Valdosta Daily Times

July 31, 2013

Murder charge dropped

Authorities say Hahira case is closed

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

HAHIRA — Murder charges against David Harrelson, 66, of Hahira were officially dismissed this week, and he was released from the Lowndes County Jail where he has been held since the January shooting death of a neighbor.

On Jan. 4, authorities responded to a shooting on Union Road in Hahira. A reported dispute between neighbors escalated to the point of violence, with Harrelson accused of shooting Joshua Commander, 38, after he came on Harrelson’s property and confronted him. Harrelson shot Commander once, according to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, and Commander died on the scene.

Harrelson was arrested and charged with murder in January, and following his preliminary hearing before Magistrate Judge Joni Parker on Feb. 19, the charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter due to the “absence of malice,” as indicated on the judge’s order, dated March 9.

The transcript from the February preliminary hearing states that Commander had complained about Harrelson using an air horn, upsetting the Commanders’ dogs. In the testimony, according to the transcript, when Commander came onto Harrelson’s property, Harrelson retrieved his firearm and when Commander approached him on his porch, “according to Mr. Harrelson, assaulted him either with the door or with his fist. He then shot Mr. Commander.”

According to Harrelson’s attorney, Mike Bass of Closson, Bass and Tomberlin, Harrelson had visible marks and injuries on his face, which a deputy also testified to in the court document.

At the preliminary hearing, according to the transcript, Bass stated, “Well, I would argue that saying that without malice leaves only one option for murder, and that would be felony murder ... you’ve either got malice aforethought that caused the death of somebody or it’s a felony

murder, or it’s not murder at all ... At the very maximum, I would say this is possibly a involuntary manslaughter, possibly a voluntary manslaughter, but I don’t see how this is a murder, based on what we heard today.”

Judge Parker ruled on March 9 and reduced the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter.

Bass said Harrelson received a bond hearing in April, but was unable to post the bond, and therefore was in jail from the day he was arrested until he was recently released. Bass said the evidence in the case was presented to the Lowndes County Grand Jury, and according to the sheriff’s office, in the dismissal notice dated Monday, July 29, issued by the Southern District Attorney’s office, “Upon investigation, the criminal warrant(s) in the above-styled case is hereby dismissed because of lack of prosecution/ evidence.”

Bass said the evidence in the case pointed to self defense. “This was a just outcome.”