published Friday, June 6th, 2014

Murray County Christmas slaying heading to court

Six months after Tommy Walraven was beaten to death on Christmas night, his girlfriend's son faces prison time.

On May 12, a Murray County, Ga., grand jury indicted John Dwight Phillips on an involuntary manslaughter charge. If convicted, he faces 1-10 years behind bars.

In Georgia, involuntary manslaughter occurs when someone accidentally kills another person while committing a separate crime. In this case, Phillips told police he punched Walraven in the face several times after Walraven pressed a shotgun against his gut.

The beating left Walraven unconscious, bleeding out of his mouth and nose, his head so swollen family members couldn't see his neck. Now, Phillips waits for trial, set to begin Oct. 6.

A Murray County Sheriff's Office incident report gives this account: Walraven was celebrating with his girlfriend, Terry Lynn Welch, when Phillips arrived. Phillips had apparently gotten into an argument with his wife, and Walraven told him to go back home.

Instead, Phillips and Walraven got into an argument. Phillips was 29; Walraven was 63. During the argument, Walraven retrieved a shotgun from Welch's room and pointed it at Phillips. That's when Phillips threw punches.

Over and over, Phillips punched Walraven's face. Walraven then retreated to the couch to lie down, and Phillips went into a bedroom. He said he was having a panic attack.

Six hours later, Welch called the police, who found Walraven passed out. In January, Detective Andy Dill declined to comment when asked why Welch waited so long before calling 911. Dill did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Walraven died on Dec. 27, when his family told doctors to take him off life support.

Six months later, his son, Nathan Gaddy, still does not believe Phillips' account. He doubts his father whipped out a shotgun.

"I think he was mad at his wife and took it out on my dad," Gaddy said.

However, Gaddy noted that he and his family members were relieved when Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston told them that Phillips was going to be indicted. Gaddy said the last six months have been stressful.

He said the family is happy to see charges, though they wish Phillips would face a murder charge -- and a steeper sentence.

"He took my dad's life," Gaddy said. "He needs to go to prison for the rest of his life, which he's not going to do."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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