By Michael Prochaska/The Oconee Enterprise
An Oconee County jury Monday evening found Akhemu Dunston and Dallas McCabe guilty of felony murder in the death of 19-year-old Joseph "Joey" Jackson two years ago.
Western Judicial Circuit Judge Lawton Stephens sentenced the defendants to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years plus five years to run concurrent for lesser charges.
Jackson was shot July 16, 2019. He thought he was going to purchase 3.5 grams of marijuana for $30 from Dunston, but Dunston, a resident of Athens, ended up stealing Jackson’s phone while seated in the passenger side of a Pontiac G8. While trying to get his phone back, Jackson was dragged by the car as the driver, McCabe of Tennessee, accelerated. During the tussle, another passenger, Timothy Ryan O’Neal, also of Athens, pulled out a 9mm handgun and shot Jackson in the arm.
Due to the positioning of his arm, the bullet also entered Jackson’s upper chest. Because of the loss of blood and a head injury, it took Jackson two hours to make it 100 yards to his grandparent’s home at the intersection of Whippoorwill Road and Cumberland Drive. His grandparents called 911, and Jackson died in a hospital the next day. O’Neal, who was tried separately, was also sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in April.
In the case of Dunston and McCabe, neither the prosecution nor the defense informed the jury that O’Neal had already been found guilty. Dunston’s arrest earlier this year for being party to the crime of a rape while he was supposed to on house arrest was also not discussed with the jury.
“This [murder] case is why we have party to a crime,” prosecutor Sheila Ross said in her closing statements on Monday. “Everyone who participated in this murder can be held responsible for it….You can’t get away with murder by bringing some friends with you.”
Ross told the jury, “This is not a contest of who’s the worst; they are all bad.” She said Dunston was the glue of the botched robbery: he brought O’Neal and McCabe together. She also established that they are affiliated with East coast subsets of the Bloods street gang.
A gang expert testified about hand signs, clothing and lingo of gang culture, including the phrase “money move,” which is another way of saying robbery.
McCabe’s attorney, James Rogers, said his client was simply emulating behavior from movies and hip hop. He also said that McCabe drove to Mexico not because he was not afraid of law enforcement but for fear of retaliation from O’Neal. Ross said McCabe was “sleeping as Joey Jackson is dying” and that he fled to Mexico so he wouldn’t have to face the consequence of his actions. Phone calls, Instagram messages and other forms of communication among the defendants were also crucial to this case. Ross explained to the jury that they had communicated before, during and after the crime. “A hand of one is a hand of them all,” she said. “It took all three of them to complete this crime.” Ultimately, the jury found the defendants guilty of felony murder, which unlike malice murder, does not require an intent to kill. Felony murder means causing the death of someone irrespective of intent.
The Western Judicial Circuit recruited Ross from the Prosecuting Attoorney's Council of Geoegia to try the cases of all three defendants.
Oconee County Sheriff James Hale issued the following statement after Monday's verdicts:
“We hope that these final convictions bring a measure of peace and closure to this tragedy for the family and friends of Joey Jackson. Since the last trial … they have experienced more loss as Joey’s Grandmother passed away. Our hearts go out to them in their time of grief.”