After pleading guilty but mentally ill in Floyd County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, Carmen Jermaine Sumlin was sentenced to life without parole in the beating death of an elderly disabled man.
Sumlin, 32, entered the plea for the charge of felony murder — an additional charge of exploitation and intimidation of elder adults was merged into this charge for the sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Emily Johnson said an evaluation from a state psychologist, delivered to the judge Sept. 26, 2017, found that Sumlin was criminally responsible for the murder but mental illness was a factor in the crime.
According to information presented in court:
Early on the morning of March 14, 2016, Sumlin had used his fists to beat 73-year-old Johnny Waddell, who was in bed during the attack, at a boarding house the two lived in at 1312 Spring Creek St.
A caretaker at the residence, which has multiple rooms and a community living area, had witnessed the beating. The commotion had roused her from her room, where she peered into Waddell's room to see Sumlin beating on him.
The caretaker yelled at Sumlin, saying she was going to call the police, prompting him to go after her. She ran back into her room and called 911.
Sumlin was arrested that night around 3:30 a.m. at the residence, not yet charged with murder. In one of Sumlin's random, nonsensical remarks — these included saying Waddell's breathing machine was speaking to him — he said he beat Waddell because he would not stop talking and banging on the floor, Johnson said.
About three weeks later, on April 4, 2016, Waddell died in the hospital from complications related to blunt force trauma to the head, said Johnson, adding that the medical examiner classified the death as a homicide.
A niece of Waddell's spoke before Judge Jack Niedrach, saying she had to make the decision to take her frail uncle off life support, as other family members could not bear to do it.
"He died at the brutal hands of Sumlin," she said. "Mr. Sumlin I hope you hear my uncle's screams."
Sumlin's mother, who was called on by defense attorney Ron Shedd to address the court, said at 19 her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She said he has never been stable in taking his medication.
"He obviously could not help himself in this situation," Shedd said.
Physicians of Sumlin's said he had not filled his medications since June 2015, Johnson said, and that he had not taken them the day of the beating.
Sumlin had a choice to do it or not, and the delusions he suffered — such as voices coming from machines or in his head — did not trump his will, Johnson said.
Based on his inconsistency with taking medication along with a prior history of his mental illness manifesting itself in criminal behavior — including previously pleading guilty to charges of cruelty to animals and disorderly conduct — Johnson called for life without parole.
"The public safety overrides Sumlin's liberty," she said.
In a reversal of the Rome Middle School Spelling Bee, seventh-grader Aiden West beat out eighth-grader and school winner Emma Mendes to become the system-wide bee winner Tuesday.
"I needed some kind of redemption," West said of his victory over Mendes, whom he finished second place to in the middle school bee.
And in moving forward, this winning duo will go on to the Region 1 spelling bee, which will be held at the Georgia Highlands College Lakeview Building on Feb. 24. Mendes will serve as the alternate to West.
"I'm not happy about it," Mendes said after the bee, not too sure how she felt about her second-place finish, even if she gets to move on. She explained that she did not have as much time to practice as she wished due to her sizable homework load.
The two went back and forth in the finals of the bee, which was held in the boardroom at the Rome City Schools central office. Both correctly spelled the first three words they were presented with in the finals — the winner has to correctly spell two straight words after their opponent misses one.
But after West correctly spelled "cuticles," Mendes missed "idyllic." However, West stumbled on his next word, but so did Mendes, who was hit with "deciduous." As she spelled this last word, West was seen shaking his head, knowing his opportunity to win was right there before him.
"Porpoises" and "ricochet" were the words that led West to be crowned champion.
In looking back at the middle school bee, West said his adding of a "t" between the "c" and "d" of "anecdote" took his chance at winning away.
"You know how the rules are," West said, adding that he realized as he spelled the word what his mistake was, but he couldn't take it back.
West said he's never made it this far before, expressing excitement at the bigger opportunity, but remaining modest in his approach.
"It definitely gets harder from here on out," he said. "There's definitely kids up there that are way better than me."
Today's student artwork is by Kyri Keith, a sixth-grader at West End Elementary School.
Rome and Floyd County officials gave the go-ahead Tuesday for their crews to get started on a dog park at Ridge Ferry Park.
Plans call for the fenced facility to open sometime in April or May near the old pump station in the Shoals section, across the railroad tracks from the main park. It will, however, remain a work in progress.
"There's ample opportunity for fundraising to improve it," County Manager Jamie McCord told members of the Joint Services Committee. "We're right at budget, if not a little short."
The 2013 special purpose, local option sales tax package contains $25,000 for the project.
McCord estimated the bare essentials at between $17,200 and $33,750, depending on how the labor is apportioned. Private contractors would be faster; public works crews would be cheaper.
"The only issue is timing," City Manager Sammy Rich explained. "Our people have to fit it in with other projects."
City and county commissioners asked the managers to go slow, if necessary, and do what they can to save money for extras such as wash stations, leash racks and agility equipment.
"It should be more than a fence," City Commissioner Evie McNiece said. "If people see it and get excited about it, I think fundraising would be so much easier."
Rich said that, in addition to interest from animal advocacy and community groups, some Eagle Scout prospects may want to do projects at the site.
For now, the dog park will be a vinyl-fence enclosure with a central entrance and three separated sections: one for small dogs, one for large dogs and one for rotation, so heavily used areas can rest and recover.
Access will be via electronic key-cards, which will be free to residents and visitors once they've shown their animal's vaccinations are up to date. A security system and some kind of sun shade also are planned.
McCord said the facility will need to have four to six waste stations with doggie bags and receptacles, at about $300 each. Signage is budgeted at about $500 and the water fountains will cost between $3,000 and $9,000 all together.
"They have to be special dog fountains, which let the bowl fill up and drain away slowly," Mc- Cord said. "They range in price, depending on how they're constructed. We'll need three."
There's also a list of optional equipment, starting with wash stations. The heavy-duty elevated grooming tubs cost about $1,500 each, plus plumbing.
Utility leash racks are estimated at $400 each and agility equipment — sets of tunnels, rings, hurdles, beams and other challenges for interactive play — can cost thousands of dollars. Shipping and installation charges also factor into the price.
Ridge Ferry Park was the favored location for residents polled. McCord and Rich noted that having parking, restrooms and utilities already on site made the project feasible with the SPLOST money allotted.