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Towns County Sheriff Rudy Eller
Georgia Sheriff Resigns After Pleading Guilty In Shooting Coverup
POSTED: 7:46 am EDT August 22, 2007
HIAWASSEE, Ga-- Saying he was not above the law, a north Georgia sheriff resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to four charges related to hindering a state investigation of a drive-by shooting involving two of his deputies.
Towns County Sheriff Rudy Eller, wearing a civilian blazer, pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Lynn Alderman to charges of making false statements, tampering with evidence, hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal and violation of oath by a public official or officer.
His sentencing is pending but he faces prison time up to 10 years and up to $100,000 in fines for three of the four counts. Nearly 50 people, from children to senior citizens in overalls, packed the courtroom to witness Eller's plea.
Eller told the judge that he knew what happened in the July 9 shooting at the home of Gary Dean of Hiawassee but chose not to inform Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials, who investigated the deputy-involved shooting at Eller's request.
"I made a serious mistake, there's no doubt about it," Eller said.
Deputy Jessie Gibson, 56, and Chief Deputy Eddie Osborn, 41, faced aggravated assault and obstruction charges in the shooting. Gibson was found dead on Aug. 8 of a self-inflicted gunshot in what authorities called an apparent suicide. He left a tape-recorded message for his family that was forwarded onto investigators.
Osborn has not yet entered a plea, officials said.
Dean, who was not injured in the shootings, was "involved in an ongoing intimate relationship" with Osborn's wife, according to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation affidavit.
After the plea, Eller announced his resignation to reporters gathered outside the courthouse.
"I must confess to my friends and neighbors, the citizens of Towns County who have given me the high honor of electing me as their Sheriff, that I have failed them -- and for that I sincerely apologize and ask for their forgiveness," he said. "My actions in entering this plea are meant to let the people of Towns County know that, as their sheriff, I do now -- and always have -- respected the rule of law. ... The law does not play favorites and is to be obeyed by all."
Eller wore an oxygen tube in his nose as he walked from the courtroom but removed it before his news conference. Mike Weaver, his attorney, said Eller was suffering from diabetes and other health problems and could not answer other questions.
Weaver and District Attorney Stan Gunter declined to comment further on the case.
Probate Judge Wayne Garrett will determine who the interim sheriff will be after Eller submits his resignation letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue, said sheriff's office spokesman Robert Kern.
Hours before Eller's plea, Perdue's office released a report from a state panel recommending that Eller be suspended from office.
Earlier this month, Perdue named a three-person panel including Attorney General Thurbert Baker to investigate the charges and recommend whether the sheriff should be suspended. Sheriff Roger Garrison of Cherokee County and Sheriff Steve Wilson of Walker County made up the rest of the panel.
Had Eller chosen not to resign, Perdue would have made a decision whether to suspend him based on the panel's recommendation, said Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley.
In the report, the panel cited Eller's admissions that he lied to the GBI and his own staff and said he had expressed little remorse for the cover-up.
It also noted reports that Eller told multiple people that if he had to do it all over again he would do the same thing.
"His comments on doing it again and his lack of remorse are reflective of disdain and contempt for the law and those who seek to enforce it," the report reads.
It says decisions by Eller to fire Gibson but continue to pay Osborn "simply defy reason and common sense."
One resident thought there were better things for authorities to do.
"It's ironic we get myopically focused on because of a shooting that didn't hurt anybody," said Stan Raymond, a local real estate agent who attended the courthouse hearing. "I think there's far too many problems in this country and this state that need to be dealt with. I'm more worried about Iran and the atom bomb than this sheriff."