Ex-wife sent to death row for 1974 murders of Macon newlyweds. Now she’s a free woman.

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about local items of historic, noteworthy or unusual significance gleaned from nearly two centuries of Telegraph and Macon News archives.

The shotgun murders of newlyweds Ronald and Juanita Akins on a late summer evening in 1974 was a crime that captivated and fascinated Middle Georgia, and one that, for the better part of a decade, made news far outside the region as it wound through the justice system.

A pair of killers, who included a woman named Rebecca Machetti, whom Ronald Akins had recently divorced, would be sentenced to die.

For a time, Machetti was the only woman on Georgia’s death row. Her sentence, however, was later changed to a life sentence.

In 2010, when she was 71 years old and after serving 36 years in prison, she was paroled and believed to be living in the Dublin area.

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Rebecca Akins Machetti Clipping from Telegraph archives

The authorities said Machetti, the mastermind of the murder plot, had enlisted Anthony I. Machetti, her new husband with whom she lived in the Miami, Florida, area, and another Florida man to kill Ronald Akins to collect on a $20,000 life insurance policy. Rebecca Machetti was previously married to Ronald Akins for 20 years.

Officials said Ronald Akins, 38, a technician and engineer who worked for the Southern Natural Gas Company, was lured to a spot in northern Bibb County under the ruse of seeing someone about installing a television antenna. He had experience in such work and, as a master electrician, he had installed equipment at radio station WDEN when it first opened. His new bride, Juanita, an east Macon elementary school teacher, had accompanied him the night they died.

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Ronald and Juanita Akins Telegraph archives

They were gunned down at their car near the then-sparsely populated Howard community at the northern end of Fairmont Drive, not far from a rail line that lies just northwest of the intersection of Bass and Forsyth roads. The area sits adjacent to Wolf Creek, near what is now the Howard Oaks subdivision.

For his role in the shotgun slaying, Anthony I. Machetti, who had recently changed his name from John Eldon Smith, was executed in Georgia’s electric chair in December 1983. He was the first person to be executed in the state since the death penalty was halted in 1976.

The case had its share of sensational elements:

Ronald Akins’ body, lying next a car, was spotted by a family flying over the area in a private plane.

Prosecutors contended that Rebecca Machetti had, in the months before she and Ronald Akins divorced, tried to smother him and poison a milkshake with a powerful sedative.

Testimony at a retrial for Rebecca Machetti in 1983 revealed one prosecution theory that Anthony Machetti had changed his name from John Eldon Smith to, as the Telegraph reported at the time, “enhance his image while trying to become a Mafia hitman.”

At Rebecca Machetti’s 1983 retrial, prosecutor Joe Briley described her as “pure evil, unadulterated evil.”

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.