News 12 at 6 o'clock, December 17, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga. --- We are learning new information about 23-year-old Justin Elmore, the man whose death sparked all of the chaos that has erupted this week in Cherry Tree Crossing.
He had an extensive criminal history and had been arrested at least 15 times in the last five years.
Justin Elmore pleaded guilty to 3 felony drug charges in 2006. He didn't serve time under the first offender status. While on probation, he committed several violations. But still Justin Elmore remained on the streets. How? And why?
They were shots that rang out and sparked anger in an entire community.
Justin Elmore, a convicted felon with an extensive drug history, was suspected of carrying drugs and guns through Cherry Tree Crossing.
He was on probation and had just been rearrested again for cocaine this August. Another drug arrest would probably send him back to jail for violating his probation...or would it?
You see, Justin had violated probation a number of times since his 2006 conviction, yet he was a free man at the time he was killed.
"I'm sorry about the tragedy, the whole thing. But why was he on the street to begin with?" Attorney Bill Sams spent four years as a juvenile court judge in our area.
Sams: "Somebody made some choices.. this choice turned out to be a bad choice of letting him be out on the street."
News 12: "So does that come to the legal system? Someone in the system?"
Sams: "It comes down to the whole system."
In October of 2006, Judge Carlisle Overstreet allowed Elmore to plead guilty under the first offender status, and even though he faced a maximum of 45 years in jail, he got five years probation.
The very next day, Elmore was arrested for obstruction of a law enforcement officer, one of his five arrests for obstruction. News 12 found a documented history of Elmore fleeing from law enforcement, which is what deputies say he tried to do again Sunday night.
Twice before his death, motions were filed to have his probation revoked, but Judge Overstreet did not put him back behind bars.
"It's a failure of somebody to protect the community. Now I know in talking to the sheriff and others in the past, the jail is overcrowded. So somebody has to make the decisions. Who do we put in jail and who do we put back on the street?" explains Sams.
Since 2002, Elmore had been arrested several times, as many as 15. News 12 obtained nine booking photos from 2006 alone.
Justin's family has an extensive criminal history as well. When he was just six years old, his dad, Austin Elmore, was convicted in Richmond County for aggravated assault.
When he was ten, his sister Lawanda Ward and two others murdered Nicole Hawes in a drive-by shooting at Underwood Homes.
The next year, his father was arrested again for burglary, shoplifting and escape. Justin Elmore was only eleven years old at the time.
His brother, Austin Elmore, Jr., also spent time in and out of the legal system.
Now a community and a family are in mourning, but the question remains: Should Elmore have been on the streets for this to happen in the first place?
News 12 did try to get in touch with Judge Overstreet as well as District Attorney Ashley Wright, but our calls have not been returned.
Also of note: Justin Elmore's defense attorney for his 2006 conviction, and several probation hearings afterward, was George Bush. You may remember he is the attorney who was arrested this June on cocaine charges.