The Valdosta Daily Times
“People who heard him on the radio would tell me, ‘Your husband is so crazy,’ and I would say, ‘I know. He acts that way at the house. He’s not pretending,’” said Hilda Edgerton, the wife of Stephon Edgerton, the Valdosta radio personality who was shot and killed Jan. 20, 2012.
Monday marks two years since Edgerton’s murder, and while his wife remembers the man he was, she is also calling for renewed efforts to find his killer. The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office says it has never stopped working to solve the case and is looking to the public for new information that may move the investigation forward.
Tomorrow, Hilda Edgerton hopes the day will proceed as normally as possible. She does not plan to take her children to their father’s gravesite. She wants them to remember his life.
“Even though he’s gone, there is still life and legacy. All three of his kids are just like him,” said Hilda.
Mia, Stephon’s now 15-year-old daughter, and her brothers, Christian and Winston, will attend a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event with their mother and reflect on the good times they had with their father.
“He would make up lyrics and beats to songs to tell the kids to go to bed,” said Hilda.
“I miss that,” said Mia.
Mia smiles when she talks about her father, but her demeanor changes when she discusses what her family has lost.
“I feel like I got cheated,” said Mia, “Whoever did that to my father, would they want someone to do that to them? How would they feel if someone took them from their children? I feel really cheated.”
Mia is particularly concerned about the effect her father’s loss could have on her younger brothers because Stephon was such a positive influence on all their lives.
Hilda feels that the public has an incomplete view of who her husband was.
“People knew him as just DJ Juan Gotti, but we know the whole Stephon Edgerton. We know all of him,” said Hilda.
People may not know that Stephon played the piano for 18 years at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, something that comes to Hilda’s mind often when she thinks of how Stephon would sing to her or how his dreads would shake back and forth while he was at the piano.
People may also not be aware that Stephon served in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“He was a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a talented radio personality, a creative musical genius,” said Hilda, who believes that his friends could add many more adjectives to that list.
It is important to Hilda that people remember her husband, that they take the time to think of the man they wanted to be around, the life of the party.
“He would walk into a room and liven it up,” said Hilda, “He would greet you with a hug and a joke and make a connection with you.”
As important as it is to Hilda that people remember her husband for who he was, it is just as important to her that his killer be brought to justice. After two years and no progress, she believes more could be done.
Investigator Christy Griffin with the sheriff’s office believes she has followed every possible lead in the case and is hoping that someone will come forward with information.
“We have a family that has lost a father, and we want nothing more than to bring closure to the family and make an arrest,” said Griffin.
The investigative file Griffin keeps at her desk is thick and full of interviews, Griffin said, conducted with people from all over south Georgia, but the facts of Stephon’s murder are not nearly as numerous.
On Jan. 20, 2012, Stephon had just finished his shift as DJ Jaun Gotti on V96 when an unknown assailant appeared out of the brushy area near the radio station building on U.S. 84. He was shot several times by a white man wearing a mask, and investigators know this because Stephon told them.
“This case is unique in that the victim of the homicide is the one who called it in,” said Lt. Stryde Jones.
The 911 call came in at 11:45 p.m., and Stephon told the operator that he had been shot in the head and stomach. There was no altercation, and the assailant left the way he came, said Griffin.
The case has been a tough one for the sheriff’s office because there was no apparent motive and very little forensic evidence. Stephon was not robbed. The assailant said nothing. All that is known is that he was shot by a white male wearing a mask.
“He was not a high-risk victim. He had a happy home life. His kids loved him. His wife loved him,” said Captain Wanda Edwards.
Stephon stayed on the line with the 911 operator while waiting for paramedics to arrive. He was later pronounced dead at South Georgia Medical Center.
The Rev. Floyd Rose of Serenity Church, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, fought to hear the recording of the 911 call. Normally, evidence included in an investigative file is not made public, but Sheriff Chris Prine allowed Rose to hear the call.
“After I listened to it, I told his wife, (Hilda), that she shouldn’t,” said Rose, “When you hear a man about to die, that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Rose heard Stephon say he was shot by a white man, and like Stephon’s widow, Rose believes more could be done to find his killer. Rose also believes that if the shooter had been black, a suspect would have been caught by now.
“No white man has ever been tried and convicted of killing anyone black in Lowndes County,” said Rose, “If he was in fact killed by someone white, there has not been a serious enough look at the case as if he had been killed by someone black.”
Sheriff Prine disagrees with that characterization of his office’s investigation.
“We have worked diligently. This black/white thing--I don’t think it has anything to do with the case not being solved. We would work just as hard if the shooter had been black,” said Prine, “It would be a great relief to me to see this case solved. I saw the children. I was with the family and saw how heartbroken they were. To solve this case and bring closure to this case would mean a lot to me personally as well as this office.”
The sheriff’s office has shared information about the case with investigative television shows and with the FBI, but Rose believes an official request for FBI assistance should be made.
“I promised (Hilda) I would do anything to help her find out what happened to her husband,” said Rose, “I would hope that, if they haven’t, that the sheriff’s office would ask for the assistance of the FBI.”
While Hilda Edgerton does not believe race plays a component in why her husband’s killer has not been found, she does feel that more could be done.
“There are some things in the case that I think they can go back over, including people that were ruled out a little too easily,” said Hilda, “Go back and do the interviews again because people’s stories will change. Take it a step further.”
Investigator Griffin said she continues to do just that. Interviews have been conducted, phone records have been combed over and Griffin is now hoping that someone will come forward with information no matter how seemingly insignificant.
“Someone has got to know something, or they’ve heard a rumor or a tidbit of information, and we want that information,” said Jones.
“We never discount any information because we don’t know what happened that night,” said Edwards, “There is no magic secret to detective work. You just work.”
Investigator Griffin has taken a personal interest in the case because she said she can relate to a mother having kids and not having a father there to help raise them.
“It’s become a part of me over the past few years, and I want to help Hilda Edgerton and her family,” said Griffin, “The only way to do that is to bring the killer to justice.”
The sheriff’s office is asking anyone with any knowledge of the case to contact them. Tips can be given anonymously by calling (229) 671-2985 or visiting www.lowndessheriff.com.
“One of our major goals coming up on the anniversary is to get information back out there, to remind the public that this happened,” said Jones. “We are still working this case. We’ve not forgotten.”
Tomorrow, Stephon’s family plans to remember him as the loving father and husband that he was, but they have not given up hope that justice will be served.
“We’re going to go to the front yard and release balloons from the last place we saw him before he went to work,” said Hilda, “We are going to love and love hard. God is in it all the way. The truth is coming. I don’t know when, but when it’s time, the Lord will reveal it.”