November 15, 2012 11:24:07 AM
Sarah Fowler - email@example.com
A former suspect in a high-profile murder was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in Lowndes County Circuit Court on Wednesday.
Earnest Talley, 44, of 805 Remunda Drive, appeared before Judge Lee Howard Wednesday morning. He was charged with two counts of burglary of a dwelling stemming from a January 2012 arrest.
Talley and two friends, Padrick Williams and Willie Morgan, were reportedly doing drugs together when they formulated a plan to burglarize a home to earn money to buy more drugs.
Williams and Morgan allegedly broke into a home just before midnight on Jan. 13. The two left the home and returned hours later, this time with Talley in tow.
Both Williams and Morgan are each facing two burglary charges.
Talley pleaded guilty to one count of burglary as a habitual offender. The second count of burglary was dismissed as part of his plea agreement.
As a habitual offender, Talley will serve the full 10-year sentence. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
Talley has been arrested 31 times since 1997. The majority of the charges are related to drugs and burglary.
In addition to his lengthy rap sheet, Talley was charged with capital murder in February. However, the grand jury refused to indict Talley on that charge in August, citing insufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
Talley was accused of the 1997 murder of George Wilbanks. The Columbus Police Department held four press conferences relating to the infamous cold case murder of Wilbanks and four other elderly people murdered between 1996 and 1998.
Wilbanks' murder was the second in the string of still-unsolved murders. He was discovered in his home on Second Avenue North after he was brutally stabbed and strangled.
After 14 years of dead ends and empty leads, a homicide task force was formed to investigate the murders. Retired corporal Ed Williams and retired chief Pete Bowen were brought out of retirement by chief Selvain McQueen to work on the case.
McQueen held a press conference in October 2011 to announce the newly-formed task force. He expressed strong faith in both Williams and Bowen and said the two were already investigating leads.
Williams and Bowen traveled to Louisiana to visit a prisoner who reportedly had information about the Wilbanks murder. The inmate alleged that while he was serving time with Talley, Talley confessed to the murder.
On Feb. 16, McQueen held a press conference announcing that an arrest would be made the following day in the Wilbanks case.
On Feb. 17, the chief held another press conference announcing that Talley had been arrested and charged with the murder. At the time, Talley was in the custody of the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center on the two burglary charges.
His bond was set at $2 million for the murder charge.
On July 5, McQueen held another press conference announcing that Curtis Hinton had turned himself in to the Columbus Police Department after learning he was wanted for questioning in connection with the Wilbanks murder. Hinton was arrested and charged with capital murder.
He also received a bond of $2 million.
In August, the grand jury refused to indict either suspect. While Hinton was set free, Talley remained in the custody of the LCADC on the two burglary charges.
However, McQueen seemed undeterred by the setback Wednesday, insisting the police department and the homicide task force are still actively investigating the unsolved murders.
"We must respect the majesty of the democratic process," McQueen said. "I have no control over human beings. All I can do is work the case and present the evidence."
McQueen also insisted the department was not back at square one and was quick to defend the CPD for failing to solve the murders.
"Coupled with the age of the murder investigations, it's not like it just happened yesterday," he said. "I've never seen anyone win them all.
"We've got some other things going," he said, referring to new leads in the murders.
He would not comment further, citing an ongoing investigation but said the investigations division is actively working on three or four additional murder cases.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah