Two more individuals, for a total of three, have been charged in the murder of a former Smith SP corrections officer in Long County. The new charges come with the indictment handed down from a Long County grand jury Monday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Dennis Kraft on January 12 for the murder of Jessica J. Gerling, a former corrections officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections. Gerling was found shot to death in a Ludowici mobile home park on June 28, 2021.
Few details surrounding the murder have surfaced as the GBI investigated over the last year and a half, but Gerling’s name remained in the news due to her connection to a contraband-centric criminal enterprise operating from behind the walls at Smith State Prison.
Monday marked the first grand jury since Kraft’s arrest, so an indictment was expected, but the grand jury indicted two other individuals who are already facing charges for their alleged roles in the enterprise: Keisha Janae Jones and Nathan Weekes, an inmate in the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). Both are facing murder charges, among others, in Tattnall County, for the murder of 88-year-old Bobby Kicklighter.
Weekes was an inmate at Smith State Prison at the time of the Kicklighter murder in January 2021, but was being housed at the Special Management Unit (SMU) in Jackson, GA when Gerling was killed. GDC claims SMU is the state’s most secure facility as it houses GDC’s most dangerous offenders, but the facility has an overwhelming contraband problem.
The case was presented by District Attorney Billy Joe Nelson and GBI Agent Christian Johnson of the Region 5 Office, though the case technically falls into the GBI Region 14 jurisdiction. Johnson is the lead case agent on the Bobby Kicklighter murder/RICO contraband smuggling case in Tattnall County.
The charges the three were indicted on include:
- Malice Murder
- Felony Murder
- Aggravated Assault
- Possession of a Firearm During a Felony (Weekes excluded)
- Tampering with Evidence (Weekes excluded)
- Conspiracy to Violate the Georgia RICO Act
Among the facts outlined in the indictment is the claim that Weekes and Jones recruited Kraft, a longtime friend of Jones, to assist with the murder of Gerling and that contraband cell phones were recovered with known aliases of Kraft on contraband cell phones in the possession of Weekes. The indictment alleges that Kraft and Weekes communicated for a period of three weeks to plan the murder. The name used, according to the indictment, was ‘John Wick,’ “a fictional hired assassin in a movie series.”
The indictment alleges that Kraft and Jones tampered with evidence by taking Gerling’s cell phone and that Weekes, Jones, and Kraft violated the Georgia RICO Act for nearly a two year period when they dealt directly and indirectly with the criminal enterprise, Saint Laurent Squad, operating from Smith State Prison.
A noteworthy associate named in the indictment as part of the criminal enterprise is former Smith State Prison warden Brian Adams, who was arrested in February by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Long County does not have a jail, so Kraft has been held at the Appling County Jail since his arrest in January. Weekes remains in GDC custody at the Special Management Unit in Jackson, Georgia and Jones has been in local custody since her arrest in August 2021. Jones was an employee at Smith State Prison but resigned while under investigation for providing contraband to an inmate. GDC’s criminal investigation unit has never charged her with a crime.
Gerling, an Ongoing Relationship with a Smith SP Inmate, & the Georgia Department of Corrections
Gerling was fired from Smith State Prison in June 2020 after attempting to bring contraband into the prison. She’d worked for the Georgia Department of Corrections for just under six months. Her murder is now tied into a host of other criminal acts.
According to court documents filed in Tattnall County Superior Court last year, Gerling’s death is connected in some fashion to those Kicklighter, who was murdered in his Glennville home on January 31, 2021 and Jerry Lee Davis of Wayne County who was murdered on January 13, 2021.
Gerling is referred to in court documents as “The Queen” A.K.A “STAR” A.K.A “First Lady” of the Yves Saint Laurent Squad, which is the criminal enterprise alleged to have been operating from Smith State Prison. According to the indictment, Gerling had an ongoing relationship with Nathan Weekes and “recruited other civilians to bring contraband into Smith State Prison.”
The same documents suggest she was partly responsible for murder of Jerry Davis in Wayne County.
Investigation into Criminal Enterprise
The investigation has illuminated a colossal breakdown in protocol, policy, and control within the Georgia Department of Corrections, specifically at Smith State Prison, which is located in Glennville. An entire multi-million dollar criminal enterprise responsible for smuggling contraband into the state’s close security prison was operating entirely from behind the walls of the penitentiary. The contraband included everything from marijuana and methamphetamine to cell phones and tablets to designer shoes, clothing, and jewelry. To date, GDC has presented no evidence to the public that the enterprise has ceased to operate within its facilities.
Since the arrests in the Kicklighter murder case nineteen months ago, the GBI has connected the same Smith State Prison-based criminal enterprise to the murder of Jerry Lee Davis in Wayne County, an assault on another corrections officer, and a host of other criminal acts. Most recently, the GBI arrested Smith State Prison’s warden, Brian Dennis Adams, on charges of Bribery, False Statements, Violation of Oath of a Public Officer, and Violation of Georgia’s RICO Act.
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