The February-term Bulloch County grand jury, called back into session March 30, returned an indictment charging Lee Allen Mayhew with 13 felony counts in connection with the Oct. 23 murder of Bonnie Lanier Rushing and thefts at two homes in rural Bulloch County.
Rushing, 53, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head that Friday afternoon on the front porch of her family’s home on Stilson-Leefield Road. Her white, 2013 GMC Acadia was missing.
Meanwhile, a manhunt was already underway since the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office had been investigating a burglary involving theft of guns and a golf cart that had occurred about five miles away at a home on Old River Road South the previous day. A Chevrolet Malibu was found abandoned there with paperwork inside linking it to Mayhew, BCSO Investigator Prethenia Cone later testified during a preliminary hearing. Mayhew, 44, came from Nashville, Tennessee, where he was wanted for firearms charges and reportedly sought by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Mayhew was driving Rushing’s GMC Acadia when he was arrested later the day of her death in Columbia County, Florida, just across the state line. By the next Monday he was extradited to Georgia, where he has remained in the Bulloch County Jail.
After a halt through eight months of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarterly grand juries resumed meeting in Bulloch County in November. The February-term grand jury initially met Feb. 1-2, when it returned 88 true bills and one no bill on indictments proposed by the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. When the grand jury reconvened March 30, prosecutors presented 57 additional proposed indictments, and the jury by majority decisions true-billed all of them.
Among these were three indictments in separate homicide cases.
“I can tell you that we now have presented all of the murder cases that are pending in Bulloch County,” District Attorney Daphne Totten said last week. “All of those in which an arrest has been made have been presented to a grand jury and indictments have been returned.”
In the other two, unrelated homicide cases indicted last week, multiple defendants are charged with “felony murder,” meaning that someone died as a result of another felony crime the defendants allegedly committed.
Malice murder and other charges
But only the case against Mayhew includes a “malice murder” charge, meaning murder “with malice aforethought,” or premeditated, and it is Count 1 of the indictment. However, two felony murder charges are listed as Counts 2 and 3. All three of the murder counts are for allegedly killing Rushing, but prosecutors sometimes bring charges this way to give a trial jury more possible bases for a conviction.
One felony murder charge is based on Count 4, aggravated assault, which Mayhew is alleged to have committed by shooting Rushing in the head. The other felony murder charge is based on the shooting having occurred during commission of Count 5, a first-degree burglary, when he entered her house.
Count 6 alleges possession of a firearm, namely a Ruger .357 revolver, during the aggravated assault. Count 7 alleges the felony theft of Rushing’s GMC Acadia. Count 8 is alleged possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, again the Ruger .357 revolver, and notes that Mayhew had been convicted of aggravated burglary in Davidson County, Tennessee in 2008.
Count 9 is another count of first-degree burglary, for allegedly breaking into the other home, on Old River Road South, on Oct. 22. Count 10 is the alleged felony theft by taking from that residence of an EZ-Go Golf Cart. Count 11 alleges the theft of the Ruger .357 revolver; Count 12 the theft of a Bond Arms Rowdy double-barrel break-action pistol; and Count 13 the theft of a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, all the property of William Joseph Sanford at that residence.
An indictment is not an indication of guilt but is instead a grand jury’s determination, based on a presentation by prosecutors, that enough evidence exists to bring specific charges to trial. A “true bill” is simply an indictment a grand jury approves in this way. A “no bill” is the rejection of a proposed indictment.
Mayhew is now slated for arraignment – a formal reading of the charges and opportunity to enter a plea – April 21 before Judge Lovett Bennett Jr.
Bennett had sent the case forward to the grand jury after a Feb. 4 preliminary hearing. Originally, it was also scheduled as a bond hearing, but a transcript of the Feb. 4 proceeding shows that Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow, representing Mayhew, at that time withdrew her motion for bond, acknowledging her “client’s lengthy criminal history.”
In February, Totten noted that 15 homicide cases resulting from violent deaths in Bulloch County were awaiting court action. This followed both the long pause in jury proceedings and an increase in the number of homicides during the pandemic.