Less than 24 hours after Ralph Elrod shot and killed two Peach County sheriff’s deputies nearly two years ago, he confessed to the shootings and explained — or at least tried to explain — some of what happened.
As he lay wounded in a Macon hospital bed the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2016, Elrod, who had been shot by police in the aftermath of his deadly attack on deputies Patrick Sondron and Daryl Smallwood, spoke to a GBI agent about the slayings and what led to them.
A recording of that conversation and key video evidence was obtained this week by The Telegraph through an open records request after the criminal case against Elrod was officially closed. Elrod last week pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to life behind bars.
Throughout his half-hour interview with the GBI, Elrod sounded at times as if he was trying to make sense of it all himself.
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But first he had a question: “Did I kill those two officers?”
GBI agent Blair Sasnett didn’t answer him right away.
Sasnett told Elrod that first he needed to read Elrod his rights.
Then the agent asked Elrod to describe the events of the previous afternoon.
Some details of the killings were mentioned at Elrod’s plea hearing last week, but a fuller picture of what may have prompted the bloodshed remains difficult to fathom. The murders came at a time when deadly attacks on law enforcement officers were at the forefront of national news. They happened during a four-month stretch that saw three other Middle Georgia policemen shot dead in the line of duty.
In court last week, one of Elrod’s lawyers spoke of the elusive “why” in Elrod’s attack, that it was something that had left Elrod’s own defense team puzzled. Elrod himself, when given the chance to speak at his sentencing, said nothing to explain his actions.
His fullest known statements appear in the investigative files, which include the recorded interview in his hospital room the day after the killings.
Elrod told his version of how on Nov. 6, a Sunday afternoon, some relatives of one of his neighbors had ridden a four-wheeler and a motorbike past his house on the western outskirts of Byron. After Elrod, armed with a shotgun, stopped and confronted the motorcyclists in front of his Hardison Road home and threatened to kill them, the police were called.
Videos and recordings from the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office reveal some of what happened next. They also provide a tragic glimpse into the perils of law enforcement — of two lawmen, in the seconds before being shot to death, talking to a seemingly compliant man who, in an instant, exploded.
Deputies Sondron and Smallwood had pulled up at Elrod’s house and, minutes later, as he was about to be arrested and handcuffed, Elrod, without warning or provocation, pulled a concealed Glock 43 pistol. He shot both lawmen, mortally wounding them.
Minutes later, Elrod, then armed with an AR-15 he had retrieved from his house, took aim at Byron police officers who had rushed to the scene to help the fallen deputies. Elrod was shot, and he surrendered after firing dozens of shots at the officers.
From his hospital bed, Elrod, who was 57 at the time, said his neighbors had no respect “for anybody’s property.” He complained that they operated an auto-repair shop out of their yard and said the motorbikers had been “popping wheelies up and down my road.”
He said when he confronted the motorcyclists the day of the shootings that he had been toting his squirrel-shooting gun, that it was slung over his shoulder in a “non-threatening manner.”
He did admit to telling the motorbikers that if they kept roaring past that “I was gonna kill ’em.”
Elrod said when the deputies rode up and told him he was under arrest that “everything just spun out of control from there.”
He said, “I pulled my pistol … and I shot. … I don’t know why. … My son’s a sheriff (a deputy). I’m a law-abiding citizen.”
Elrod said he drank maybe six beers earlier in the day, and the shooting “just happened before I knew what was going on.”
But why, the GBI agent wondered.
The best answer Elrod could muster was, “I just didn’t want to go to jail … over this bullcrap,” referring to his issues with his neighbors and the motorcycles.
Elrod said after shooting Smallwood and Sondron, he went into his house, put on tactical gear, grabbed his AR-15 and a 12-gauge shotgun and returned to his driveway.
He said he hoped the cops on the way to the scene would kill him, that he wanted to “draw” fire from them.
“At that point, I wanted to die. … Everything was surreal. It was like a dream,” Elrod said.
He said he opened fire with his AR-15, but he was aiming for the engine blocks of the police cars and SUVs.
“I didn’t want to hurt anybody else,” he said.
Agent Sasnett again asked Elrod why he shot the two deputies in the first place.
“I don’t know. … It happened so quick,” Elrod said. “I have no idea. … I don’t have nothing against police officers.”
Elrod, according to police reports, threatened violence in the past.
After he was jailed for killing the deputies, a profile of Elrod published in The Telegraph in early 2017 described how in 1993 he had been accused of pointing a sawed-off shotgun at his now-former wife.
She and Elrod had quarreled about Elrod having an affair with another man, a Macon police report of the incident noted, adding that his wife wanted a divorce.
Elrod, according to the police write-up, left their house in northeast Macon saying he was heading out to “kill some faggots.”
He was never prosecuted, but after the couple divorced in early 1994, Elrod was jailed on allegations that he had raped his ex-wife. At trial, he was acquitted of rape, but the time he spent behind bars beforehand, as his son, Jarrod, would later tell The Telegraph, “chapped his ass — and still does.”
Elrod was, it now appears, a powder keg.
During his deadly encounter with deputies Smallwood and Sondron, it wasn’t until Sondron informed Elrod that he was under arrest that Elrod attacked.
As Sondron reached to handcuff him, Elrod grabbed the pistol that he had hidden beneath his T-shirt and, in a blur, opened fire, killing both deputies.
The next afternoon, the GBI agent at his hospital bedside asked Elrod if Elrod knew how many times he had been shot in his brief shootout with the officers who had rushed to help the fallen lawmen.
“Not enough,” Elrod said.
Later, after agent Sasnett informed Elrod of the charges against him and told Elrod that deputy Sondron was dead and that Smallwood, who would die later, was clinging to life, Sasnett asked, “Mr. Elrod, do you have any questions for me?”
“Nothing that you will do,” Elrod said.
“What’s your question?” the agent asked.
“Kill me,” Elrod said.
“No,” Sasnett replied, “you’re right. I can’t do that.”
Then Elrod said, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Still talking to the agent, but perhaps speaking more to himself, Elrod’s voice drifted into moans.
“I am so sorry, son,” Elrod said. “Oh, God. Oh, God. … I just wanna die. … I can’t believe I did this.”