Byron’s only killing in last 20 years remains unsolved

bpurser@macon.comSeptember 21, 2013 

BYRON -- Brian Davidson was fishing with his 76-year-old father at Flat Creek south of Perry when his cellphone rang.

He was told the body of a man was discovered lying in a gravel parking lot at the W.E. Green & Son grain facility on New Dunbar Road. A woman driving her children to nearby Byron Elementary School called 911 after her daughter spotted the body as they passed by.

The man was shot once in the back of the head.

“They needed me to come,” said Davidson, a lieutenant with the Byron Police Department. “I loaded the boat up and headed back to Byron.”

The Sept. 18, 2009, slaying of 26-year-old Eric Rice, of Warner Robins, would become the detective’s first and only homicide. It also remains the city’s only killing since 1993 and just the third homicide in more than 30 years.

The killing remains unsolved.

Brenda Byrant was grocery shopping with her daughter earlier that morning, and they picked up some lunch from a couple of fast food restaurants to take home. Bryant wanted to have lunch with her then-husband, Herman Hamlin. The couple has since divorced.

As she and her daughter drove closer to her Warner Robins home, Bryant said she could see law enforcement vehicles all around the residence. She recognized a Warner Robins police detective talking with Hamlin. She figured her son, Rice, had violated his probation, and police were looking for him.

But then she saw the look on Hamlin’s face as he met her at the car.

“It was Eric,” Bryant, 53, recalled an emotional Hamlin telling her.

They’d both heard the news earlier that morning that a man had been shot and his body found in Byron. But Bryant never dreamed it was her son.

“Eric who?” she remembered asking Hamlin. He replied, “Your Eric!”

The rest of the morning was a blur.

“I just went to crying,” Bryant said. “Why did anyone want to take my son’s life? I was crying and crying.”

Rice was last seen alive the night of Sept. 17, 2009, at about 7. He drove off in a borrowed black Mazda 626 from a friend’s house in Warner Robins where he ate dinner.

About an hour earlier, he called his mom at a Macon nursing home where she works. Her cellphone was on silence, and she missed the call.

“Too loose Momma,” Bryant recalled the familiar “see you soon” greeting from her son. “I love you.”

That recorded message was the last time she heard his voice.

The crime

The 911 call of the body’s discovery came at 7:15 the following morning, Sept. 18.

There’s a 12-hour window from when Rice was last seen alive and his body found. Heavy overnight rains may have washed away evidence, if there was any to begin with, Davidson said.

Rice was identified by his fingerprints because he had no identification on him. He was wearing a shirt, shorts and tennis shoes. A GBI autopsy was unable to determine the time of death. A single shell casing found nearby led investigators to believe that’s where Rice was shot and killed.

The black car Rice drove was later found abandoned in Fort Valley at a former Chevrolet dealership.

Davidson and Rice’s family suspect Rice was dealing drugs, had a large amount of cash on him the night he was last seen and was killed for the drug money.

Bryant said her son told her once that he started selling drugs when he was 14 years old. She said she attempted to persuade him to quit -- warning him he would end up in prison or killed on the streets. But she said she never actually believed he would become a homicide victim.

Brushes with the law

In the years before his death, Rice had some run-ins with law enforcement, according to court, police and district attorney’s office records.

In November 2005, Rice received 12 months probation after pleading guilty in Houston County State Court to a misdemeanor charge of pointing a weapon at another person.

In August 2006, Rice pleaded guilty in Houston County Superior Court to burglary and theft by taking. He was sentenced to five years probation, which included a stint of 60 to 90 days in a state Department of Corrections probation detention center. He violated his probation twice.

In 2006, Rice and a convicted drug dealer, Horace Wayne Haslem, 35, of Warner Robins, were wanted by Warner Robins police in connection with the June 11 beating of a 30-year-old Warner Robins man outside the Turning Point Lounge at 1609 Moody Road. Witnesses told police the men punched, kicked and dragged the man around the parking lot and hit him over the head with beer bottles, according to the police report.

However, the aggravated assault charge against Rice was dismissed by an assistant district attorney “in the interest of justice,” court records show. Two days later, Haslem was indicted by a Houston County grand jury for the aggravated assault. But a year later, the charge was dropped against him because of “lack of cooperation of the victim.”

Sanctity of life

In spite of his criminal history, Rice’s family believes no one deserves to be shot in the back of the head and left for dead, and no one should be able to get away with murder. Davidson agrees.

That’s why Davidson and Rice’s mother, brother and sister drove out last week to the parking lot where Rice likely drew his last breath. They’re hopeful revisiting the slaying near the anniversary of his death may result in someone coming forward with new information.

“We’re out here to try to get people to give us some help in trying to solve it ... to get the people off the street who are responsible for it and to give this family some closure,” Davidson said.

Noting that dealing drugs was wrong, Bryant stressed that Rice also loved his friends and family, was the kind of person who’d give you the shirt off his back, had a wonderful sense of humor and was loved by his family, which also includes aunts and cousins and his own children.

“I miss him so much,” Bryant said. “What if it was your brother, sister, mother or father?”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Macon Regional CrimeStoppers at 1-877-68CRIME or 478-742-2330, or call Byron police at 478-956-2493. Tips may also be left anonymously on the Byron police website at www.byronpd.org.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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