Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
The gun used to kill a Hahira resident last week appears to be the same weapon confiscated from the suspect following a 2010 aggravated assault incident, according to information obtained by The Times Thursday.
The Southern District Attorney’s Office claimed Thursday that the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office was responsible by law for keeping or destroying the weapon from the 2010 incident.
The Smith & Wesson Model 29-2 .44 Magnum revolver that was used in the murder of Joshua Commander, 38, is the same gun used by David Horace Harrelson, 66, in the commission of a 2010 crime that Lowndes County authorities were supposed to seize and not return, according to officials and Lowndes County Superior Court records.
Harrelson is charged with murder in the Jan. 4 shooting death of Commander on Hahira’s Union Road, according to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
On Jan. 23, 2010, Harrelson was arrested and charged for aggravated assault with a gun after shooting at a man with a .44 Magnum revolver. The man had pulled his truck into the driveway of Harrelson’s Hahira home, according police records.
“We seized all the weapons in his possession,” said Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine.
Those weapons included the .44 Magnum revolver, a Mossberg 500a shotgun, a New England Firearms SBI shotgun, and a Marlin 9 semiautomatic rifle,
according to police reports.
For the aggravated assault case, Harrelson was sentenced on July 22, 2010, to four years in the State Penal System — under the First Offender Act which absolves all felony convictions once time has been served — which was suspended “so long as the defendant does not consume alcohol and complies with all recommended alcohol treatment as directed,” according to court records. Harrelson was also ordered to surrender or dispose of all of his firearms.
After the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office seized all firearms, Harrelson agreed to relinquish ownership of his weapons (including the .44 Magnum that was used during the commission of the crime) to a second party, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Times is not naming this second party because no charges have been filed against this person.
“We gave (the weapons) back to the (second party) with the understanding that Harrelson was not supposed to have them,” said Prine.
According to Article 3 section 17-5-51 of the law prior to May 3, 2012, “any device which is used as a weapon in the commission of any crime against any person or any attempt to commit any crime against any person ... are declared to be contraband and are forfeited.”
Section 17-5-52 of the law states that after a final judgment is entered finding a defendant guilty of the commission or attempted commission of a crime against any person, any device which was used as a weapon shall be turned over by the person having custody of the device to the sheriff of the county where the device was confiscated.
“Upon the sentencing of the attempted aggravated assault charge, the .44 Magnum that was used in that crime, would have become contraband and forfeited under operation of law,” Southern District Attorney David Miller said Thursday. “The code section at that time gave the chief operating officer of the agency (the sheriff) that seized the weapon ... the authority to use it within the department for official law enforcement purposes, sell it, or destroy it.”
The DA was able comment on the 2010 case but could not comment on the on-going investigation into Harrelson’s murder charge.
Prine said the .44 Magnum used by Harrelson in the 2010 aggravated assault charge was the same .44 Magnum used in the murder of Commander last week.
Though Prine initially seized the gun in 2010, it was not used within the department, sold or destroyed, it was given to a second party along with the other guns seized in 2010.
“The weapon was returned not to the felon,” said Prine. “It was returned to the (second party).”
Because Harrelson was sentenced under the First Offender Act, he was no longer considered a felon and could legally obtain weapons after his sentence was suspended on Dec. 19 after serving 18 months of his original four-year sentence for the 2010 aggravated assault case.
“After the probation period was over ... (Harrelson) was no longer a felon and the (second party) gave him back the weapons,” said Prine.
Authorities are investigating whether Harrelson obtained the guns before or after his sentence suspension; however, the .44 Magnum was never supposed to be in the possession of Harrelson or the second party, according to the D.A’s office.