A Trail of Crimes Ends with Murder

This past Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, a former boxing champion, O’Neill Bell, was murdered in downscale Southwest Atlanta. He got off a bus, was held up, exchanged words with the robbers, and ended up shot to death. By itself, this is tragic: here’s a guy who, whatever you may think of boxing, had a heck of a work ethic, and ended up dead because he wasn’t deferential enough to a low-end robber.

But there’s two other angles to this that make it an interesting story. One is that this is the second murder of a successful boxer in Atlanta in recent years. In 2009, boxing champion Vernon Forrest was murdered in a different downscale Atlanta neighborhood. Per Wikipedia:

At about 11:00 pm EDT on July 25, 2009, Forrest stopped at a gas station in the Atlanta neighborhood of Mechanicsville. With him was his 11-year-old godson. As the boy went inside the gas station, Forrest went to the back of his car to add air to a low tire. As this occurred, a man robbed him at gunpoint and fled. Forrest, who was armed, went after the man and shots were exchanged. After a short distance, Forrest gave up the chase and began talking to a second man. It was this man that shot Forrest seven to eight times in the back. According to police, the shooter and a second person left the scene in a red Pontiac. Forrest was pronounced dead at the scene and the death was ruled a homicide. Atlanta Police would arrest and later charge 25-year-old Jquante Crews, 20-year-old Demario Ware and 30-year-old Charman Sinkfield for his murder. It is believed that Sinkfield was the shooter, Ware was the robber, and Crews was the driver. All three are currently serving life sentences. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

If the events were more closely spaced in time, we might be forgiven for wanting to write a story where famous Atlanta boxers were being murdered. The initial suspect would be some ambitious young boxer who hasn’t got the talent to beat either of them in the ring; then we’d move to some trainer who had a grudge against both of them; then to some woman who had been dumped by both of them; then finally to a guy who figured boxers probably had a lot of money. Banal street crime, not conspiracy: cheesy but fun.

But there’s another, darker way to take this: if we look at another article on the Bell murder, we see that it was the culmination of a series of crimes by the same group of people:

On Wednesday, Atlanta Police released a photo of a person of interest in the case. Police also shared video of the stolen PT Cruiser that the robbing crew used in a daylong crime spree that ran from East Point to Clayton County to Atlanta. The crimes escalated each time until they ended with a murder for money and Bell being left to die in the street on Harbin Road.

Bunch of young and very stupid people steal a car, decide to commit a bunch of violent crimes. Anyone who’s seen Repo Man knows how this sort of thing will eventually end. The first crimes embolden them, so when Bell, a (professional) tough guy, doesn’t fold immediately, they’re hyped up enough to shoot the poor man. This scenario makes for a better piece of fiction, too: tell it from the POV of the weakest link in the stolen car, who thought they were just going for a joyride and is just not dim enough to understand that he’s liable to get tagged with felony murder and end up doing life like the driver in Forrest’s killing.

This dovetails with another tale of another crime spree, from back last spring. I posted about it at the time: four teens, working their way down a road, robbing and stealing, until they come across two genial barflies in Little Five Points and end up murdering them both. I still walk past the memorial for the two guys all the time. When I wrote about it, I had the same idea as I did in the paragraph above: write it from the perspective of the weakest link among the robbers. These four guys got caught, but only through the improbable intervention of a good Samaritan. The guys in the Bell killing got snapped on convenience store video, so it’s likely they’ll get caught, too; but it says something about metro Atlanta policing that people are allowed to get away with multiple crimes like this.

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