Charged with the felony murder of a Screven County man, former Georgia State Trooper Jacob Thompson was denied bond in an order issued Friday afternoon by Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge F. Gates Peed.
The GBI arrested Thompson on Aug. 14 on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with the Aug. 7 killing of Julian Lewis, 60, from a single gunshot to the face on a rural dirt road in Screven County. According to reports, Thompson tried to pull Lewis over for a traffic violation – a burned out taillight.
When Lewis failed to stop, Thompson said in his report that he continued the pursuit. Thompson said he used the pursuit intervention technique (PIT maneuver), using his patrol car to force Lewis in his 1992 Nissan Sentra to stop. Lewis’ car ended in a ditch, and Thompson fired a single shot that killed him.
During a bond hearing on Aug. 24, Thompson’s attorney Robert Persse asked Peed to consider a bond for the former trooper, “even a high bond with conditions,” stating the former trooper, who was terminated upon arrest, was not a flight risk because he has “generations” of roots in Screven County and had a wife and young child, as well as several relatives in the area. Persse argued Thompson, 27, did not pose a threat to anyone and had been a law enforcement officer for many years with no negative reports on his record.
But Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black opposed bond, “considering the gravity and level of impact” Thompson’s actions caused, and argued that he could be a flight risk.
In testimony at the hearing, GBI Special Agent Dustin Peak said his review of the dash-cam video from Thompson’s vehicle was not consistent with Thompson’s contention that he saw Lewis acting as if he were trying to wrench the car out of the ditch. In his statement Thompson said he heard Lewis’ car’s engine revving, thought he was trying to drive towards him and “feared for my life.”
However, Peak testified Lewis’ car had been rendered inoperable by the crash, with the battery and air filter disconnected. Peak said Lewis’ car wheels were turned away from the trooper.
Peak also testified that there was “maybe one second” between Thompson’s “taking his foot off the (patrol car’s) brake and firing the shot” that reportedly killed Lewis.
“Was the dash cam video consistent with (Thompson’s) statement?” Black asked. “No, it was not,” Peak said.
He also told the court that the angle of the single bullet fired by Thompson, which struck Lewis in the forehead, was “not consistent” with Thompson’s statement in reports.
In his order signed Friday, Peed wrote: “The Court, having considered the factors enumerated … and noting the factual circumstances of the case, finds that it would not be appropriate to grant (Jacob Thompson) a bond at this time.”
Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson, who is one of several attorneys representing the Lewis family, said in an email statement Saturday that he is satisfied with the investigation into Lewis’ death and Judge Peed’s decision not to grant bond to Thompson.
"The unprecedented pace of the investigation is a direct result of years of activism on these issues along with a sea-change in law enforcement leadership at the top of the GBI,” Johnson wrote in the email. “This case is not proceeding as business as usual."
However, Johnson said the Lewis family would continue to pursue justice for Julian Lewis.
"I want justice for Julian,” said his widow Betty Lewis, responding to the denial of bond. “He was too good to die as he did. This is one more step towards justice. It is more than many other families have received at this stage and so swiftly. However, it's hard to believe in a system when you have seen it fail our community so many times."
Thompson is being held at the Screven County Jail.