By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A rarity: Murder case ends quickly in hotel slaying
While most cases linger, Gainesville man pleaded guilty, received life sentence for Jan. 7 slaying
Placeholder Image

Murder cases:

Jose Garcia-Flores

  • Pleaded guilty to killing Harmon Lavender
  • 2 months
  • Incident date: Jan. 7, 2015
  • Arrest date: Jan. 14, 2015
  • Indictment: Jan. 29, 2015
  • Guilty plea: March 10, 2015

Joseph Williams

  • Convicted of killing Adrian Thompson
  • 1 year, 1 month
  • Incident date: June 3, 2013
  • Arrest date: June 3, 2013
  • Indictment: June 18, 2013
  • End of trial: June 26, 2014
  • Sentencing: July 10, 2014

Ronnie Rucker

  • Pleaded guilty to killing his grandmother Lula Howard
  • 7 months
  • Incident date: May 2, 2014
  • Arrest date: May 2, 2014
  • Indictment: June 19, 2014
  • Guilty plea: Dec. 9, 2014

Mark Antonio Taylor II

  • Convicted of killing Charles Weaver
  • 1 year, 4 months
  • Incident date: Dec. 28, 2012
  • Arrest date: Dec. 30, 2012
  • Indictment: Jan. 14, 2013
  • End of trial: May 7, 2014
  • Sentencing: May 7, 2014

Stacey Schoeck, Lynitra Ross and Reginald Coleman

  • Convicted in the murder-for-hire Valentine’s Day killing of Richard Schoeck
  • More than 2 years
  • Incident date: Feb. 14, 2010
  • Arrest date: May 25, 2010
  • Indictment: June 10, 2010
  • End of trial for Ross: May 22, 2012
  • Sentencing for Ross: Aug. 9, 2012
  • Guilty Plea for Coleman: Nov. 12, 2012
  • Guilty Plea for Schoeck: Dec. 3, 2012

Haley Clark

  • Pleaded guilty to killing her infant daughter Olivia Clark
  • 1 year, 1 month
  • Incident date: July 18, 2012
  • Arrest date: Aug. 6, 2012
  • Indictment: Sept. 21, 2012
  • Guilty plea: Aug. 13, 2013

For fans of the TV crime procedural, each episode’s case is wrapped up with a neat bow in 60 minutes.

TV drama is typically far from reality, yet one rare Hall County case recently came close.

Jose Antonio Garcia-Flores, 29, of Gainesville, pleaded guilty March 10 and received a life sentence for stabbing and dismembering Harmon Vonzell Lavender on Jan. 7 at the Sun Suites Hotel.

The two-month process from Lavender’s death to disposition moved quicker than most Hall County murder cases in the past few years.

“It is unusual for a case to proceed that quickly; however, it’s not unknown in our circuit,” said Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh.

Darragh pointed to one other, the Dawson County case concerning Gary Hilton, when Meredith Emerson went missing while hiking on Jan. 1, 2008. Hilton pleaded guilty 30 days later.

However, these cases represent high-profile exceptions to the rule, where even with plea deals, cases take at least six months.

One of the most recent murder pleas involved Ronnie Rucker, who stood accused of stabbing his grandmother Lula Bell Howard repeatedly May 2. Rucker pleaded guilty Dec. 9.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller took up the case of Mark Alan Fyfe, who was charged with the Christmas Day 2013 murder of his brother Alan Scott Fyfe. Fyfe agreed to a negotiated plea on a voluntary manslaughter charge ahead of his April trial date. 

Particularly with violent crimes like that of the Sun Suites murder, the district attorney’s office early on is working alongside police.

“When investigating these types of serious cases, we typically work with the district attorney’s office,” Gainesville Police Cpl. Kevin Holbrook said.

Law enforcement’s involvement, however, ends at the point that evidence is turned over to the district attorney’s office.

“Of course it helps to expedite the process when the investigators have completed their report and have submitted all of their evidence,” Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes wrote in an email. “This allows the defense attorney to observe all of the evidence against their client when the negotiations start.”

Darragh declined to speak about any case specifically, saying certain cases can end quickly when the district attorney’s office hopes to accommodate the less expensive plea deal ahead of a trial.

“In some cases, a defendant is willing to both recognize or take responsibility for his guilt very early on,” Darragh said. “It is important to my office that we proceed on homicide cases as quickly as we can, because as time moves on, it can become more expensive and unduly time consuming.”

Delays in the adjudication of murder cases can depend on the available evidence, Darragh said, and if it is enough to proceed to a true bill indictment.

Other times, defendants and their attorneys will file “voluminous motions” that take time to work through in the courts and wait in line behind the other cases, Darragh said.

“Sometimes a defendant, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, has reluctance to enter a plea of guilty, and it takes time to get it to an actual jury trial where that’s appropriate,” he said.

Regional events