Judge: ‘We will get to bottom of it’

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By Patrick Yost

Editor

Morgan County Magistrate Judge Connie Holt last Thursday continued a case regarding the beating of a Rutledge man at a family gathering in one of Rutledge’s public parks.

Four people that authorities said they suspect had information or knowledge of who struck Michael Craig Dukes, 62, Rutledge after Dukes had allegedly asked party organizers to turn music down were subpoenaed for Thursday’s pre–warrant hearing.

Leroy Nelson, Tonja Head and Torrance Head, the brother of Tonja Head, were all present and testified at the hearing after being served with a subpoena. Tony Ross, the son of Tonja Head, was also subpoenaed to be present at the hearing but was not there. His mother, Tonja Head, told Judge Holt that Ross “wasn’t served.” According to Morgan County Sheriff’s Office incident reports, Head was the person who rented Rutledge’s “Play Fair” park for the October 9 family event.

Court testimony stated that 40 to 50 people were at the party. Dukes told Judge Holt that his wife, who has since died, was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the incident and that he and his wife had gone to the porch of their Fairplay Street residence to talk. He said she had been suffering from the disease and when they went to the porch “she was having a lucid moment.”

He said the music was overwhelming. “I figured I’d ask them if they could turn it down for 30 or 45 minutes. I didn’t know how long I was going to be able to talk to her.”

Incident reports state that persons at the party alleged that Dukes used racial epithets when he came into the park to ask that the music be turned down.

Duke said sometime while he was at the park, someone tackled him from behind and once he was on the ground they punched and kicked him in the head and ribs. He said he suffered broken ribs and collapsed lungs from the beating.

Nelson and Torrance Head both told Judge Holt that they were not present at the party when the beating occurred. Nelson said he was at home “getting charcoal” and Torrance Head said he was at home “watching football” when the incident occurred. Both said they arrived at the party after Dukes had been attacked.

Morgan County Sheriff’s Office investigator Frank Farr told Judge Holt that Nelson and Torrance Head had been identified by confidential informants as possible suspects in the beating.

Tonja Head told Judge Holt that she did not see who attacked Dukes but after the beating she asked Dukes “would you like for me to pray with you for your wife.”

She also discounted testimony from Farr who alleged that when he called Tonja Head regarding Tony Ross, she initially told him she did not know Ross and then later admitted that Ross was her son.  “I asked her why she lied and she told me she never lied She was a reverend.”

Judge Holt said Thursday that she was going to “keep this case open.”

“We will get to the bottom of it,” she said.

She also warned that if she determines that testimony is being used to “cover up any little thing, you will be a party to this crime.”

She said “with what took place this could be aggravated assault which could be one to 20 years.”

Capt. Chris Bish, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, said his office has issued more subpoenas based on new evidence the department has received and will continue to try and determine who attacked Dukes.

“We can’t let it die,” Bish said.

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