CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an error about a subpoena left on Milton Stephens Jr.'s door. While investigators declined to discuss the subpoena, they said that Stephens may have been a witness in a case. A corrected version appears below.
Milton Stephens Jr. may not have seen who killed him.
Diabetes had all but stolen his vision, friends said.
Stephens, they said, who turned 40 in July, was on dialysis.
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“Who’s gonna mess with him?” his friend, Deon Williams, said. “This man’s blind.”
As best the police could tell Monday, someone went to Stephens’ ground-floor apartment in east Macon in the predawn hours and shot him once in his chest.
Williams found Stephens dead just inside his doorway about 9:45 a.m., likely several hours after the slaying.
A Bibb County sheriff’s investigator said the shooting may have happened about 3 a.m., though some neighbors at the Rockland Apartments on Recreation Road gave conflicting accounts of when they heard gunfire. One resident was adamant that it was closer to midnight.
Williams, Stephens’ friend who lives across town, was on the phone with Stephens on Sunday night about 11.
“He said he had an important phone call on the line and that he would call back,” Williams, 29, said. “But he never called back.”
Williams and his brother had planned to pick up Stephens on Monday morning so that Stephens could help Williams’ brother apply for a car loan.
When the brothers arrived at Stephens’ place Monday, Williams didn’t bother knocking.
“That’s how I do when I go,” Williams said. “I grabbed the doorknob and cracked the door open.”
Inside, the TV was on the way it always was.
Stephens’ blanket and pillow were on the sofa, but he wasn’t.
“I tried to open the door further and it wouldn’t open,” Williams said. “I looked down and there he was, laying right there.”
Williams wondered if perhaps the killer had gone to the wrong apartment. Stephens, he said, “didn’t have no enemies.”
Stephens’ slaying was the city’s 10th this year and first since early June. The complex where he lived lies a little more than a mile east of the Emery Highway entrance to the Indian Mounds. It sits between Millerfield Road and the old Lakeside Park, off Jeffersonville Road.
The apartments are a spread of 20 or so two-story, brown-brick buildings with beige siding. Stephens lived in apartment K-2, one of four residences in his building. Directly upstairs, in 1997, a man was shot dead in apartment K-3 by another man when he barged into a woman’s apartment in a domestic dispute.
On Monday, residents described the complex as safe enough -- until troublemakers from outside come calling, bringing with them occasional fights and random gunfire.
A woman who lives downhill from Stephens in the D building said she heard gunshots not long after 11 Sunday night. “I told my husband, ‘I’m so tired of hearing shooting around here.’ ”
Stephens’ second cousin, Shirley Sinclair, lives a few buildings over.
“It’s surprising that it happened to him,” Sinclair said, “but it’s not surprising that someone got shot out here.”
She said word around the complex was that one of Stephens’ neighbors had heard someone bang on Stephens’ door in the middle of the night and yell, “It’s P!”
“Next thing they heard was pow-pow,” Sinclair said. “Whoever P is apparently knew who he was.”
‘HE HURT NOBODY’
Sinclair, in tears as Stephens’ father and stepmother moved through a clot of sheriff’s deputies at the scene, said another resident heard the shots and peeked outside. The resident didn’t notice any cars leaving in a hurry.
“Whoever it was was on foot, a coward,” Sinclair said. “That man didn’t bother nobody. ... He was sick. If he could help you, he’d help. He hurt nobody. ... He was fun-loving. He just liked to see a smile on your face.”
Williams, Stephens’ friend, said when he went to the door Monday morning there was a subpoena on it for Stephens. Williams said it may have involved a lawsuit over a car, and that the subpoena had apparently just been dropped off. Investigators declined to discuss the subpoena, saying only that Stephens may have been a witness in a case.
Stephens, who divorced his wife of three years in 2012, was a defendant in a pair of small-claims cases with quick-cash outlets in Macon, cases involving loans of $1,500 and $4,500, according to court records.
James Benefield, the complex’s maintenance man, said Stephens’ apartment was sparsely furnished: couch, table, TV.
He often saw Stephens relaxing on his stoop, often while Benefield was on his morning rounds collecting litter.
“I was picking up trash this morning and I actually knocked on the door because he’s normally sitting out there,” Benefield said. “I knocked a couple of times, then thought, ‘Oh, he might not be awake.’ ”
Benefield said Stephens almost certainly couldn’t have seen anyone through his front door’s peephole if someone knocked in the middle of the night.
“If I held up four fingers and asked him, ‘How many?’ he’d start laughing at me. He could see shades, outlines.”
Benefield changed the locks on Stephens’ doors last week so that one key would open them and Stephens wouldn’t have to bother with multiple keys.
“He was just the guy in the neighborhood who’s always sitting out,” Benefield said, “who’s really nice.”