Suspect in Georgia officer death pleaded to prior gun crime

AP News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2016 6:27 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A man charged with fatally shooting a rural Georgia police officer had pleaded guilty four months earlier to a gun crime and was sentenced to probation, court records show.

Royheem Delshawn Deeds, 24, has been charged with murder in Saturday's fatal shooting of Eastman Patrol Officer Timothy Smith. Acting on a tip early Monday, deputies in Florida pulled over a car driven by Deeds' sister and found him hiding in the trunk. He was arrested and returned to Georgia.

Deeds hadn't been a free man for long.

Documents show Deeds was jailed in neighboring Telfair County on Dec. 11 after he was indicted last fall. The indictment charged Deeds with aggravated assault, child cruelty and other crimes, saying he fired a gun at a man and two children. District Attorney Tim Vaughn said Tuesday that the man was shot in the leg. The children, both bystanders, weren't injured.

Deeds remained locked up for months until his case was resolved by a guilty plea April 4. Court records show prosecutors dropped six counts against Deeds, who pleaded guilty to one charge of aggravated assault. A judge sentenced him to five years on probation. The records note Deeds' plea to a felony charge would prohibit him from owning firearms.

Vaughn, who prosecuted the case, said the wounded man insisted he didn't know who had shot him, and other witnesses who implicated Deeds as the shooter began backing off their stories before his trial.

Vaughn said he had little choice but to cut a deal, and that meant letting Deeds go. Now Vaughn's office will prosecute Deeds for the officer's slaying.

"If we could have sent him off (to prison), he wouldn't have been out to do this," Vaughn said. "But I took what I could get. And I got him on probation."

Stuart Deal, the public defender who represented Deeds in the assault, case did not immediately return a phone message.

An officer since 2011, Smith was responding to a call of a suspicious person with a gun when he was shot Saturday in Eastman, a rural city about 60 miles southeast of Macon, according to the GBI. Authorities haven't said how they linked Deeds to the slaying.

The slain officer's father, Lewis Deeds, said the family planned to hold his funeral Thursday. Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered that flags at the state Capitol in Atlanta be flown at half-staff Thursday in honor of Smith.