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Mayhew guilty on all counts
Prosecutor: Jury’s verdict in Bonnie Rushing murder makes life without parole the necessary sentence
Patricia Jones, center, holds on to nephew Chad Rushing as the verdict is read on Thursday, Feb. 2, finding Lee Allen Mayhew guilty on all counts, including malice murder and felony murder, in the death of Bonnie Rushing in 2020. Chad is Bonnie Rushing's son and Patricia is her sister. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

After less than two hours of deliberation Thursday afternoon, 12 Bulloch County jurors unanimously found Lee Allen Mayhew of Nashville, Tennessee, guilty of murder for killing Bonnie Lanier Rushing, 53, at her family’s home on Stilson-Leefield Road on Oct. 23, 2020, as well as all other charges in a 13-count indictment.

“We are thankful justice has been served,” Patricia Lanier Jones, the murder victim’s sister, penned in a statement that was approved by Rushing’s widowed husband, Mike Rushing, and provided to reporters on behalf of the family.

“We appreciate all the thoughts and prayers since we lost Bonnie,” they stated. “We are thankful for a great team of prosecutors  and staff, investigators and  jurors. …”

bonnie rushing.jpeg
Bonnie Rushing

As Mayhew acknowledged in sworn testimony, he was a convicted felon fleeing after missing a court date on a federal firearms charge in Tennessee when he ripped the GPS unit out of his  car and drove through Georgia in October  2020. He found his way to a rural area of eastern Bulloch County where he hid out and committed a series of thefts Oct. 22 to 23, concluding with the theft of Rushing’s GMC Acadia as she lay on her front porch dying of a gunshot wound to the head.

After jury selection Monday, Mayhew’s trial in Bulloch County Superior Court progressed through a series of 19 prosecution witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2023.

Then Mayhew waived his right not to testify and took the stand Wednesday afternoon as the only defense witness. During about 90 minutes of rambling answers to attorneys’ questions, he in effect confessed to eight of the crimes alleged in the indictment.

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow also said in her closing argument for Mayhew that he was guilty of the theft and burglary charges related to his uninvited Oct. 22, 2020 visit to the  home of William and Tamela Sanford on Old River Road, where he abandoned  his car under the carport and stole a golf cart and three firearms:  a Ruger SP101 .357 revolver, a two-shot derringer-type pistol and a Remington bolt-action 7mm-08 rifle.

Newbill-Jallow also acknowledged, as her client had done, that Mayhew stole Rushing’s SUV. Noting that Mayhew left Rushing wounded on her porch and had not called 911, the defense attorney called this and other things he did despicable.

“A burglar, a thief, his actions were despicable, but the state has not met its burden, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he committed malice murder or felony murder,” Newbill-Jallow argued in closing.


First 5 counts

Although Mayhew never changed his plea from “not guilty” on  any of the counts, his admissions, during cross-examination Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Casey Blount, left only the first five charges in dispute.

The first three presented options for the jury of  one count of murder with malice aforethought and two counts of felony murder. The “felony murder” charges hinged on the jury finding that Mayhew caused Rushing’s death while committing other felonies, namely aggravated assault and the first-degree burglary of her home. The fourth and fifth counts were the underlying aggravated assault and burglary charges.

Mike Rushing is consoled by family on Thursday, Feb. 2 following the guilty verdict of Lee Allen Mayhew, who was convicted of murdering Rushing's wife Bonnie in October 2020. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

During about his testimony Wednesday, Mayhew said he had put the two pistols he stole from the Sanfords’ residence in the pockets of his shorts. A forensics expert, at the time with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, matched a bullet’s copper jacket that investigators found jammed in a shutter behind the Rushings’ porch, as having been fired from the stolen .357 magnum. Fragments of lead gathered from the same area were too small to match.

After Mayhew, driving the stolen Acadia, was stopped with assistance from OnStar and surrounded by Columbia County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office deputies in their county the evening of Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, investigators from Bulloch County traveled to Florida and found the gun in the impounded vehicle’s front passenger seat the following Monday.

“This one piece of evidence proves the case beyond any reasonable doubt,” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Parker, holding a photo of the revolver, asserted to the jury.

The actual gun was later sent out to the jury room with the rest of the evidence for the start of deliberations.


Mayhew’s statements

In his testimony, Mayhew had also described his thefts at the Rushing’s home and described talking to Rushing, who told him her friends would help him and were on the way, and then gave an account of her being shot.

“Mrs. Rushing, she had her phone in her left hand this time, she stuck her hand in her gun bag and pulled the revolver out…. I say, ‘Please, stop.’ … I told her, ‘Please stop, I heard somebody say, ‘Freeze!’ “Pow!” and I saw Mrs. Rushing fall,” Mayhew said. “And I don’t remember pulling the gun on her.”

Rushing’s handgun, found from near her body, was still fully loaded and had not been fired, an investigator  testified.

Mayhew also said Rushing wasn’t bleeding that much after he shot her but then said, “I never shot anybody” later in his testimony.


Jail phone call

The announcement of his intention to testify came as a surprise to prosecutors. But it followed their playing for the jury 15 minutes of a recorded phone conversation Mayhew had from the Bulloch County Jail with a friend from Tennessee in November 2020, three weeks after the murder.

Bulloch County Sheriff's Office deputies wait to take Lee Allen Mayhew, left, into custody Thursday, Feb. 2 as the jury is polled after finding him guilty on all counts, including malice murder and felony murder, in the death of Bonnie Rushing in Oct. of 2020. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Some of the audio from the profanity-peppered conversation, in which Mayhew described his adventure in Georgia while running from federal marshals, was difficult to understand when played in court Wednesday.

Soon after the accumulated evidence was delivered to the jury room around 1:15 p.m.  Thursday for deliberations to begin, jurors sent a note to Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett Jr. asking for a transcript of the jailhouse phone call.

A transcript did not exist or was not known to the court, Bennett said, and the attorneys agreed that, at that point, providing one would be inappropriate. But Bennett offered the jurors the opportunity to hear the recording again, and they returned to the courtroom where it was played, with sound quality somewhat improved by use of the courtroom speakers instead of those on the video monitor.

Describing to his friend his encounter with Rushing, Mayhew said he had seen her gun case and put his right hand in his pocket and seemed to say his gun “went off.”

Jurors returned to deliberations after the recording was replayed and came back to the courtroom about an hour later to deliver the verdict. After the clerk of court read out “guilty” to each of the 13 counts, the judge polled the 12 jurors, and each confirmed that was their freely given verdict.

Bennett scheduled a sentencing hearing for 3 p.m. Feb. 14. Usually, the three murder counts would be merged into a single one for sentencing, but the possible  sentences for felony and malice murder are the same and Georgia law provides only two possibilities when capital punishment has not been sought in advance: life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit D.A. Daphne Totten had said her office would seek a sentence of life without parole for Mayhew. Blount, interviewed after court adjourned Thursday, said life without parole is the only potential sentence because Mayhew was charged as a recidivist, with three prior felony convictions.

“We’re extremely grateful for the hard work put in by the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and the GBI in investigating  this case,” Blount said. “We hope this verdict gives the family and the community some measure of peace and justice.”




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