ATLANTA, Ga. — It was March 28, 1996, 23 years ago, when Donovan Corey Parks was shot to death on Felton Drive, which runs off Ga. Route 49 in Baldwin County. At the time, Howard Sills was working as chief deputy of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office in Milledgeville under Sheriff Bill Massee.
Sills, now sheriff in neighboring Putnam County, was lead detective in the Parks murder case.
In a detailed, six-page letter to state officials, read aloud Wednesday by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale to members of the Georgia Pardons and Paroles Board during a clemency hearing for condemned killer Marion Murdock Wilson Jr., Sills recounted aspects of the investigation and reiterated that the death sentence should be carried out.
The veteran sheriff was unable to attend the clemency hearing because he is out of the country on vacation.
“My detectives were on the scene of the crime and learned that a motorist had come upon the body of Donovan Parks and that man had driven to the nearest home and asked the resident there to call 911,” Barksdale said, reading from the sheriff’s letter.
When personnel from the county emergency medical services got to the scene, they discovered the 24-year-old victim was still alive, despite sustaining a gunshot wound to the back of his head.
While administering medical treatment to Parks, an off-duty officer with the Georgia Department of Corrections, they discovered a necktie had been tightened around his neck so tightly that they were unable to loosen it. They had to use a pair of slip shears to cut it off, Sills recalled.
“Soon thereafter, we located Donovan Corey Parks’ father, Mr. Freddie Parks, and informed him of his son’s tragic and brutal demise,” Sills said. “The cruelest irony of this entire case unfolded right before us at that time when we, along with Freddie Parks, realized that the man who had first found the body and reported it had been Donovan’s father. Mr. Parks didn’t even recognize his own son due to the trauma Donovan had sustained.”
During the course of the investigation that followed, Sills said detectives learned Donovan Corey Parks had gone to a church service earlier that evening. After he left church, he drove to Walmart to purchase some cat food.
Sills recalled asking deputies to write down the tag numbers and a description of every vehicle that was left in the parking lot after he arrived at the store.
“We were able to find video at the Walmart of Donovan making the purchase and observed two individuals, whom we later identified as Marion Murdock Wilson Jr. and Robert Earl Butts, go through the checkout line behind Donovan,” Sills said in his letter.
Two other people talked with authorities later and one of them who knew Robert Earl Butts saw Butts and Wilson get into Parks’ car, according to Sills’ account of what happened during the early stages of the investigation.
“They saw Butts get in the front passenger seat and Wilson get into the rear seat directly behind Donovan and drive away,” Sills said.
It wasn’t until about 6 o’clock the next morning that detectives learned the whereabouts of Parks’ Acura Vigor, which had been assumed stolen.
Sills said he was notified by the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office that it had been located at the Thunderbird Liquor Store off Ga. Route 49. It had been set on fire.
“We immediately responded to that scene,” Sills said. “We found that most of that vehicle had been burned, but remarkably, there were two tins of Sheba cat food untouched by the fire still in the vehicle. We were later able to match those two containers of cat food to the cash register tape and video from the Walmart, positively identifying them as being bought by Donovan the night before.”
The emphasis of the investigation then immediately shifted to finding Butts and Wilson.
“Butts was from Baldwin County, and we were familiar with him, but we learned that Wilson had come to reside in Milledgeville upon being discharged from the Youth Detention Center there after serving time for prior convictions in Glynn and McIntosh counties,” Sills said.
A short time later, Sills said he secured warrants for the arrests of Butts and Wilson.
An immediate search was launched for the two men by authorities in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“Although we had not publicly broadcast their identities and status as fugitives, people throughout the law enforcement community were aware that we were looking for them,” Sills said.
It wasn’t long before Sills and one of his detectives, Russell Blenk, who now is a colonel and chief deputy for Sills at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Eatonton, got a break in the case. It involved a phone call that Sills received from a secretary with the Baldwin County Solicitor General’s Office.
Sills said the secretary told him that Wilson was at the office talking with former solicitor, the late Maxine Blackwell, about a pending misdemeanor case.
“The secretary was aware that Wilson was wanted for murder, but she was extremely upset and concerned because she observed that Wilson had something very large in his pants pocket when he came into the office,” Sills recalled. “[Detective Russell Blenk and I] responded to the courthouse within minutes and arrested Wilson in the solicitor’s private office where we discovered the large object in his pocket to be 22 individual bags of marijuana, obviously packaged with the intent to sell.”
A search warrant was executed at Wilson’s residence, where detectives found a loaded, sawed-off 12-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun, Sills pointed out.
It was the same gun used to kill Parks.
The shotgun had been stolen.
Detectives also found a cache of Folk Gang nomenclature and material, Sills said.
“It was then that I learned the pellets that had fallen out of Donovan’s head were something called F-shot,” Sills said. “F-shot, no longer manufactured, was copper plated. 22-caliber steel shot. It was the largest birdshot ever made and was designed to kill geese. The man the shotgun had been stolen from told me he didn’t even know what F-shot was and the ammunition had not been stolen with the gun.”
Sills said Wilson, who was 19 at the time of the murder and the first one of the eventual defendants to stand trial, sat down calmly and told him and Sheriff Bill Massee “in great detail” what he and Butts had done, but he claimed Butts was the triggerman.
“He told us that after pulling Donovan out of his Acura and shooting him in the street, they immediately drove to Atlanta, stopping only for gas in Gray, and went to Morehouse College where a cousin of his was a student, hoping he could direct them to a chop shop they could sell the car to.”
The plan to have the car sold to a chop shop failed to pan out, and when it did, Wilson said he and Butts went to a convenience store near the college where they purchased two gas cans and filled them.
After setting Parks’ car afire at the liquor store in Bibb County, Wilson said Butts called his uncle to pick them up and they returned to Milledgeville.
Sills said Wilson also told him and Massee about the inner workings of the Folk Gang, its language and its sets and how a person got in the gang and achieved rank within the organization.
“We inquired about how one’s status in the gang might increase by committing various crimes, especially violent crimes,” Sills said in his letter. “Wilson’s response to the question of his rank may have been the most disturbing thing revealed in the entire investigation. We asked, does this robbery and murder increase your rank or status in the Folk? His almost boastful reply was ‘Nah, man, I can’t get no higher. I’m the [expletive] enforcer.’"
Sills said he did not think he would ever forget those words.
Ironically, on the same day, the interview took place with Wilson, detectives found Butts’ car parked at his grandmother’s residence in Milledgeville.
“I arrested Butts at that residence after finding him hiding behind his grandmother’s dresses in her bedroom closet,” Sills said. “He refused to talk or to make any statement to us, thereafter.”
Sills said Donovan Parks worked full-time as a state corrections officer and part-time at a grocery store.
“Donovan was a fine, young Christian man with no criminal record, who to my knowledge, only made two mistakes in his short life,” Sills said. “One, he worked hard and acquired a nice automobile, a car that hoodlums wanted. Two, on his way home from church, he generously gave what he thought would be nothing more than a ride home to a couple of guys.”
Sills said in his letter that Wilson has lived a continuous life of crime.
“He has demonstrated no respect for the law and astonishingly no respect for life itself,” Sills said. “He sought out the police to help him find a cousin before the blood of Donovan Parks had dried on the street that night. He casually discussed a pending case against [him] with the solicitor general in the prosecutor’s office, while having 20 something bags of marijuana in his pocket.
“I submit to you that his (Wilson’s) greatest legacy besides the crimes he perpetrated under your consideration today (Wednesday) was that he will be remembered as the father of gang activity in Milledgeville, Ga.,” Sills said. “An insidious tumor brought up by him in the community, which has metastasized to a point where random drive-by shootings are almost a routine daily occurrence and gang activity is the single biggest public safety problem in the county.”
Sills told the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board that the sentence handed down by the jurors against Wilson was just and that it has been thoroughly vetted and upheld by all appellate courts.
“I implore you to allow this sentence to be carried out where this pestilence can be removed from Georgia once and for all,” Sills said.