published Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

DeKalb County, Ala., hammer, ax handle assault still under investigation

DeKalb County, Ala., authorities still are investigating whether to charge an ax-wielding man who broke into a home New Year's Eve or whether to charge the man inside the home who whacked the intruder with a hammer.

Evidence shows Dennis Johnson kicked in the door to 41-year-old Donald Phillips' home and beat Phillips and 33-year-old Amanda Thompson with an ax handle. But Johnson was hurt the worst when Phillips fought back with a hammer, sending the 58-year-old to a hospital bed in critical condition, authorities said.

While Alabama law justifies the use of deadly force during a break-in, DeKalb County Chief Deputy Mike Edmondson said in this case the evidence may point to both sides at fault. But he wouldn't give further details.

Instead, police will let the DeKalb County grand jury decide whether anyone will be charged, and after the investigation is complete will hand over the evidence to the district attorney's office.

Meanwhile, neighbors say the rental property has been a problem for the Crossville community off County Road 24 for about six months.

"We've had nothing but trouble," said Sherry Medina, a nearby neighbor. "Why can't we get action done?"

Charles Painter, who lives next door to the couple, said he's seen DeKalb County sheriff's deputies at the house at least four times since the couple moved in. Shortly after they moved in, Painter, who has lived in the area all his life, had to call the police after a woman was wandering into one of the houses he rented and didn't appear to be coherent, he said.

When Phillips came across the street to retrieve the woman, Painter said he yelled, "Better take her to the hospital. She's about to OD."

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Office had not responded late Wednesday to requests about how often officers had been dispatched to Phllips' home.

Records at the Madison County, Ala., Clerk of Court's Office show Phillips is wanted on warrants alleging burglary in the third degree and assault, but he has not been arrested on those charges.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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