40 years to serve 15: Cloer accepts plea deal in McKinney murder case

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – There was a noticeable absence at the preliminary hearing that was held regarding the death of Justin McKinney and the deadly assault of Anna Franklin.

In the courtroom were Blake Dickey (also known as Blake Dye), Hunter Hill, and attorney Bruce Harvey who spoke on behalf of his client Levi Manuel. All three boys have been accused in the shooting death of McKinney that took place on Dec. 4, 2018.

Not in the courtroom during this initial phase was the fourth juvenile accused in the case, Lakota Cloer, and while his attorney Charles Fulcher was present, unlike Harvey, he did not speak to his client’s absence.

After bond was denied in the case of accused shooter Blake Dickey, the courtroom cleared, and Lakota Cloer was brought in. Cloer’s family, along with family members of Justin McKinney, watched as Cloer plead guilty to lesser charges. Emotions were high on both sides.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee spoke first, “We have reached a negotiated plea offer. This is a 3 count felony accusation.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, 16 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer, Special Agent, Jamie Abercrombie, Dustin Hamby, Captain, Justin Turner, Investigator, John Arp, Chief Deputy, Major Keith Bosen, Elrod Lane, Maple Grove Road, Chase Havard, Kevin Shamaty, Lakota Cloer, Levi Manuel, Bruce Harvey

16 year old Lakota Cloer was arrested in Dec. 2018 for his role in the McKinney murder.

Sosebee explained that family members of the victims had been notified of this deal, and that there had been extensive discussions with defense attorney Fulcher.

The new charges that were agreed upon as part of this arrangement are:

1 Count Aggravated Assault : This charge is in relation to victim Justin McKinney. Cloer is being charged in aiding and abetting in this crime, as well as having knowledge of the crime.

1 County Robbery by Intimidation: This charge is in relation to the motive that ultimately ended in the death of McKinney and the serious injury of Franklin. As with the other charges this applies to Cloer since he engaged in discussion and planning of the crime. Along with aiding and abetting Cloer also admits to providing a gun to co-defendant Levi Manuel.

1 Count Aggravated Assault: This charge is in relation to victim Anna Franklin. Cloer admits guilt to intentionally aiding and abetting in this crime that involved the use of a deadly weapon.

By reaching a plea bargain, Cloer waived several rights including that to have a trial by jury and for his case to be seen in front of a grand jury.

It was revealed during this hearing that Cloer had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been and is currently on medication to combat symptoms. Despite this diagnosis no competency or psychological testing was performed to evaluate Cloer’s state of mind.

Fulcher having spoke with his client, Cloer, on many occasions felt that he was competent to make decisions and said to the court: “I don’t have any concerns whatsoever about his competency. He understands the consequences of the decisions that he makes today.”

Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver asked Cloer a series of questions to satisfy the court of Cloer’s competency and to have a record of his replies.

Weaver also questioned Cloer’s mother, Amanda McGaha, about her feelings on her son’s mental state and if she felt Cloer understood what was happening in the courtroom. McGaha replied that she was confident that her son understood the proceedings now that he was on proper medication.

Cloer was able to reply clearly to each question asked by Judge Weaver which allowed the proceedings to move forward.

Weaver explained that sentencing for his plea would take place that day, but that a restitution hearing would be scheduled at a later date. A restitution hearing will determine what, if any, payments Cloer will have to pay to the victims for the harm caused by his wrongful acts.

After thoroughly explaining what a plea deal means and giving a detailed account of what rights Cloer would be waiving by pleading guilty and accepting the charges, Weaver asked Cloer, “Has anyone used any force, threat, pressure, or intimidation that caused you to enter this plea?”

Cloer replied, “No, you honor.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, 16 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer, Special Agent, Jamie Abercrombie, Dustin Hamby, Captain, Justin Turner, Investigator, John Arp, Chief Deputy, Major Keith Bosen, Elrod Lane, Maple Grove Road, Chase Havard, Kevin Shamaty, Lakota Cloer, Levi Manuel, Bruce Harvey

Cloer sets alongside accused Levi Manuel at a first appearance in Fannin County.

With that the sentence was handed down.

For the first Count of Aggravated Assault in relation to Justin McKinney, Cloer is sentence to 20 years having to serve 15 of those years in the Georgia State Prison System.

The second Count of Robbery by Intimidation will have Cloer serving 10 years in the Georgia Prison System. This sentence is to run concurrent with the sentencing from Count One.

Lastly, Cloer was sentenced to 20 years of probation for the Aggravated Assault of Anna Franklin. This sentence is to run consecutively with the sentencing from Count One.

Overall, Cloer received a 40 year sentence, 15 of those years to be served in prison with the remaining 25 years to be served on probation.

A victim impact statement prepared by McKinney’s mother, Debra McKinney Bignardi, was read by District Attorney Sosebee.

According to this statement, at the time of McKinney’s murder the family was also dealing with the impending loss of one of McKinney’s nephews “who spent his last days on Earth mourning the loss of his uncle”.

Bignardi was left wondering why. Why the death of her son, why if he had done something wrong that the boys did not feel that he too deserved a fair trial as they were getting.

She noted 6 families were victims of this crime, and that by taking the life of her son, Justin McKinney, that the boys had also in a sense taken their own lives, and that all the families are left to mourn the future.

Bignardi pleaded that the boys be able to find programs while in prison to provide some sort of rehabilitation: “Our hope is that when these young men are released from prison they are not worse off than when they went in.”

After the emotional victim impact statement was read, Judge Weaver spoke to the court, “It is never easy to sentence young people.”

“This is a tragedy in every sense of the word,” Weaver went on and expressed hope that others will learn from this. Weaver stated that she hopes for youth to recognize and stay away from activities that can lead to criminal behavior, and that parents will be more involved in their children’s lives, knowing who they are with and knowing where they are.

Weaver concluded the hearing by saying, “My heart goes out to all of the individuals involved in this case.”

As court was recessed Cloer was allowed to briefly speak to his family. The group shared a very emotional goodbye before Cloer was escorted out of the Fannin County courtroom to begin his sentence for his part in the McKinney murder case.

You can read more about the McKinney Murder Case by following the links below:

Fatal Shooting in Fannin County

Details Emerge Surrounding Murder Case in Fannin County

Two More Arrested in McKinney Murder Case

McKinney Murder. What Happened That Night. FYN Exclusive Interview With Survivor Anna Franklin

“Pop and Rob”: McKinney Murder Motive Revealed By Prosecution

Bond Denied for Accused McKinney Killer

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Bond denied for accused McKinney killer

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Only one of the four accused in the McKinney murder case sought bond after the preliminary hearing took place in a Fannin County Courtroom.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver presided over the case and as the preliminary hearing came to a close stated, “The Court does find that probable cause has been established.”

The State had met their burden of proof in establishing a case against the boys being charged with Malice Murder, Felony Murder, Aggravated Assault, and Aggravated Battery. Now the burden of proof fell upon the defense to satisfy reasoning for letting any of the boys out on bond.

Fifteen year old Blake Dickey (also known as Blake Dye) sat alongside his attorney David Farnham as the court began the bond hearing.

Farnham argued that his client, Dickey, should be considered for release, and did in fact satisfy all the factors required by state law in Georgia for this consideration.

According to Farnham, Dickey had no prior convictions and had never been involved in anything violent in his life. If released Dickey did not pose a threat to the community and was not a risk for intimidation of any witnesses.

Farnham went on that if the court granted bond, Dickey would return to school where he would be supervised by a panel of teachers and that Dickey would begin residing with his mother where he would be under constant supervision at home.

Lastly Farnham pointed out that both of Dickey’s parents reside in Fannin County and said, “”He’s not a flight risk, Judge. His entire family is here.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, 16 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer, Special Agent, Jamie Abercrombie, Dustin Hamby, Captain, Justin Turner, Investigator, John Arp, Chief Deputy, Major Keith Bosen, Elrod Lane, Maple Grove Road, Chase Havard, Kevin Shamaty, Lakota Cloer, Levi Manuel, Bruce Harvey

Accused Blake Dickey (left) sits next to accused Hunter Hill at a previous hearing.

The Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee stepped in and presented her thoughts regarding the bonding of Dickey.

Sosebee pointed out that prior to the arrest Dickey was residing with the Hill family and added of the boys, “They were in an unsupervised environment, that clearly allows them to travel at will.”

While Farnham had stated his case for release, Sosebee argued that he had failed to present sufficient evidence backing his claims, which is required by Georgia law for cases of this nature: “there has been no evidence presented on behalf of the defendant in this case.”

After hearing both sides, Judge Weaver denied bond for Dickey agreeing that the burden of proof on the defense’s behalf had not been satisfied. Weaver added to this, “The issue of supervision has been in the Court’s mind during most of this hearing.”

Attorney Karen Shelley opted to not file a motion for a bond hearing at the time, leaving her client, accused 15 year old Hunter Hill to remain in a juvenile detention facility for the time being.

A third party in the group of juveniles accused, Levi Manuel, will have a preliminary hearing and possible bond hearing at a later date. This comes from Manuel recently switching his legal representation.

Attorney Bruce Harvey of Atlanta, Ga. will now represent Manuel in the McKinney murder trial. This move came as a surprise to the court and to Manuel’s previous council attorney Andrew Wehunt.

Judge Weaver noted that while she had received Harvey’s appearance filing that she did not see a withdraw from Wehunt, and thought that Wehunt might have been taken off guard by this move.

Harvey, the high profile Atlanta based attorney, has represented his fair share of clients in Manuel’s position and was already making moves in the courtroom as he asked for a delay in Manuel’s first appearance / bond hearing.

According to Harvey, Manuel’s previous council had filed a motion for a psychological and competency evaluation to find out if the boy was capable of standing trial. This evaluation was never completed and Harvey felt that moving forward without this information would not be in his or his client’s best interest.

Judge Weaver along with District Attorney Sosebee agreed to have this testing done and postpone the first appearance hearing. Manuel’s hearing has tentatively been moved to take place on Feb. 18, 2019.

You can read more on the McKinney Murder Case by following the links below:

Fatal Shooting in Fannin County

Details Emerge Surrounding Murder Case in Fannin County

Two More Arrested in McKinney Murder Case

McKinney Murder. What Happened That Night. FYN Exclusive Interview With Survivor Anna Franklin

“Pop and Rob”: McKinney Murder Motive Revealed By Prosecution

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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