The trial of Lee Allen Mayhew for the murder of Bonnie Lanier Rushing and other crimes that occurred in rural Bulloch County Oct. 22 and 23, 2020, took a surprising twist Wednesday afternoon when he testified supposedly in his own defense – and confessed to most of the counts in the indictment, except those directly related to Rushing’s death.
At times during an hour and a half of rambling testimony, Mayhew also appeared to acknowledge having shot Rushing, and he described moving her on her front porch after she was shot. It was on that porch, at her family’s home on Stilson-Leefield Road, that her husband, Mike Rushing, found her dead in an expanse of blood several hours later, around the time sheriff’s deputies in Columbia County, Florida, with help from OnStar, stopped Mayhew as he drove Rushing’s GMC Acadia.
But at other times during his testimony, which was moved along at first by questions put to him by Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow as his defense attorney and then by Assistant District Attorney Casey Blount as lead prosecutor, Mayhew again emphatically denied having shot Rushing.
That Mayhew was a convicted felon and on the run from a missed court date for a federal firearms charge in Tennessee was acknowledged by both sides at the start of the trial.
That Rushing also had a handgun during their encounter was also already known from testimony by other witnesses Monday and Tuesday. Her widowed husband said she had carried it even on the lawnmower while cutting the grass. Investigators testified that her gun was found near her body on the porch floor and its case up on the porch rail.
The surprising development occurred Wednesday afternoon after the prosecution rested its case and Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett Jr. asked if the defendant wished to testify.
‘Advised not to’
Newbill-Jallow told the judge that her client did wish to do so. Bennett swore him in as a witness, and asked a series of routine questions, including whether anyone had threatened him to get him to testify.
“I’ve been advised not to, but I wanted to,” Mayhew said then.
When the judge repeated that question and asked a few others, Mayhew said nobody had threatened him or offered him any reward to testify and that he was doing so willingly.
Mayhew told how he fled Tennessee after disabling the GPS device in his car and said he got off Interstate 16 in Metter, looking for backroads, and somebody gave him directions to Statesboro.
He told about getting lost down farm lane in the area where he encountered Emory “Chip” Godbee, who had testified Tuesday that Mayhew said to him, “How the hell do you get out of here? … The feds are after me…” on the morning of Oct. 22, 2020.
Admits to thefts
Mayhew described in great detail how he burglarized the home of William and Tamela Stanford on Old River Road, where he abandoned his car under the carport later that day. Mayhew acknowledged selecting three guns – a Ruger SP101 .357 revolver, a two-shot derringer-type pistol and a Remington bolt-action 7mm-08 rifle, which he stole from their home, along with their golf cart.
By his account, he camped that night near an apparently vacant house, while a helicopter flew over looking for him, and abandoned the rifle after firing it once. But the next day, Oct. 23, he set out with a pistol in each pocket, he told the jury.
The crux of the tale was how he approached the Rushings’ homestead. Mayhew acknowledged entering a trailer there to find a coat hanger and using it to break into a Ford F-350 pickup before he decided not to hotwire it.
He admitted to opening a refrigerator in the Rushings’ carport and drinking a can of Coca-Cola and attempting to eat a stale candy bar. Then he acknowledged opening the door of the Acadia and looking for a key in it.
Then Mayhew knocked on the back door of the home, he said, and “Mrs. Rushing” stood up from the couch and told him to go around to the front door. He said he was “already worried that she was going to call the law.”
When Mayhew went to the front door, Rushing met him there and “very assertive, aggressive, not mean but assertive” told him to go down the steps, and he saw she had an “unsealed” gun case in her left and her phone in her right hand, and she asked him what he was doing, he testified.
“I told her a lie,” he said, but added that he had told her his real name.
He got her to call his mother for him, but then grabbed the phone from Rushing and attempted to call “Stevie,” a female friend in Tennessee, Mayhew claimed.
Rushing had told him her friends would help him and were coming, he said.
“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 narrated. “And I don’t remember pulling the gun on her. I just remember pulling that gun out. When that shot rang out, I looked. I didn’t have my fingers inside the trigger, it was on the outside…”
“Then I ran up the steps, Ms. Rushing was lying on her back, she had a pink nightgown shirt on, a V-neck, and it had white lace on it. …”
His description of what Rushing was wearing, contradicting what was seen in photographs of her dead body, was one of several things Mayhew said in odd contradictions of details. For example, he disputed where investigators found her cellphone, but acknowledged throwing it away as he left in her Acadia after taking the keys.
He also claimed that she wasn’t bleeding much and that he didn’t see a wound on her head like the long gash revealed in autopsy photos.
A medical examiner had testified that Rushing would have been alive for some time, and Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and GBI investigators observed that blood on the risers of the porch rails suggested she had tried to support herself or pull up.
Under cross-examination by Blount, Mayhew acknowledging committing all of the thefts but denied shooting Rushing or anyone. The reason he gave for not calling for medical help was that, he said, her cellphone rang constantly and he was sure her friends were coming.
His rambling testimony included a long, detailed history of past burglaries and his involvement with drugs including heroin and methamphetamine.
However, he did not change his plea, which remains not guilty to all counts.
The defense rested, and closing arguments are expected when court resumes at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2.