Courts

Kicklighter Murder Case Inches Forward, 2nd Murder from Smith SP Contraband Scheme at Standstill

At least three individuals are dead by dint of an alleged criminal enterprise that state authorities say began behind the walls of Smith State Prison in Glennville, but an overlap of GBI offices and judicial circuits has, thus far, demonstrated that not all cases are created equal. Even when they’re connected.

Jerry Davis of Wayne County and Bobby Kicklighter of Tattnall County were murdered within weeks of each other in January 2021. According to agents with the GBI, the cases share at least one individual in common: Christopher Reginald Sumlin, Jr. Sumlin was arrested and charged in July 2021 with shooting and killing both Davis and Kicklighter, allegedly with the help of others, and he has remained behind bars ever since.

But while the Kicklighter case continues to progress and yielded a 19-page indictment identifying key components of a supposed entire criminal enterprise, Jerry Davis’s case has been in the same place for a full year. In fact, largely what has been made public about Davis’ murder was revealed in documents and court proceedings for the Kicklighter case in a neighboring judicial circuit.

Indictment in Tattnall County

The indictment of Sumlin and his co-defendants in Tattnall County is considerably revealing. A grand jury returned true bills of indictment for Sumlin, Keisha Janae Jones, Aerial Deshay Murphy, and then-Smith State Prison inmate Nathan Weekes.

Weekes and Sumlin served time together at Smith SP before Sumlin’s release in October 2020. Weekes has since been transferred to the Special Management Unit at Georgia Diagnostic Prison in Jackson.

The indictment alleges that the four are responsible for the death of Bobby Kicklighter in a botched murder-for-hire scheme involving a ‘hit’ that was intended for a Smith State Prison tough on contraband Corrections Officer believed to be the next door neighbor of Kicklighter.  That, the indictment contends, was part of a larger multi-million dollar contraband ring operating from inside Smith State Prison since at least June 26, 2020 – Yves Saint Laurent Squad or YSL. The ring reportedly smuggled into the facility thousands of dollars worth of designer jewelry, clothing, weapons, tobacco, drugs, and cash via at least three GDC employees. 

The indictment also notes that Sumlin and Jessica Gerling (now deceased) committed the act of Malice Murder against Jerry Lee Davis in January 2021.

Read more on the indictment coverage from TheGeorgiaVirtue.com here. Story continues below.

Jerry Lee Davis – Wayne County 

Investigating Agency: GBI Region 14 Office
Brunswick Judicial Circuit – Assistant District Attorney Melissa Himes

Husband, father of 3, worked for vending company that delivers to Smith SP

  • Killed January 13, 2021 at his home in Jesup
  • Warrants sought for Sumlin on August 30, 2021
    • Sumlin charged with Malice Murder, Felony Murder, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Cruelty to Children (1st Degree)
  • Sumlin has only appeared in court for three bond hearings
    • September 8, 2021
    • December 15, 2021
    • March 2022
Bobby Kicklighter – Tattnall County

Investigating Agency: GBI Region 5 Office
Atlantic Judicial Circuit – Assistant District Attorney Joe Skeens

Botched murder-for-hire, hit intended for GDC Corrections Officer next door

  • Killed January 30, 2021 
  • Warrants sought for Sumlin + 2 others (Jones & Murphy) in July 2021
  • Warrants sought for Weekes’ role on August 25, 2021
  • Indicted 4 individuals in April 2022 on charges of:
    • Malice Murder
    • Felony Murder (x3)
    • Burglary in the 1st Degree
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Possession of Firearm by a Convicted Felon
    • Possession of Firearm During Commission of a Felony
    • Conspiracy to Commit Murder
    • Conspiracy to Violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“Georgia RICO Act”)
  • 19-page indictment lays out criminal enterprise, RICO allegations, and details of other cases involving at least three now-former GDC employees.
  • Prosecutors announced intent to seek death penalty of Sumlin for Kicklighter’s death
  • Arraignments scheduled for defendants in September 2022
Jessica Gerling – Long County

Investigating Agency: GBI Region 14 – Atlantic Judicial Circuit (GBI office is same as Davis, DA’s office is same as Kicklighter’s)

  • Killed June 28, 2021
  • Former Smith State Prison employee
  • Engaged in romantic relationship with inmate Nathan Weekes
  • Terminated for bringing contraband into GDC facilities 
  • No charges
    • Tattnall Co. Indictment indicates Weekes, Jones, and “other co-conspirators unknown to the grand jury…caused the death of Jessica Gerling” by shooting her.
Aggravated Assault of off-duty Smith State Prison Corrections Officer – Liberty County 

Investigating Agency: Hinesville Police Department
Atlantic Judicial Circuit 

  • March 31, 2021
  • According to the Indictment from Tattnall County, Sumlin shot at the Smith SP C.O., who only escaped when Sumlin wrecked his own vehicle in a car wash. 
    • Authorities near Atlanta arrest Sumlin on warrants of Aggravated Assault, Stalking, and a probation revocation
  • Nolle prossed (or dismissed) by Atlantic Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney prior to indictment.
Silence from the Georgia Department of Corrections

The Georgia Department of Corrections has been silent on the allegations brought forth by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Tattnall County indictment of Sumlin suggests that ‘some of [Weekes] co conspirators’ are still unknown to law enforcement, but GDC has seemingly done nothing to suggest it has eradicated the problem. The state agency has failed to even publicly declare that the contraband ring has ceased to operate from Smith State Prison. Daily, inmates stream live from inside Smith SP.

Smith SP’s warden remains the same and GDC Commissioner Timothy Ward advocated for Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, some 22 miles away, to shutter, while inmates at Smith continue to battle staffing shortages and inmates who declare that guards are only in charge because they allow them to be. The Board of Corrections appointee for the 12th District, Wayne Dasher of Glennville, has never commented on the issues or called on state actors to intervene. 

While GDC relies on the positive press from social media posts about the occasional interception of contraband drops on prison property and via drone, it rarely discusses the other means by which contraband enters facilities: its own workers and vendors.

Data: Few Tattnall GDC Employees Face Prison Time After Contraband Arrests

administrator
Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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