Two people charged in concealing the mysterious death of a Jenkins County woman, then burying her burned remains, have each pled not guilty during arraignment.
The remains of Ashley Lovett, 27, were found in a shallow grave in April after investigators began probing into her disappearance. Her stepmother, Susan Eleanor Coleman Lovett, 40, and half-brother, Christopher Eugene Lovette, 22, both of J.M. Spearman Road in Adrian, were charged in the incident.
The suspects' surnames are spelled differently, said Jenkins County Sheriff Robert Oglesby.
The suspects were living in a wood-frame house in Jenkins County at the corner of Williams Road and Old Savannah Highway, where Ashley Lovett's remains were found, but the two have moved several times since the body was buried, he said.
Family members said they began to suspect foul play in February, as Ashley Lovett had not been seen since the previous October, he said.
After investigation and questioning suspects and witnesses, sheriff's and district attorney's office investigators learned information that led to the discovery of a body that had been burned extensively and then buried in a shallow grave behind the house. Oglesby said Wednesday the remains left after the burning were very few and consisted of bone and teeth fragments.
DNA taken from a baby born to Ashley Lovett is being compared to that of the remains, but no match has been found yet. The child, now between 2 and 3 years old, had been removed from her mother's custody when the baby was just weeks old and placed with family members, he said.
The remains, identified as human by a Georgia Southern University anthropologist, were sent to a lab in Georgia, then to another lab in Tennessee, he said.
Susan Lovett and Lovette told investigators they found the victim dead in October 2014 and "panicked," burning her body and a mattress. They did not report her death.
Ashley Lovett was "challenged" and received a Social Security check, which was deposited into a bank account, and the step-mother and half-brother continued to use the victim's money for several months, he said.
Both suspects entered "not guilty" pleas during arraignments last week, according to information from the Jenkins County Clerk of Courts office.
Both are charged with two counts of concealing the death of another - one for not reporting the death but burning and burying the body, which "hindered the discovery of whether or not said person was unlawfully killed by disposing of the body ... by means of fire after her death," according to an indictment.
The suspects also are charged with four counts each of making false statements. On four separate occasions, both told sheriff's Investigator Wesley Aaron and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office investigators Erick Riner and Tom Woodrum that Ashley Lovett had been "taken by adult protective services," according to the indictment.
The two also were charged with financial transaction card fraud for allegedly using the victim's Direct Express debit card several times between
Oct. 23, 2014 and Feb. 5, 2015 to withdraw cash and make purchases.
Ashley Lovett's cause of death is yet unknown, and neither suspect currently is charged with murder, Oglesby said. Other charges may be brought as the investigation continues.
Neighbors living in the area where the victim's remains were unearthed have told media sources that the family hurriedly moved after boarding up windows and burning piles of trash in the ditch near the house.
In an April interview, Oglesby said there is still a great deal of information to be learned and that some details are being withheld due to the open investigation.
"You just don't want to know," he said.
Wednesday, Oglesby said the investigation is ongoing as his office and the district attorney's office seek more information about the case, including Ashley Lovett's cause of death.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.