By Patrick Yost
When defense attorney Dylan Wilbanks asked people in the Morgan County Superior Courtroom who had come in support of his client Phillip Wood, more than 20 people stood.
They all had the same look of disdain and despair as did the parents of 21–year–old Sheldon Henson. As did the Rev. Louis Smith and the Rev. Hoke Smith as they stood in support of Percy Harris, 46.
So did the 94–year–old father and 92–year-old mother of 56–year–old Charles Keown, so did the parents of Joshua Zuniga, 31, a Georgia Tech graduate and computer programmer.
But despite the support, Superior Court Judge Trent Brown denied five separate, individual requests last Wednesday to grant a bond to have the men released until trial from the Morgan County Detention Center.
All five men have been charged with one count criminal attempt to commit child molestation. The five were arrested in June after a multi-jurisdictional undercover child predator sting operation was set up in Madison. Agents with the GBI and FBI posted an ad on an adult website and then posed as a 14-year–old girl to men who responded to the ad.
Henson traveled to Madison from Midland to Madison ostensibly to meet the girl at a motel. He had cash and condoms on his person when arrested. Zuniga came from Cobb County, Keown from Conyers, Wood from Commerce and Harris from Madison.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen Bradley argued that, in part, the charges would soon be remanded to federal jurisdiction and that the charged men should remain confined until the U.S. Attorney’s office has a chance to indict the five on federal charges.
Bradley said the men had “clear desire by definition to have sexual congress with an individual who is clearly underage.”
Bradley said a federal grand jury was scheduled to meet on the matter on July 13.
All five defendants had individual defense attorneys who all argued that the defendants were not flight risks, were viable members of their communities and, especially in Keown’s case, had done nothing wrong.
“This is a good man. He’s never done anything wrong in his life,” said Keown’s defense attorney Jason Sheffield. “We’re going to fight this case tooth and nail because he’s innocent.”
Wilbanks argued that “Mr. Woods community ties are the strongest bond he could have.”
Judge Brown deferred bond, however, but told Bradley that he would revisit the request on July 20 after the matter had a chance to begin the process in the federal jurisdiction.
All five men, wearing the green and white jumpsuit signifying medium security risk were led out of the Morgan County Courthouse in handcuffs and shackles and returned to the Morgan County Detention Center.