This year, the Metro Spirit is celebrating its 30th anniversary. As part of that celebration, the paper has decided to look back at some of its previous stories that shook up this town over the years. One such story was the tale of convicted murder and former attorney William Lumpkin. The article, written by former Metro Spirit staff writer Brian Neill, shed new light on an already horrific tale of Lumpkin, a local attorney who was found guilty of beating to death real estate agent Stan White with an 8-pound sandbag on Labor Day of 1996.
In 1999, a judge’s order unsealing court records in the case of convicted murderer William Lumpkin shed new light on the former attorney’s claim he was inadequately represented at trial.
The records also describe Lumpkin as having the run of the Richmond County jail during his years of incarceration there — to the point of establishing a small law library in his cell and being allowed to cobble together makeshift workout equipment — and how he allegedly sought to barter legal advice and money with inmates in exchange for their killing the key witness in the case.
In the documents, unsealed by Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet in 1999, Lumpkin’s wife, Karen, is said to have admitted to an affair with her husband’s attorney, Terry Jackson of Savannah, while the case was ongoing.
Michael Mears, who was co-counsel in William Lumpkin’s trial, met with Karen Lumpkin on Jan. 8, 1999. It was then that Karen Lumpkin told Mears she was having an ongoing affair with Jackson that began in January of 1997, the records state.
According to the records, Karen Lumpkin phoned Mears and said she had documented 56 episodes of sexual contact with Jackson in her journal. Karen Lumpkin also told Mears that Jackson had spent the night at her house and she had visited him at his hotel room whenever he was in town for the case.
Jackson denied any sexual contact with Lumpkin’s wife, but acknowledged he had met her in various places on several different occasions.
Mears, in his report to the Multi-County Public Defender’s Office, stated that, “Mr. Jackson confirmed that Ms. Lumpkin had been to his beach house and that he had given her a photograph of himself but he denied that there has ever been any sexual act between them or that he had ever behaved in an improper or inappropriate manner toward her.”
At that point, Mears said he had filed a motion for Jackson to withdraw from the case.
In 1999, Jackson called Karen Lumpkin “mentally ill” and said her claims were in keeping with a “pattern of fantasizing and reporting sexual attacks.’’
Shortly after the allegations of an affair surfaced, Jackson cited health problems as his reason for withdrawing from Lumpkin’s case.
In his motion, Jackson stated that a CAT scan had turned up a growth on his lung and he had recently been placed on insulin to control diabetes that had spun out of control.
Jackson, a very well-respected attorney in Savannah who represented more than 50 death penalty cases throughout his career including Carl Isaacs in the 1973 Alday slayings in Seminole County and former Black Panther Jamil Al-amin, aka H. Rap Brown, in the 2000 slaying of an Atlanta deputy sheriff, passed away in 2012.
After pleading not guilty to charges of murder and theft, a Richmond County jury found Lumpkin guilty of beating to death real estate agent Stan White with an 8-pound sandbag on Labor Day of 1996.
Prior to a sentence being handed down on Feb. 24, 1999, Lumpkin admitted he had killed White.
In exchange for the admission and waiving his right to appeal, he was sentenced to life without parole instead of the death penalty.
Despite waiving the right, Lumpkin appealed his case, giving as one of his reasons the alleged conflict of interest with his attorney.
“The fact that he’s waived his appeal will, I feel sure, cause the court to dismiss anything he files along those lines,’’ said then-District Attorney Danny Craig in 1999. “But the clerk of courts does not have that authority.”
Even though Lumpkin’s sentencing agreement stated that an appeal was not possible, Craig said the clerk of court had a responsibility to accept any submission from an inmate “unless it’s a bomb.”
By his own admission and testimony from witnesses, Lumpkin was on his last financial leg in the days leading up to his murdering White.
White had purchased Lumpkin’s home, which Lumpkin had lost to the IRS after declaring bankruptcy, at a foreclosure sale. Witnesses said White had agreed to sell back the home to Lumpkin and arrived at the attorney’s downtown office to collect the final payment the same day he was killed.
To help dispose of the body, Lumpkin employed the help of Augustus Williams, a convicted felon with a knack for passing bad checks.
The prosecution maintained that Williams’ reputation as a con was exactly why Lumpkin had chosen him for the job.
No one would believe a convicted felon and it would be easy for Lumpkin to pin the murder on him, prosecutors maintained.
In fact, the defense told the story of a fight breaking out between Lumpkin and White, and Williams stepping in and inflicting the fatal blows to White’s head and neck with a ream of paper.
But if there was any truth to the prosecution’s theory, Lumpkin had obviously underestimated Williams’ potential influence on the jury.
Williams went on to detail for the court the loud pounding sounds he heard while sitting on the porch of Lumpkin’s office. Williams also said he helped Lumpkin get White’s body, wrapped inside a tarp, into the back of Lumpkin’s car.
White’s body, bound in the tarp and secured to two mushroom anchors with rope and wire, was found on Sept 6, 1996, in the Savannah River near Allendale, S.C., about 50 miles southeast of Augusta.
Included in the unsealed court records were interviews with inmates that suggest Williams may have been lucky to have escaped the same fate before making it to the witness stand.
Initially, according to one inmate, it seemed Lumpkin had leverage over Williams by promising to appeal his wife Vanessa’s murder conviction. Lumpkin had represented Williams’ wife at trial, court records indicated.
“Lumpkin got a rope around Gus neck,” said Walter Hornsby, a former Richmond County jail inmate, during a taped interview with investigators on Sept. 12, 1998. “He got, he was the attorney for Gus wife.”
“This come out of Lumpkin mouth,’’ Hornsby added. “Lumpkin said as long as he (Williams) keep quiet I will get Vanessa out.”
Also, during questioning by Investigator Ken Rogers of the Richmnond County Sheriff’s Department, Hornsby said that Lumpkin had a lot of pull in the jail and managed to have law books stacked up to the ceiling while other inmates could have only a Bible:
Hornsby: Lumpkin did what he wanted when he got ready. You couldn’t make no water bags on the floor but Lumpkin made him some.
Rogers: What do you mean water bags?
Hornsby: To work out with. If you see Lumpkin now you’ll see he in top shape.
Rogers: You’re saying fill a bag full of water and, and use it for weights?
Hornsby: Yeah… Then he roll up his mattress and use it as a weight too, do it, curl that like that and then he run up and down the stairs, which you can’t do that. They’ll say, if it were anybody else working out like that there, they’d get their, they’ll tell you to stop, but they never told Lumpkin to stop.
Another inmate, Cecil Johnson, said Lumpkin delivered a note to him while they were in the Richmond County jail together that advertised a $50,000 contract on Williams’ life:
Rogers: Okay, so, so you’re saying the second note you got from Bill Lumpkin from the sixth floor to what, to your floor, which was the fifth …
Johnson: That’s right.
Rogers: … had Gus Williams’ name in there …
Johnson: Oh, yes.
Rogers: … And it had a fifty thousand dollar contract …
Johnson: Oh, yes.
Rogers: …for you to kill Gus or have somebody else kill him?
Johnson: It wouldn’t have been no problem. I (sic) wouldn’t have been no problem at all.
Rogers: Okay, so are you saying that Bill Lumpkin, through a note, offered you fifty thousand dollars to kill Gus?
Johnson: That’s right.
Johnson said Lumpkin never specified why he wanted Williams dead, but added that there was no need to:
Johnson: No, I already know what the time was, I know what time it was anyhow, because I already know that he had supposed Gus to go with him, you know, to wrap the body up to drop it in the water.
Johnson: I knowed that much.
Rogers: So, so you knew that Gus was involved in …
Rogers: … helping dispose of the body …
Johnson: Yes, sir.
Rogers: … and you assumed that Lumpkin wanted Gus dead because he was a witness.
Johnson: Oh, yes.
Johnson also told the investigator he approached by an attorney who visited Lumpkin in jail.
The attorney told Johnson he would receive help with his case free of charge, Johnson states in the court records.
Johnson told the investigator that Captain Gene Johnson, then assistant jailor at the Richmond County jail in 1999, allowed the meeting to take place:
Johnson: Yeah, I was, I was on the fifth floor one day about 10:00, 11 o’clock, you know, so the officer from the booth called me to the booth and told me to come through the control doors and I come through the control doors and Mr. Johnson, he was there.
Rogers: Who, who is Mr. Johnson?
Johnson: Captain Johnson.
Rogers: Of the jail?
Johnson: Oh, yes. Rogers: Okay. What did he want?
Johnson: And he wanted me to go up on the sixth floor with him. You know, he stated, he had, I had to go up there and he wanted to see somebody or do something, but I never went to the sixth floor with him. He canceled that, so we stayed on the fifth floor.
Johnson: Right after that then a lawyer come down there. I don’t know the lawyer name real good. I’m pretty sure that he was with, this lawyer that, here I’m testifying against. He told me he were going to work on my case for me, but the case was free. I told him I done got presented on that once before.
Contacted at the Richmond County jail in 1999, Capt. Johnson said the inmates’ stories concerning the operations of the facility were bogus.
“As far as me setting up a special meeting with anyone, I’ve never done that,’’ Capt. Johnson said in 1999. “That’s never happened. I don’t know what he’s (Cecil Johnson) talking about.”
In 1999, Capt. Johnson also denied that Lumpkin was allowed to liberally exercise and amass a virtual law library.
“I remember one time he had some empty jugs up there he had put some water in, and once they were discovered they were taken away from him,” Capt. Johnson told the Metro Spirit in 1999. “He was allowed to have his legal papers his attorneys brought him. He had some law books in there, but that was OK.”
“Inmates will do anything they can to bog up the system or say anything,’’ Johnson added. “That’s just their nature, I guess.”
While the alleged plots against his life were going on behind the scenes, Williams, as the defense pointed out at trial, was trying to sell his story to the national media.
In a letter Williams wrote to his wife at the Washington State Prison in Davisboro, Ga., dated July 1, 1998, Washington tells of the alleged plots against his life and talks about contacting the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Geraldo Rivera.
Craig, then Augusta’s district attorney, said Williams was out of jail and living in the Augusta area in 1999.
“He’s afforded whatever degree of security we feel is appropriate under his circumstances as they may change from week to week,’’ Craig said in 1999.