LAFAYETTE, Ga. - Without law enforcement or the victim's family present, Walker County's state court judge dismissed a case against a woman whose false report to 911 led the police to a Rossville home, where an officer killed a man in his kitchen.
Judge Billy Mullinax entered a nolle prosse order, dismissing the misdemeanor charge, in the case of 66-year-old Dorothy Marie Gass on June 13. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had arrested Gass on Feb. 23 for the false report of a crime.
Police say Gass lied to a 911 dispatcher, informing them that her daughter-in-law, Amy Gass, had threatened to kill her children and herself. When officers responded to a home in Rossville, they shot and killed Amy Gass' father, Mark Parkinson.
Diana Parkinson, Mark Parkinson's widow, learned about the dismissal Monday when she met with Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin. Her attorney, Jason Thompson, said Franklin seemed embarrassed when he delivered the news.
"I'm very, very disappointed in the judicial system and how it worked in this case," Diana Parkinson told the Times Free Press.
Asked about his decision, Mullinax told the Times Free Press on Friday, "I do hundreds of cases. That name doesn't ring a bell. I don't know anything about it."
After a reporter explained the background of the case and how Mark Parkinson died, State Court Solicitor Pat Clements said, "A man ended up dead?" He and Mullinax said they did not know about the shooting of Mark Parkinson, a retired hospice nurse.
Thompson does not believe Mullinax and Clements were unaware of the background of Gass' case, as they said.
"That's a small county," Thompson said. "I have friends across the state who know about this case. For them to say, 'What's that? I don't know what that is.' That's a load of crap."
"The gloves are off," he added. "This is it, because we've cooperated as much as possible. Diana has been an absolute saint this whole time. And for them to do this and to act this way afterward? They should have hat in hand, saying, 'Please, for the love of God, I'm so sorry.' For the second time, the justice system has let her down."
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Dorothy Gass dialed 911 at 2:52 a.m. on Jan. 1, claiming she had just received a threatening call from Amy Gass. But the GBI said phone records show Amy Gass did not call Dorothy Gass that morning. At the time of the call, Amy Gass was in the middle of a custody battle with Dorothy Gass' son, Steven Gass.
Members of the Walker County Sheriff's Office drove to a home on Meadowview Lane in Rossville, where Amy Gass was living with her parents. Her father, Mark Parkinson, walked into the kitchen with a handgun after his dogs began barking. Seeing the gun, Deputy John Chandler shot through the window from the porch seconds later and killed him. (Police and prosecutors have not filed charges against Chandler.)
Franklin will present the facts of Mark Parkinson's death to a grand jury Sept. 4, and that group can decide whether to indict Chandler. During her meeting with Franklin on Monday, Diana Parkinson asked what was going on with the charges against Dorothy Gass. That's when she learned the case had been dropped for two months. (As district attorney, Franklin does not prosecute cases in state court.)
The investigators who worked the case were not in court the day Mullinax dropped the charge.
In January, days after Mark Parkinson's death, Steven Gass told the Times Free Press that he awoke around 3 a.m. with a call from his mother, explaining that she had reported his estranged wife to the police. He said at the time that his mother suffers from dementia and may have imagined that Amy Gass threatened their children. He said he didn't believe his wife would actually make those threats.
But some evidence contradicts Steven Gass' version of events. According to a transcript of a hearing in Steven Gass' pending divorce, Amy Gass' lawyers said he talked with Dorothy Gass for 16 minutes before she called 911 on Jan. 1. Asked if he remembered what they talked about during these calls, Steven Gass testified, "I do not." (He added that he thinks they both tried to call each other, but the calls did not go through. However, Amy Gass' attorneys said phone records show the calls lasted several minutes.)
In his order to dismiss Dorothy Gass' charges, Mullinax wrote a special condition: "No more phone calls to 911 without talking to son." On Friday, Thompson said this order was insulting. First, he said, it's not actually enforceable. Secondly, he said the evidence shows Dorothy Gass actually did talk to her son before dialing 911 - triggering the problem that led to Mark Parkinson's death.
"This is ridiculous," Thompson said. "I've never seen anything like this in my life."
As to Steven Gass' claim that Dorothy Gass has dementia, she denied that during an interview with the Times Free Press on Friday. She occasionally forgets why she walked into the kitchen, but she said she is not aware of any diagnosis about memory problems.
On the morning in question, she said, her son did not actually call her before she dialed 911, despite what Amy Gass' attorneys have argued in court. She said she did not commit a crime.
"There was nothing to it," she said. "Not to me. But I sure was flashed all over the TV for a month. It kind of ruined my reputation, and I didn't even do anything."
On June 13, she said, she and Steven Gass gave her side of the story to Mullinax. With no one opposing her, Mullinax dismissed the case.
"I'd like for Amy to know she didn't win," Dorothy Gass said. "She pushed it and pushed it and pushed it about as far as she could push it. I didn't do anything. I didn't kill her daddy. I was home in bed at 3 o'clock in the morning."
Even though the judge issued a nolle prosse order, a prosecutor can reintroduce the case. Clements is retiring at the end of the month, and Rossville attorney Chris Townley will take his place. But an outside prosecutor would have to bring the charge. Townley's current law partner, Thomas Lindsay, represents Steven Gass in his divorce.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.