One septuple slaying defendant pleads not guilty; other seeks youthful offender status
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
One of the two defendants in the fatal shootings that claimed seven lives in rural Morgan County in June 2020 pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease and mental defect, while the other requested youthful offender status, Tuesday in Circuit Court.
Brent Burney, one of the attorneys representing defendant Frederic Allen Rogers, 23, of Woodville, said a Nov. 16 hearing is set for his client.
A date for the youthful offender status hearing for John Michael Legg, 20, of Hartselle, will be set at a later time, Morgan County Circuit Judge Stephen Brown told all parties at Tuesday’s arraignment.
Legg was 19 June 4, 2020, when seven people were shot dead in a house on Talucah Road in Valhermoso Springs in eastern Morgan County.
A grand jury in February indicted Rogers and Legg on six counts of capital murder. The defendants have been in the Morgan County Jail with no bail since their arrests in Marion County, Oregon, June 21, 2020.
At a preliminary hearing Aug. 15, FBI investigator Chris Hendon testified Rogers gave a written statement that said he fatally shot James Wayne Benford, 22, of Decatur, Jeramy Roberts, 31, of Athens, Roger Lee Jones Jr., 20, of Decatur, and William Zane Hodgin, 18, of Somerville.
Rogers’ statement, according to Hendon, said Legg was responsible for the shooting deaths of homeowner Tammy England Muzzey, 45, Emily Payne, 21, and Dakota Green, 17, all of Valhermoso Springs.
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson said in February he would seek the death penalty for the two defendants.
But one family member of a victim said the death penalty won’t bring her brother back, and she is hungry for more information about the event that took her brother’s life.
“There’s something that is not being told. Something is missing,” said Jessica Orr, 28, of Decatur, who attended the arraignment. “If those guys weren’t mad at everybody, why did they kill everybody?”
Her brother, Benford, was the last person to be identified, two days after the slaying, according to authorities.
“Somebody told me James might have been (among the victims),” Orr said. “He was missing a few days. I started calling around. The coroner (Jeff Chunn) told me it was him.
“Now, James is not here, going through the pain. He’s in a better place.
“But the death sentence is not real punishment. I don’t think life in prison is a punishment either. At the end of the day, if they don’t have remorse for their actions, there is no punishment. But they know they have to face the consequences.”
“Taking this pretty hard”
Authorities discovered two cars at the crime scene, both belonging to people living at the house. Orr said her brother did not drive there, and she doesn’t know why he was there.
She said her faith and support from family and friends have helped her with the emotional pain the past 13 months.
“There is nothing you can say to ease people’s pain. The only thing we can do is live with it each and every day,” she said. “It’s been difficult watching my other brothers go through this. They’ve been taking this pretty hard.”
Members of Muzzey’s and Jones’ families attended the arraignment but declined to comment on the case.
According to a search warrant affidavit, a witness said Legg and Rogers were members of a club called “7 Deadly Sins,” which also included at least three of the homicide victims.
Rogers and Legg “became upset, particularly Legg, over the perceived disobedience towards the club and the theft of several of his firearms a few hours before the homicides,” according to the affidavit. “The witness stated that Rogers and Legg stated something to the effect of, ‘We’re going in there by force and wipe the slate clean.’ The witness stated that Rogers and Legg continued to state that the ‘club’ would be dismantled by the end of the night.”
Shortly after the shootings, according to the affidavit, the witness received a text from Rogers that said, “Everything has been dealt with.”
The six capital murder counts are divided not by victim but by the crime committed. Count 1 is for causing the deaths of the seven victims during the course of a robbery. Count 2 is for multiple murders in the course of one scheme or course of conduct.
Counts 3, 4 and 5 are for murders in the course of a burglary. Under Alabama law, burglary means entering a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime. The intended crimes, Anderson said, were theft, murder and assault.
Count 6 is for murder committed during the course of an arson.
Trial not expected soon
According to Hendon’s testimony in August, some of the bodies had been doused with gasoline and were partially burned. Anderson said he believes the arson was an attempt to destroy evidence.
Authorities found about 60 spent bullet casings in the house. Chunn said all of the victims died of “multiple gunshot wounds.”
A small dog was also fatally shot.
Burney said his experience leads him to believe it might be five years before the case goes to trial.
“I know there are a few capital murder cases in front of us,” he said.
Legg’s appointed attorneys, Johnny Berry and Brandon Little, were unavailable for comment. Assistant District Attorney Garrick Vickery represented the prosecution at the arraignment.
The seven deaths tied for the most during a mass killing in the nation in 2020.