The jury in the trial of John Henry Wetherington Jr., who is charged with robbing and murdering a Summerville man on April 2015, is set to pick up deliberations this morning.
Jurors didn't reach a verdict during the third day of the trial Wednesday, but will get back at it at 8:30 a.m. today in Floyd County Superior Court.
Wetherington, 28, of Dalton, is accused of killing 42-year-old Nicholas Shropshire on April 18, 2015. He also is accused of robbing him of $1,500. Shropshire's body was dumped on the side of Floyd Springs Road and a passerby reported it to 911.
According to information presented in court:
Shropshire had made plans to buy methamphetamine from Wetherington through Eric Jordan Hunter, 25, of 2014 Wesley Court in Rome, who has admitted to being the driver of the car. Shropshire had his windpipe crushed, with the primary cause of death being strangulation.
The two audio recordings of Floyd County police investigator Chris Fincher interviewing Wetherington were played by Assistant District Attorney Hal Goldin. The first interview was on April 22, 2015, and the last was in early 2017.
Goldin used the first interview, along with a receipt, to show Wetherington was not at Walmart during the time of the murder, 6 to 7:30 p.m., as his girlfriend and mom had told police. From Fincher's investigation, he found video of him entering Walmart at 10:31 p.m. and a receipt indicating he checked out at 10:54 p.m.
Wetherington's attorney, Arnold Ragas, asked Fincher why he told his client he didn't commit the crime in the first interview. Fincher said he was attempting to level with him, something typical in investigative work.
Ragas continued to press Fincher in regards to his recollection of the case's details, considering the over two-year span between the crime and trial, after he used a copy of the receipt to reference while testifying.
"I also ate several times, but I can't tell you where," Fincher said.
By the time of the second interview, Fincher told Wetherington, "We've got a good case against you," though he didn't believe he set out with the intention of murdering Shropshire. Wetherington had to have reached behind him to strangle him because it couldn't have been done from the front seat, Fincher said in the recording.
"The story is I got out of the car," Wetherington replied to Fincher, referring to his claim he wasn't in the car with Hunter and another unidentified person when they met Shropshire.
Wetherington had sold marijuana to Hunter earlier in the day on April 18. He contended he never sold any hard drugs, though, like the meth that Shropshire had gone to purchase.
Fincher confirmed for Ragas that Hunter, who is the prosecution's main witness, had previously set people up for drug deals.
Both Hunter and Wetherington are charged with felony murder and robbery. Hunter was arrested two weeks after the incident occurred and Wetherington was arrested in February. Hunter will be sentenced at a later date.
Goldin also is seeking to include an involuntary manslaughter charge in with the murder charge.
A facade facelift at 334 Broad St. was given the green light by the Rome Historic Preservation Commission Wednesday; however, the HPC put the brakes on plans to whitewash the brick on the building.
Attorney Zachary Burkhalter said the request to whitewash the old brick was made primarily to provide a uniform look to the two different shades of brick on the front of the building. Burkhalter, who just purchased the building, has a law office on the second floor while the first floor is being renovated. Once the first floor work is finished, Burkhalter will move the law office into that space. His long-term plan is to convert the second floor into an apartment.
The HPC approved plans for a couple of decks on the Pro Performance building at 100 Broad St. A roof-top deck will be added to the Broad Street building and a second floor deck will be added onto the back of the building owned by Tim and Molly Vicchrilli.
The entire second floor of the building is being renovated into a single residential space.
The Rome First United Methodist Church, 202 E. Third Ave., was approved for a covered walkway and deck on the building to facilitate ease of movement from an elevator shaft to the sanctuary.
"There are four different buildings on the campus with 15 different elevations," architect Robert Noble told the HPC. The addition will barely be visible from both Third Avenue and Third Street.
An addition to the rear of a home at 17 Rosewood Road in the College Heights subdivision was approved unanimously by the HPC. The panel found an application for signage at Spool of Dreams, a new women's clothing boutique incomplete and deferred action on that request.
As part of North Height's Career Quest, a Governor's Office of Student Achievement grant funded initiative, fifth-graders are studying a different career every nine weeks. Now they are concentrating on construction. STEAM Truck, a nonprofit organization owned by Community Builds, is a mobile maker space that travels to different schools in Georgia and works with students, teaching them how to use tools safely and solve problems. North Heights is participating in a "Big Build" which means the STEAM Truck team visits every week for five weeks and helps them build a problem-solving project the students designed. The fifth-graders at North Heights are creating a clubhouse for their playground which will include different games and cool gadgets.
Local officials expect to add a transportation planner position next year to the Rome-Floyd County Planning Department.
County Manager Jamie McCord said more money has been available from the Georgia Department of Transportation since the state gas tax was revised in mid-2015.
"We're getting a lot of help locally from GDOT and we need to be prepared," he told the Floyd County Commission during a budget review this week. Commissioners typically adopt their budget in January but Mc-Cord said he expects to present the 2018 proposal before the end of the year. Meanwhile, he's providing frequent updates on revenue challenges and spending priorities.
Funding for employee merit raises of up to 2 percent will be included for the first time since 2014. Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace said cost-of-living boosts during that time have compressed wages.
"Merit raises will, hopefully, widen the spread between new hires and existing employees," Wallace said. "We have to do this now."
Six new corrections officers also are slated to be added; four at the jail and two at the prison on Black's Bluff Road.
It's an outgrowth of PREA — Prison Rape Elimination Act — regulations for facilities that house state inmates.
"We don't have a choice," Commissioner Wright Bagby said. "The statistics dictate staffing levels."
There also is expected to be an increase of about $26,000 for the coroner's office, with the county's first morgue on track to open before the end of the year.
Barry Henderson, who retired this year after two decades in office, had used his funeral home as a facility. Bodies also are stored at local hospitals, at no charge to the county, but space is limited.
"They knew years ago this was a temporary solution. Then times got bad and they never did anything about it," Wallace noted.
Among the other changes coming in 2018 is a spay and neuter program at PAWS, the public animal welfare services facility that opened in December 2016.
McCord said he's budgeted $125,000 for the program but expects the cost to be closer to $70,000 or $80,000.
Commissioners hope it will lead to long-term savings through in-creased adoptions and lower numbers of feral dogs and cats.
Revenue is expected to rise slightly next year. McCord is projecting a 2.5-percent increase in property taxes "without a tax increase."
Finance Director Susie Gass said both the collection rate and the value of the tax digest are trending upward, despite decreases in some categories such as the motor vehicle ad valorem tax. Additionally, tax abatements are expiring for several industries.
"You don't want to be overly aggressive (with a projection) but you don't want to be overly conservative, either," McCord said.
There are 40 college and career academies in Georgia, but only one of them can claim to be the top in the state for 2017.
And that one CCA resides at 100 Poe Ave. and carries Floyd County Schools in its name.
The local CCA was named as the academy of the year during Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's Business and Education Summit in McDonough Tuesday. A $3,000 grant was also awarded to the CCA.
"We are very pleased and excited about the recognition from the state level as the top college and career academy in the state of Georgia," said Eric Waters, the CEO of the FCS CCA. "This is a direct reflection of excellent faculty and staff at the Floyd County Schools College and Career Academy."
Having a successful CCA starts with the kids wanting to be there and choosing to do so, rather than being assigned, said John Jackson, the FCS superintendent. On numerous occasions, he said he has met and interacted with CCA students, who he described as awesome, focused and engaged with finding a direction for their lives, and they are an essential element in making the CCA award-winning.
"You have to have great students to accomplish these goals," Jackson said.
But overall, the award is "a reflection of a lot of hard work by our students, staff and the leadership there," he added.
"What more can you say about the teachers," he said.
The CCA has had enrollment triple since 2008, and it currently offers 18 career pathways. It also sports a graduation rate of 99 percent, according to a news release from the lieutenant governor's office.
The over 50 community partnerships the CCA has was cited as a definite strength, as was its strategic plan for developing a skilled workforce to spur economic growth.
"Floyd County has actively embraced innovation in the classroom, rejecting the one-size-fits-all educational model, and their students are reaching new heights because of these efforts," Cagle said in a news release.
"Our education and business leaders have come together to create a world class educational institution that benefits our entire community," said state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, in a news release.
As they notch the top honor in their belt, the system is pushing forward in getting more students involved in dual-enrollment opportunities, which falls under the umbrella of the CCA, Jackson said. Officials are working to further develop school-based, dual-enrollment courses — either at each individual school or the CCA — where some of the system's teachers would serve as adjunct faculty for Georgia Northwestern Technical College or Georgia Highlands College. Also, students have the option to go to the two colleges for classes.
Today's artwork is by Model Elementary School second-grader Addy Stolz.