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Charmane Goins faces a murder charge in Gwinnett County, Ga.

A former gang member whose unlikely journey from violent criminal to successful entrepreneur made him a widely celebrated success story has been charged with killing a Georgia woman.

The charges against Charmane Goins, if borne out, would represent a stunning fall from grace for a man who was often recruited as a motivational speaker and even asked by city officials to share his turnaround story with gang members in the city's Violence Reduction Initiative.

City Hall records show that Goins was a key part of the VRI script, and when he spoke to gang members at the second call-in in July he talked about his time in prison, all that he lost and how he learned that gangs and violence lead nowhere.

Police in Gwinnett County, Ga., said they believe Goins strangled Lauren Taylor, 26, burned her body and left the remains in a public park near Atlanta. Investigators say Goins, who is married with children, was having an affair with Taylor, but they wouldn't say what evidence links him to the crime.

Goins' arrest comes days after Chattanooga police Lt. Todd Royval, police point man for the VRI, unexpectedly stepped down.

Goins, a resident of Tunnel Hill, Ga., is the second person involved in outreach for the mayor's flagship initiative to be arrested this year.

Richard Bennett, founder of the nonprofit A Better Tomorrow, was on the verge of receiving a city contract as the lead provider of VRI social services when he was arrested on suspicion of drug and alcohol violations in June. The city quickly severed ties with Bennett.

All but one of the charges since has been dropped, and Bennett faces trial in January on the sole remaining allegation -- a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana.

Goins, 37, had been a high-ranking member of the Gangster Disciples and served 15 years in prison for armed robbery and bank robbery, but decided while behind bars to shed his gang alliance and change his life.

"I was not thinking about consequences. I was living for the moment," he told the Times Free Press in June 2012.

After leaving prison, with the help of a local nonprofit, Launch, he started his own restaurant, housed in the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park. When that closed he became an employee of Launch -- working to train those in poverty to start their own businesses -- and started his involvement with Mayor Andy Berke's VRI.

Goins spoke often at high schools, nonprofits and churches about turning his life around and said he wanted his journey to inspire others. He served as a panelist at a 2013 Times Free Press-sponsored community forum on the relationship between police and the inner-city community. And at VRI meetings with gang members, he pleaded with the young men in attendance to stop the violence.

Lacie Stone, the mayor's spokeswoman, said Goins hasn't been involved with VRI in recent months.

"Mr. Goins attended the first two call-ins as a representative of Launch and shared his personal story with the group. He has not attended a call in or volunteered with VRI since early summer," she said.

However, last week, Goins told the Times Free Press he was involved in a job readiness program with Hope for the Inner City, which replaced A Better Tomorrow as the social service keystone of the VRI. He said he was excited about the work.

Hal Bowling, director of Launch, said he expected to enroll former gang members in its entrepreneurial training program in the coming months. In a Times Free Press story published earlier this year, Launch was named as a key VRI partner.

City Hall records also show Goins was listed as a speaker for a VRI event in August and discussed as a participant in a January 2015 workshop.

Many who know Goins were stunned by his arrest.

Marcus Williams, who met Goins through the Launch training program, said he wasn't ready to judge Goins.

"He was a kind and good man. His story and his life inspired me. Charmane has done a lot in the community to help people. He was working with me to start a business," Williams said. "It's a hard time for everybody. Everybody makes their mistakes. ... The only person that knows [what happened] is him and God."

A counselor with Hope for the Inner City, Ace Stafford, said he had heard Goins share his testimony and was surprised to hear that the same person who had disavowed violence was being accused of murder.

"(The gang members) respected him and looked up to him," Stafford said.

Taylor's body was found Oct. 8 by a couple walking their dog, but it took months to determine how she died, said Gwinnett County police spokesman Jake Smith. Goins was identified as a a suspect and was arrested after a medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by strangulation.

Goins was charged with malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. He is being held without bond in the Gwinnett County Jail.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

Contact staff writer Clair Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

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