investigation.

Moss said investigators still were combing the residence and surrounding property on Thursday.

"We’re not leaving any loose ends," he said. "This is taking a considerable amount of time because we have two scenes to process."



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