Alleged killer ‘didn’t have a dog in the fight’ over $14
It was Halloween night 2017.
A man was dead, shot in the chest. He collapsed along the driveway of a squat white house on this city’s west side. In the hours after he was killed, the police investigating noticed a sign on a bedroom door in the 950-square-foot dwelling.
The authorities would come to describe the place as a narcotics den where meth and heroin were peddled and used.
“Trick or Geek,” the sign on the bedroom door read, its strained, punny lingo an apparent Halloween reference to the drug doings there.
It was there at 1476 Burton Ave., a few blocks north of Mercer University Drive on the western edge of Unionville, that a then-21-year-old addict named Jace Jenkins pointed a bolt-action .22 rifle at 38-year-old addict Stewart Leslie Gordon Jr. and shot him in the chest.
Accounts vary — as one of Jenkins’ lawyers now puts it, everyone there was “sky high” — but Gordon had shown up to buy dope. In the transaction, $14 went missing. The people selling the drugs blamed Gordon. After a shoving and shouting match escalated, one man slugged Gordon and knocked him off the front porch.
Jenkins, a down-on-his-luck addict who was living at the Burton Avenue house with friends, was familiar with Gordon, who hung out in the area.
Details of their Halloween-night encounter emerged Tuesday in Bibb County Superior Court, where Jenkins pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for killing Gordon. Jenkins had been charged with murder, but circumstances in the case — among them, the fact Gordon had pulled a utility knife before Jenkins grabbed the rifle and the intoxicated, unreliable witnesses — prompted the plea.
Prosecutors asked Judge Howard Z. Simms to sentence Jenkins to 15 years behind bars. One of Jenkins’ lawyers, Floyd Buford, who noted that his client had no criminal record and was the one who had called 911 to summon help for Gordon after shooting him, suggested something in the neighborhood of five years. The judge gave Jenkins 12 — and eight more years on probation.
The deeper drama that unfolded Tuesday, however, was the reason anyone was there in the first place.
Prosecutor Sandra Matson spoke of “this just senseless and tragic culture and life” that enveloped “not only the victim but the defendant and all the unsavory characters” there that night.
“But for the meth, but for the heroin, but for the drug transaction and the missing $14 ... they probably would have just continued on with their Halloween party,” Matson said.
The slain man’s mother, Susan Gordon, held back tears as she read from a statement.
She told how she had avoided answering the door that Halloween night when the police came knocking with news that her son was shot.
She had hoped the deputy would go away, but he didn’t. “He keeps knocking,” she recalled, “and knocking and knocking.”
Then she spoke of caring for a son with a drug problem, how at first she chalked it up to him being with “the wrong people.” But the addiction grew worse.
She said, “We loved him through the tough-love stage: ‘No, you can’t have the money. No, you can’t borrow my car. No, you can’t have what you want.’”
Trembling, her voice breaking at times, she told of the son “who couldn’t love himself enough to quit the addiction that consumed his soul. ... The inner monsters were stronger than he was. Even though I knew in my heart that I would have to bury him, I never anticipated it happening like this.”
Before returning to her seat behind Jenkins in the courtroom gallery, she mentioned her son’s failings and her forgiveness for his killer.
“No matter the mess you make of your own life, death by the hand of another is never deserved,” she said, adding, “I do not hate this young man. ... Hate consumes the soul.”
Then the judge gave Jenkins his say.
“Your honor,” Jenkins said, recalling the shooting, “I believe that in my heart at the time, I believed that my action, that I was protecting people.”
Jenkins referred to Gordon’s death and said, “I’m very sorry that he did pass.”
Judge Simms asked Jenkins why he was living in a drug den?
Jenkins said he had nowhere to go.
Simms suggested that, no, the place was just Jenkins’ “easiest choice.”
Then the judge held up a police photograph from inside the house, a picture of drug paraphernalia and other trappings of a dope house.
“Son,” he said, pointing to the photo, “that is the 21st-century Macon, Georgia, equivalent of a mid-19th-century opium den. If you live in an opium den, every knock at the door should represent trouble. Because it’s gonna find you eventually. And it did. Now a man’s dead.”
Simms sentenced Jenkins to the dozen years behind bars and, before stepping down from the bench, turned his attention to Susan Gordon still seated in the gallery.
“You are carrying a burden that’s not yours,” the judge told her. “It’s time for you to put it down. Your son made his own choices, and it’s not for you to carry.”