Warner Robins family says justice not served after murder charge dropped

bpurser@macon.comOctober 1, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Sitting on the front porch with his youngest daughter on his knee and near another who is like his own, Robert Yerby said a day doesn’t go by that his thoughts don’t turn to the killing of his former girlfriend.

Yerby and 29-year-old Felicia Hardman had been together for nearly a dozen years at her 2006 death and had a son together. Hardman’s daughter, 18-year-old Angel Young, now lives with Yerby and his wife of two years and their two children in their Emory Drive home.

“I had so much love for Felicia,” Yerby, clad in jeans and green T-shirt, said as he pulled his long hair back. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”

Yerby and Young talked Monday about learning that charges of murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and possession of a knife during a crime have been dismissed against 37-year-old Erik Mize in Hardman’s stabbing death Aug. 1, 2006. Mize, who is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated sexual assault, once faced the death penalty in Hardman’s slaying.

“It’s disappointing, you know,” said a visibly saddened Yerby with a shrug of the shoulders. “It’s just no justice, basically.”

The one thing that he said helps him sleep at night is knowing Mize is serving a life sentence for the other crime.

Young, who started to cry as she shared how she argued with her mother before she was slain, doesn’t believe the death penalty should have ever come off the table -- much less a dismissal of all charges.

“I want him to suffer like he made my mom to suffer,” said Young, who noted her own years of counseling, anger-management and rebellion as a result of her mom’s slaying. Young was 12 when her mother was killed.

Yerby was the one to find Hardman’s body at their home, then on Vernon Drive. Their son, Brandon Yerby, who was 6 at the time, was with him. He had taken their son to enroll in another school because he and Hardman were breaking up.

When Yerby came in the front door he said he saw blood everywhere.

It was on the walls. A section of carpet near the dining room was saturated with it. Hardman’s lifeless body was lying on the floor on the far side of the living room near a wall.

He said his initial thoughts were disbelief, that this was some sort of joke or prank. But he quickly grasped the reality of the situation. He called 911.

The next hours were harrowing, Yerby said. As the live-in boyfriend, he was initially a suspect. He said he was questioned at the police station where he was held for 24 hours. At one point, he said a detective asked him, “Why don’t you just go ahead and admit it?”

On Aug. 14, 2006, Mize was arrested for sexual assault of a woman in her home in the Corder Road area. The rape victim identified Mize, who was arrested at his home on Woodland Drive a few hours after the assault, police said in 2006. Through the sexual assault investigation, police learned Mize also knew Hardman. He was charged with her murder on Aug. 17, 2006.

Friday, the charges against Mize in connection with Hardman’s death were dismissed.

“There is insufficient evidence at this time to prove (Mize’s) guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” states the dismissal notice filed in Houston County Superior Court. “Some evidence has previously been suppressed by the court, and certain items of physical evidence have not yet been analyzed by the GBI crime laboratory.”

Because there is no statute of limitations for the offense of murder, District Attorney George Hartwig reserves the right to present the case to the grand jury for consideration “should additional evidence come to light at some point in the future.”

The notice to seek the death penalty for Mize in Hardman’s murder was withdrawn July 11, 2012, after an agreement was reached between the prosecution and the defense. The agreement called for the death penalty to come off the table in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole if convicted at trial.

Hartwig, who was sworn in as district attorney in December 2010, inherited the case. He could not be reached for comment Monday. Daniel P. Bibler, the deputy chief assistant district attorney assigned to the murder case, also could not be reached for comment.

Bibler called Yerby earlier last week to talk with him about the prosecution’s plans to dismiss the charges, Yerby said. Bibler also offered him the opportunity to come to his office and see what the prosecution had as evidence and what it was up against, Yerby said.

But Yerby said he did not see the point if the meeting wouldn’t change the course of action the prosecution was taking.

He said he was told the prosecution did not have any DNA evidence connecting Mize to the crime. He said he also was told Mize’s statements to law enforcement officers were made after Mize had an attorney and had been ruled inadmissible in court.

Yerby said Hartwig shouldn’t take the blame for why the case didn’t move forward and for what’s now happened. He said it’s not about pointing fingers. It’s just what has happened, and it’s disappointing, he said.

For Young, the dismissal of the case is heartbreaking, she said. Young, a server at a Warner Robins restaurant, learned about it when her biological father called her at work Friday night.

“I was mad,” said Young, who said she had to fight to regain her composure. “I was shaking and crying.”

Young said she doesn’t believe justice has been served for her mother.

“I understand what the young lady is saying,” said Burt Baker, a supervising attorney with the Georgia Capital Conflict Office who represented Mize in the murder case. “But the evidence is not there.”

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