Hometown of accused ‘in shock and disbelief’ after murder of college student

jkovac@macon.comMay 18, 2013 

HAWKINSVILLE -- Just northwest of here, out off the Warner Robins highway, where timber tracts and pastures are neighbors with a golf course, where folks can be heard lamenting the countywide leash law and the big rigs thundering down U.S. 341, they found human remains in the woods.

And that’s pretty much all most anyone knows so far.

The remains were those of a freshman from a college in the next county over. The student, 19, had been missing for two weeks. The teenager accused of killing him, a fellow student, lived maybe 200 yards through the pines from where the victim turned up slain.

The suspect, 17-year-old Kane Rolison, was jailed on a murder charge May 8, around the time authorities concluded Jmaal Malik Keyes was dead.

In the days since, the unsettling circumstances of Rolison’s alleged crime have been the talk of his Pulaski County hometown.

His relatives, floored by news of him being implicated in the case, weren’t up to discussing how a by-all-accounts smart kid like him, who was taking college classes while still in high school, has landed in so much trouble.

“Everybody’s devastated by this whole thing,” Rolison’s lawyer, Jeff Grube, said. “We’re hoping to get to the bottom of it. ... This is not like ‘Matlock,’ where the show’s settled in 60 minutes.”

The interim president at Middle Georgia State College, which Rolison and Keyes attended in Cochran, on Friday lauded the work of police and said the school was “heartsick that what began as a missing-person case did not end with Jmaal returning alive and well.”

By road, the college’s Cochran campus lies about 16 miles from the spot below Buck Creek Road where Keyes’ remains were discovered last weekend. The place is just west of Ga. 247, about 20 miles south of Robins Air Force Base. A little more than a mile to the east, the Ocmulgee River swings past a country-club community.

Rolison lived with his mother and grandparents west of the golf course, amid what is largely farm land on Cabero Road. The road is named for Greek immigrant Nick Cabero, a prominent Hawkinsville cafe owner and businessman in the early-to-mid 1900s.

Twenty years ago, a Wells Fargo driver from Warner Robins ditched his van along Cabero Road and disappeared with $10,000 cash in what the FBI declared a staged kidnapping. The driver, along with another man and a woman who lived in his trailer park, fled to Indiana where the driver was shot, killed and robbed of the loot.

The house where Rolison lived, roughly five miles northwest of downtown Hawkinsville, is still plenty secluded.

“In the suburbs, I reckon you’d call it,” Paul Siegfried, a hay farmer who lives down the road toward U.S. 341, said. “When they four-laned 341, it definitely made a big difference on the traffic and the noise.”

Siegfried, 59, said he didn’t know Rolison.

“It’s too bad. I don’t understand,” he said, “because that kid was supposed to have been going to high school and college both. You would have thought he would have had a little intelligence. But people with intelligence don’t go around killing people.”

In town, where the city is known for its proud harness-racing heritage and historic opera house, a store owner on Houston Street described Rolison as an acquaintance.

“A good kid, honestly, and I know that sounds weird to say,” said the store owner, who didn’t want her name printed. “But I have met Kane off and on for the last six months and it blew me away. I didn’t see that one coming.”

He “seemed really smart,” she added.

She has heard that someone Rolison knew may have tipped off police about his alleged involvement in Keyes’ disappearance.

“But around here,” she said late last week, “word is not truth. So you don’t know what to believe and what not to believe.”

The city, she said, is “a little depressed. I went into the Huddle House earlier and they were talking about it. They was just all sad, in disbelief.”

The Rev. Donald L. McClung of First Baptist Church on Broad Street has heard Rolison described as “a bright kid.”

He said word of a hometown youth’s arrest in the slaying of another teen, a fellow student, hit hard.

“I would say the community was in shock and horrified. ... The people I’ve talked to, they just sort of shake their head and sort of have the attitude that you just can’t tell about people,” McClung said.

“I don’t think anybody saw it coming. But I don’t think anybody feels like, ‘Well, I’m moving from Hawkinsville.’ I think everybody’s just saying it’s a bizarre thing -- tragic, terrible. We hate that’s the way our town’s name gets in the paper.”

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