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Trial ends in guilty verdict, 30 years in prison

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Booze was charged with three counts of aggravated assault

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    The April 21 trial for Keith Booze was Jones County’s first trial since the March 2020 pandemic shutdown. The trial had a few concessions due to COVID-19 requirements, including jury members being spread across one half of the courtroom and jury selecti
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    Booze

After shooting up the car of his estranged girlfriend, which of course was already a crime, a witness saw the offender take a few steps then turn and fire into a house with three people inside.

That final shot placed those three lives in danger and elevated the crime to aggravated assault.

A jury found Keith Antonio Booze Jr. guilty of three counts of aggravated assault in Jones County Superior Court April

21. Superior Court Judge Alison Burleson sentenced Booze to 20 years for each count. The judge ordered the counts to run consecutively for a total of 60 years with the first 30 years to serve in prison. He is to receive credit for time served from his Aug.

22, 2019, arrest.

The defendant was represented by defense attorney Kevin Stroberg, and Assistant District Attorney Faith Worley prosecuted the case.

The trial started at 9 a.m. April 20, and the state and defense had rested by 5 p.m. that same day. The jury returned at 8:45 a.m. April 21 to start deliberations and announced a verdict at 9:26 a.m.

After pronouncing sentence, Burleson said there are some people who get angry and others who are to be feared. She stated that it was either by luck or the grace of God that no one was killed.

The Jones County case was about an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of July 14, 2019. Four shots were fired into the victim’s vehicle and one shot through a window of the house where she was sleeping. The shot through the window went all the way through the house on Arlethia Drive from the front to the back wall. The house was occupied by two adults and a juvenile, but no one was hurt.

The witnesses for the state included the victim her stepfather and brother, a neighbor who called 911, three Jones County deputies, three Bibb County deputies and a JCSO IT specialist

The sole defense witness was an investigator. Booze opted not to testify.

In her opening statement, Worley said the case was about obsession and aggression, and she followed that theme throughout the case. In his opening, Stroberg challenged the state to rule out all the reasonable doubts in the case.

The victim’s stepfather was the first witness. He said he woke up to the sound of the bullets being fired but saw nothing. He said a neighbor heard the gunfire and came to make sure everyone was OK. It was the neighbor who told him about the bullet holes in the car and seeing the offender shoot at the house.

The victim’s brother was the next witness. He stated that he remembered little about the event and did not remember being shown a photo array. The dash cam footage of JCSO Sgt. Robert Land presenting the brother with the array, however, clearly showed the young man pick Booze’s picture without hesitation.

The neighbor testified that he was outside getting ready to go to his job when he heard the shots. He spoke about watching the offender from a distance, but he was not able to pick anyone from a photo array.

The victim was the next witness. She said she met Booze on Facebook in 2017. They became friends and then more. She said things changed and they began arguing.

“He would get physical and then apologize. It didn’t help when I called the police,” she said.

The victim described a pattern of abusive behavior and harassment. She said he called her so many times while she was at work that her employer called the police. In June of 2019, the victim talked about his constant jealousy and receiving a black eye.

“He always accused me of cheating. After he shot up my car, I had to go to a shelter with my kids,” she said.

The victim talked about another incident when Booze kicked in her door and held a gun to her head. She said he told her he was going to kill her, and she went on to say he hit her in front of her landlord and took her car.

“I tried to stay places he wouldn’t know,” the witness said.

The victim testified that she stayed at her stepfather’s the night before the shooting, and Booze started sending her messages that morning that he knew where she was. She said 30-40 minutes later, she heard gun shots.

Stroberg asked about another shooting during his cross examination of the witness that occurred at an apartment complex after Booze was in custody.

JCSO deputies Sgt. Robert Land, Matthew Dennis and Marty Brownlee were called as witnesses. Land had responded to the 911 call about the shooting, and Brownlee assisted with talking to witnesses.

Dennis had responded to another call about Booze harassing the victim.

The next three witnesses were Bibb County deputies who had encounters with the victim and Booze.

Two of the cases were before and one after the Jones County shooting incident. The testimony of the deputies supported the statements the victim gave from witness stand. Bibb County Deputy Stephen Fields said he responded to a call March 27, 2019, from the manager at the victim’s job. He said he was called because of harassing phone calls to the victim.

Fields said he listened to one of the calls and then took out a warrant for Booze for harassing commination.

Bibb County Deputy Danielle Finney responded to a domestic dispute June 12, 2019. She said the victim had a black eye and had scrapes and bruises on her arms and legs. Finney said she was told Booze kicked in the victim’s door and took her phone and keys.

“She had visible knots on her forehead. The property manager witnessed it and called 911,” Finney said.

Another warrant was issued for Booze.

Bibb County Deputy Saed Saidi responded to a call July 14, 2019, from the victim, who said she and her passenger had been shot at by Booze. He said the victim told him Booze said she was going to be dead just like her mother. Saidi secured another warrant for the defendant.

Following their testimonies, Fields and Saidi actually stayed in the courtroom for the remainder of the trial.

Tom Pahula with the Jones County Sheriff’s Department was the final witness for the defense. Three of Booze’s jail phone calls were played for the court while Pahula was on the witness stand.

The state rested after the phone calls, and the defense’s only witness was Investigator Kevin Morris with the public defender’s office. Morris testified to his interviews with witnesses in the case but revealed no new information.

In his closing statements, Stroberg said the case was about identity. He said there was no doubt the shooting occurred and there were people in the house.

“The question is who did the shooting. It could be someone other than Booze,” the attorney said.

Stroberg also contended that, because the stepfather stated he was not afraid when the shooting took place, he could not be considered a victim of assault. The attorney said the other incidents can be used to establish intent and motive but not identity.

“Reasonable doubt is strong. You cannot punish the defendant for things he did in the past,” Stroberg said.

Worley said the state had proved there was an assault with a deadly weapon and the past shows motive, jealousy and obsession.

“Who had motive and who was seen?” she asked.

The prosecutor said, after Booze broke into the victim’s house, she went on the run. She said there were two cars in that driveway but only one had bullet holes.

Worley pointed out Booze’s identification by the brother, and she asked the jury to look at all of the evidence.

“I ask you to make a stand that this behavior is not acceptable, not here,” she said.

In an April 22 interview, Worley said she was pleased with the jury’s verdict and sentence.

“This shows that in Jones County this is not acceptable behavior. It’s a strong stance that says this will not be tolerated here,” the prosecutor said.

Almost as an afterthought she commented, “Another dangerous person has been taken off the street.”