The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 26, 2012

A dozen suspects awaiting trials for murder

By Jean Cole

— Twelve cases of capital murder, murder, reckless murder or criminally negligent homicide are currently pending in Limestone County. The list includes four women and eight men.

Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones inherited 10 of the cases when he took office in Jan. 2011, and added two more in 2011.

Three of the 12 accused have fled the country and have not been found.

One is currently in a mental facility and not competent to stand trial.

One must be re-tried on an old case.

Some have trial dates pending that could be delayed.

“We had 909 indictments in 2011, and we have 206 cases on the Feb. 27 docket, so we are busy,” Jones said.

Here is synopsis of the current cases:

A Feb. 27 trial date is set for Keith Daniel George, 38, of Ardmore, who is charged with murder in the shooting of his nephew — Russell “Rusty” George Jr., 26, of Ardmore — on March 16, 2009. However, the district attorney must try an older robbery case that day that will take most of the week, so he expects George’s trial will be rescheduled. Authorities said George shot Rusty after trying to prevent him from driving after drinking alcohol at a family barbecue in Ardmore. He is free on bail.

A Feb. 27 trial has been scheduled for Deborah Kay Arriaga, 49, of Decatur, who is charged with capital murder-robbery in the April 24, 2010, shooting death of Bryan Wayne Hutto, 43, of Swan Creek Mobile Home Park. However, her trial will be rescheduled to the next trial docket, Jones said. She remains in the Limestone County Jail.

A Feb. 27 trial has been set for a Tennessee man charged in a fatal wreck that killed an Elkmont father south of the Tanner crossroads in 2010. However, the trial will have to be rescheduled because the attorneys in the case are still exchanging evidence, Jones said.

A Limestone County grand jury formally charged Wes Allen Bryan, 31, of Ardmore, Tenn., in September 2011 on charges of vehicular homicide and running a stop sign. The victim, John Brent Brannon, 35, was southbound on 31 when the two vehicles collided. He was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected after his SUV overturned at least twice, and died of blunt-force trauma. Police found no evidence of intoxication but they charged Bryan with running a stop sign. He is free on bail.

Typically, fatal wreck cases involving drivers who were not intoxicated or engaged in some distracting activity such as telephone text messaging have not been presented to a grand jury for possible criminal indictment. However, the district attorney vowed to present all cases involving fatal wrecks to a grand jury and let them decide whether there is adequate evidence to formally charge the driver with vehicular homicide or some other charge.

An April 30 trial date is set for an Alabama state trooper charged in a wreck that killed an Athens couple last year. James Heath Moss, 30, of Athens, was formally charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide last November. Moss was heading to another accident to provide traffic control on the morning of April 25, when he rear-ended Jamie Lee Gossett, 31, and his wife, Sarah Rene Gossett, 38, on Lucas Ferry Road. Their vehicle was pushed into a field and caught fire. Moss is free on bail and assigned to administrative duties at the trooper post in Decatur. 

Jones said he would meet again with the victims’ family to go over the case and determine how to proceed.

Trial is tentatively set for Aug. 27 for Lisa Mechelle Pate, 42, of Arab, who is charged with murdering her longtime Athens boyfriend. Pate is accused of fatally shooting James Ellis Miller, 59, at his home at 18508 N. Jefferson St. on Nov. 24, 2009. Police have said Miller, who had retired from the Marine Corps, was apparently breaking up with Pate and that an argument led to the shooting. Ben Baxley, attorney with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, will prosecute this case because Jones represented Pate when she was initially arrested. However, Jones said the case might have to be rescheduled due to Pate’s medical condition. She remains free on bail.

Awaiting re-trial

No date has been scheduled for Kathy Diane Birge, 57, of Madison, who must be re-tried on a capital murder charge for allegedly poisoning her husband in 2001. Cecil Birge died of what appeared to be natural causes May 5 that year. His daughter from a previous marriage found his death suspicious and refused to allow cremation, so he was buried in Indiana. The body was exhumed May 25 after officials determined his will had been forged. A toxicologist in Indiana determined he died of a drug overdose and Kathy was convicted of capital murder in 2003. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the verdict, ruling that the pathologist who performed the autopsy could not name everyone who handled the toxicology samples, meaning samples could have been contaminated. Birge remains in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka.

“Once we get through the next trial docket, we will pick up and rework the case from square one,” Jones said. “We know what to look for this time (as far a forensic evidence is concerned).”

Awaiting test results

Officials are awaiting results of DNA testing in the 2011 murder of an Athens woman before setting a trial date.

Lamar Wallace Anderson, 46, of Athens, is charged with murder in the March 13 death of his former girlfriend, Wendy Defoe Bond, 26, inside the abandoned Trinity School in Athens. In the official complaint filed in Limestone County Court, investigators accuse Anderson of causing Bond’s death with a knife, aluminum metal piece and fists. A preliminary autopsy of showed she died of blunt-force trauma to the head. Relatives said Bond was a domestic-abuse victim trying to break free of Anderson. He had been charged in the past with beating Bond and he was legally barred from seeing her. He remains in the Limestone County Jail, with bail set at $270,000. 

Jones said forensic scientists have worked the DNA profiles but did not like the way one sample was labeled, so they requested a new one.

“We obtained a warrant, obtained a new cheek swab sample from Anderson, and we will send it,” Jones said.

No dates

No court date has been set for Domingo Ortiz Velasquez, 31, of Athens, in the September 2006 stabbing of Santos Pablo Lares. Velasquez told investigators he stabbed Pablo Lares of Athens after he and some other men attacked him in front of his mobile home at 1001 Frazier St. Judge Woodruff found him incompetent to stand trial and committed him to the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa, where he remains.

No date has been set to try Dora Alicia Ramirez, 25, of Decatur, who is accused of murder. She allegedly lured her lover, Andres Flores Galicia, 31, of Decatur, to rural Limestone County so her husband, Ulises Arturo Reyes Mercado, could kill him, officials have said. Ramirez pretended she had car trouble and when her lover— who went by the name “Flores” — arrived on Mooresville Road, Mercado shot him in the face and the back of the head, Sheriff Mike Blakely has said. After the shooting, Mercado fled to Mexico and has never been arrested. Ramirez’s case remains pending, possibly until Mercado is tried for murder. She remains free on bail.


Three men, two wanted for reckless murder in connection with fatal traffic accidents and one wanted for murder, have fled and have not been found.

One man wanted in the December 2005 execution-style shooting of Andres Flores Galicia fled before he could be arrested and has never been found. Ulises Mercado, see details in previous paragraph regarding Dora Alicia Ramirez, is a suspect in Galicia’s death. Officials believe he was lured to rural Limestone County by his lover, Dora Ramirez so her husband, Mercado, could kill him.

No court date has been set for Marcello Ortiz-Velasquez who fled the scene of a 2005 wreck that killed his passengers — Martin Ramos and Marcos Lopez. He was never found for arrest.

No court dates has been set for Jose Guadalupe Ibarra-Morante, 45, of Toney on a charge of reckless murder in connection with a Dec. 12, 2009, wreck on Old Railroad Bed Road that killed Richard and Doris Doty. Ibarra-Morante, who officials say was driving under the influence of alcohol, was arrested on two counts of reckless murder and was jailed without bond. Although Ibarra-Morante is a legal citizen, District Judge Jerry Batts declined to set bail for him initially because he was considered a flight risk. After he was indicted by a Limestone County grand jury, the indictment was sent before Judge Woodroof for bond to be set, as is required by law. Woodroof set bond at $60,000 according to the recommended bond schedule. A bonding company posted the bond for Ibarra-Morante on Feb. 26 and he was released from the Limestone County Jail. He fled and has never been found.