VALDOSTA — Grady County farmer Martin “Marty” L. Harrell will not be returning to his crops.

U.S. District Court Judge Hugh Lawson ruled Thursday at the federal courthouse in Valdosta that Harrell serve 20 years on five counts.

The sentence includes 60 months, Hobbs Act conspiracy; 60 months, arson and mail fraud conspiracy; 180 months, arson; 60 months, witness tampering; and, 60 months, misleading statements. The five-year sentences are to run concurrently, but consecutively to the 15-year one.

Four of the five charges were from the United States v. W. Dexter Harrison, Martin L. Harrell and Charles L. Harrell trial that ended March 8 in Thomasville. The case revolved around an arson fire at the Ramada Limited motel in Donalsonville on Jan. 7, 2002.

Harrell plead guilty to the Hobbs Act Conspiracy charge (interference with commerce by threats, intimidation and extortion) May 17 in Macon. This count (originally scheduled for another trial) stemmed from a cattle deal dispute with William “Bill” Chandler. Harrell also led authorities to the Harrell family farm where a body (reportedly that of Bobby Eugene Powell, a man he hired to threaten Chandler, was buried). Bones were taken from the site but no findings have been released. As part of Marty Harrell’s plea, he cannot be charged with murder.

Marty Harrell addressed the court. He said he took responsibility for his wrongdoing and apologized to his family for the hurt he’d caused.

“I’ve done a lot of good in my life,” he said. “It’s sad that I will be remembered by my bad.”

He told Lawson he had aging parents and growing children who needed him and asked for the judge to consider any way that he might still be able to provide for them.

“I know that I am not going to suffer in prison,” he said. “I’ve been told that it’s like a college campus without the girls. But, my family suffers. Please give me the opportunity to help me send my children to college and dance at their weddings.”

Lawson took the sentencing guidelines under consideration and said that he felt Harrison (who was sentenced to 15 years in July for his counts in the case) and Harrell were “equally guilty” of the arson charge, but did variate from the suggested guidelines in this ruling. Lawson said that he did suspect that Marty Harrell had a temper from time to time and that this probably made one thing lead to another. He also said that his job was to read the case as he found it.

“This is a tragic case for you, Mr. Harrell, your family and the children involved,” said Lawson. “I am keenly aware of all these things. I have no doubt that you have been a good father to your boys and that you deeply regret getting yourself into this mess. I also think you are serious when you said what you did about changing yourself and obeying the law, if given the chance.”

Marty Harrell was ordered to pay $319,145 in restitution and five years of supervised release. He was also directed to not come into contact with several individuals who gave testimony during the trial or at the hearings, including Bill Chandler and his family (daughter Christy was excluded from the original list until her father stood up in court and asked that she be included), Dennis Weaver, members of the Powell family and his wife, Julie Harrell.

The defendant asked if his wife could contact him if she wanted to, in reference to being able to see his children. Lawson asked that the request be submitted in the form of a motion by Harrell’s attorney for consideration.

The sentencing began with Lawson addressing the defendant’s “reservations” about the way attorney Eddie Meeks handled his case and his interest in hiring another lawyer. The judge said he had not been given or heard any information that would make him want to delay sentencing, but that the defendant was free to seek other counsel. Lawson also advised him that his interest in hiring another lawyer was his choice, but that he might want to rethink it because he would likely find a lawyer willing to take his money and take testimonies, but not be able to find a lawyer who would understand the workings of the case like Meeks because he had been through the trial with him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leah McEwen led the prosecution’s objections prior to sentencing, mostly over upward departure and a request for Harrell to pay money to the insurance company that handled the fire claim for Harrison.

For upward departure, she had Bill Chandler take the stand to talk about the cattle deal gone bad with Harrell (Chandler said some cattle were missing and would not pay the full amount originally agreed upon) and their subsequent encounters where Harrell threatened to poison his livestock or hurt his family. The majority of his testimony was about a night, six years to the day ago, when he received a phone call about the safety of his daughter and was threatened at gunpoint by two men in a white pickup truck (later identified as Matthew David Bush — who is now serving time — and Bobby Eugene Powell). Chandler told the court that they “tussled” over the gun and, once the men agreed to leave, he and his wife, Jackie, followed them until a Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office car took over the chase. Chandler said since that night the family had moved from the home for a period of years, gotten a night watchman, installed lights across the property and had several unpleasant encounters with Harrell.

“Seeing Mr. Harrell here today is vindication,” said Chandler. “I don’t think the state authorities did a very good job with the investigation ... I think they were intimidated, too.”

Chandler willingly admitted to his own criminal record, and Meeks asked him about a dismissed fraud case, whether his business was profitable, if Chandler owed a lot of money from 2000 to 2005 and his bankruptcy.

Chandler said that he owed $4.5 million to banks, credit card companies, equipment suppliers and people who had financed cattle. When questioned about if he had owed money to others like he did to Harrell, Chandler said no. He also said that he had served time on a “returned check,” and not arson or murder.

Meeks contended that Chandler could not blame his client for all the chaos in his life over the last six years.

McEwen’s next witness was Felisha Hobgood, who was raised by Powell.

“He was the only father I ever had,” said a tearful Hobgood, describing how Powell took care of her mother and siblings. “The man presented today is not the man who raised me. He was made so by people like him (Harrell).”

Hobgood said the years of not knowing where her father is have been difficult and that she can’t sleep, partly due to the fact that the two had a fight over changes in Powell’s behavior (doing drugs) before he disappeared and Hobgood told him not to call her again.

“I can’t tell him that I could have forgiven him,” she said. “I can’t tell him that I love him, and it eats me up inside. I can’t even think about him without crying.”

Hobgood, before leaving the stand, called Harrell “some of the lousiest scum I’ve ever met in my life.”

McEwen also read a letter from Hobgood’s mother about Powell and her feelings on the case, specifically how Harrell would have to pay for what he did with the Lord.

Meeks argued that Harrison was found guilty of mail fraud on this count, but that his client was found innocent. Lawson agreed.

McEwen’s other objection prior to sentencing was that Harrell have to pay a percentage to the St. Paul Insurance Company (one who handled Harrison’s claim after the arson). She argued that, if Harrell had told the truth that it was a scam when questioned, that the inquiry into the claim could have ended much sooner.

Recommended for you