The stabbing death of a local man early Sunday has left stunned Thomaston residents with more questions than answers.
"This case has taken on a life of its own in many respects," said J.T. Ricketson, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's special agent in charge. "There are so many rumors flying around that many people don't know what to believe."
Investigators say the decision about whether to charge David Austin Colwell, 32, 203 E Street, in connection with the death of Rob Bennett, 35, 109 Avenue R, and the near-fatal stabbing of another man, Russ Stewart, also in his 30s, is so close, they want the district attorney or a grand jury to decide.
"A lot of people knew the people involved and this is definitely a high-profile case" Ricketson said. "People are demanding accountability. These are people who, for the most part, contribute to the community in a positive way, and not the type one would expect to be involved in this type of incident."
Ricketson worked most of the day Sunday at the North Center Street crime scene and said GBI agents are "assisting" Thomaston police officers.
He said detectives from both agencies got together Sunday - assessing the crime scene - and "made a joint decision" to let the District Attorney's Office decide Colwell's legal fate. District Attorney Bill McBroom is out of town and could not be reached for comment.
The key question, according to Ricketson is simple: Did Colwell - a registered nurse who works in the operating room at Upson Regional Medical Center - use excessive force in defending himself?
"The whole thing lasted about 10 to 15 seconds and there was a volley of fists flying," Ricketson said. "He (Colwell) wasn't performing surgery. He wasn't on the attack. He was on the defensive. They got out of the car to confront him."
According to Georgia law (16-3-21) "a person is justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to
himself or herself or a third person."
The investigation shows that neither Bennett or Stewart were armed. In addition, interim Thomaston Police Chief Richard McDaniel said the two did not know Colwell had a knife.
"We'll give the district attorney the facts and we will also give our opinion from our experience and training as investigators. We will sit down with the legal authority of that county. There may be a charge of murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter," he said. "It could be that no charges are filed.
"The whole thing happened so fast and so violently," Ricketson said. "I'm sure that all present were dazed and confused by the entire event."
Ricketson said agents questioned several people who were at the bar - including all involved - as well as two others who may have witnessed the fight on the street.
The pocket knife, called a "Gerber-style knife," was sent to the GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta for testing.
Bennett, 35, a branch manager of United Bank, died Sunday at the scene just after midnight, reportedly after being stabbed five times, including a wound to the heart.
Stewart remains listed in stable condition after being stabbed several times including in the lower abdomen and the throat. Law enforcement officers say they plan to interview Stewart as soon as he is well enough.
"We're not going to talk to him until he is able," said Capt. Richard McDaniel of the Thomaston Police Department. "We do intend on questioning him, but our main concern at this point is to see that he gets better."
Colwell, meanwhile, was treated for two deep cuts, one on his upper left arm and another on his left forearm.
McDaniel said Bennett and Stewart were among five people in a Mercedes that confronted Colwell as he walked home from a concert at Q's Billiards in downtown Thomaston.
Police, in a written release, initially said there had been a "verbal confrontation" involving five people at the bar, but have since backed off of that statement somewhat.
"As far as we can determine, it was not more than dirty looks," McDaniel said Tuesday afternoon. "There may have been a brief verbal exchange, but nothing out of hand. It was not enough for police to be called."
According to reports, the Mercedes was being driven by another man, Brian Huff, who pulled the car over after seeing Colwell walking along the road. There is no evidence that the group in the car were following Colwell.
Also in the car were Bennett, Bennett's wife Sarah, Stewart and Zack Purvis.
Police say once the car was stopped, an argument between Colwell and those in the car started prompting Bennett and Stewart to get out and confront Colwell on the street. Colwell, authorities say, used the knife during the confrontation.
"This whole thing is a tragedy," McDaniel said, "nothing but a tragedy."
According to a report on file at the Thomaston Police department, trouble between Huff and Colwell surfaced almost four years ago on Oct. 31, 2000 when Huff lived at 202 Forest Avenue. Huff called police just before 9 p.m. reporting that Colwell had come to his house and assaulted him.
Sgt. Tim Ledbetter with the Thomaston Police Department admitted the call came along time ago, but said as he remembers, Colwell went to Huff's house and punched him as he opened the door. The two men then fought on the home's front porch and Colwell was charged with disorderly conduct.