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Judge OKs $832K in legal fees in preacher shooting case
Damages awarded to widow cut to $1.6 million
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A federal judge has awarded more than $800,000 in legal fees to the Hall County widow of a pastor fatally shot by law enforcement.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story also decreased the initial amount awarded in damages and expenses.

Abigail Marilyn Ayers was originally awarded $2.3 million in damages and expenses by a jury in February.

She’s the widow of Jonathan Ayers, a Northeast Georgia pastor fatally shot by then-Stephens County Deputy Billy Shane Harrison in September 2009.

Harrison was serving on the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team. He shot the 28-year-old Ayers in the parking lot of a Toccoa convenience store when the victim accidentally walked into an undercover drug investigation.

Jonathan Ayers had taken money out of an ATM in the convenience store and was beginning to pull out of the parking lot when Harrison, along with other deputies dressed in plainclothes, according to court documents, approached him.

Ayers, attempting to leave the scene, was shot by Harrison. According to the originally filed civil complaint, Harrison later claimed he shot the victim because, at the time, he thought Ayers had killed one of his partners in the parking lot.

The initial civil complaint also states Harrison had not met the training requirements necessary to act as a peace officer, and was not acting in his scope of authority on the date of the shooting.

A Stephens County grand jury had cleared the agents of criminal wrongdoing shortly after the incident. Abigail Ayers then filed a civil lawsuit in March 2010, alleging “gross and plain incompetence” in the use of deadly force.

She was awarded the $2.3 million in lost wages over the course of the decedent’s lifetime. The defense asked for the amount to be reduced under a specific formula; Story granted the request by decreasing it to $1.6 million, as a better estimate of the income Jonathan Ayers would have been expected to receive.

But in addition to the $1.6 million, slightly more than $832,000 was awarded to the plaintiff in legal fees and expenses.

Harrison was ordered to post a $2.9 million bond while his attorneys appeal this most recent judgment.

The defense said Harrison has only a $1 million insurance policy through Stephens County. The case reads the defendant is “effectively insolvent even before any judgment, and a judgment over $1 million plainly will render him insolvent.”

Story disagreed.

“As (the) plaintiff points out, she suffered her loss nearly five years ago and has been in litigation over four years,” the case reads. “In the court’s view, it is unconscionable to ask that she wait whatever time is required for an appeal before she can collect her judgment without any assurance that the judgment will, in fact, be collectible.”

Ayers’ lawyers declined to comment; a call to a lawyer representing Harrison was not returned.