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Virtual strangers _ convicted killer goes online for support

September 20, 1997

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) _ Condemned inmates often have people go to bat for them _ family members, death penalty opponents, pen pals. Brandon Astor Jones’ online essays have won him support from virtual strangers as far away as England and Australia.

His words convinced them that Jones has changed from the grade-school dropout who killed a gas station manager into a self-educated scholar who deserves to live.

The testimony came this week at Jones’ resentencing hearing.

``Brandon’s life has incredible value,″ said Glenys Alderton, an Australian adult literacy teacher who testified Thursday. ``He’s reached out from a prison cell and inspired and encouraged people all around the world to live a better life, to make a difference.″

Supporters from England, whose videotaped testimony was played in court, have also helped pay the salary of Jones’ attorney, Tony Axom.

All of this has stunned friends and relatives of Roger Tackett, who was fatally shot by Jones and another man during a 1979 robbery.

``He could be a prophet or a scholar but he still killed somebody. Now, he’s just an educated killer,″ said Catherine Tackett, the victim’s daughter. ``It’s disgusting to us that they are offering so much support to him when he’s a convicted murderer.″

Jones and another man were convicted of killing Tackett, a 35-year-old teacher who also worked at the service station. Jones’ accomplice was executed in 1986, but Jones received a new sentencing hearing after it was revealed that the trial judge had allowed a Bible in the jury room.

Jones’ essays are posted on the Web site of the Australian alternative magazine Green Left Weekly. None mention the crime, instead ranging from racism to how prisoners are treated.

In one, Jones offers advice to people who lend money. Another recounts a time when he was eating at a North Carolina restaurant and a waitress suggested he eat in the kitchen, where other blacks dined.

After five years of corresponding with Jones by mail and reading his online essays, Diane Post traveled here from Bethel, Vt., for the hearing.

``He’s like a brother to me,″ Mrs. Post said. ``I want him to live. It would be devastating if he was killed.″

Neither Ms. Tackett nor her mother, Christine Tackett Bixon, are convinced Jones has changed. To them, his failure to acknowledge the crime in his essays or apologize shows he has not changed.

``Most of the people who have spoken on his behalf, except family, really have no idea of the crime he has committed ... and they apparently never cared to know,″ Ms. Tackett said.

And like the Tacketts, David McIntosh, who worked with the victim at the time of slaying, isn’t convinced.

``I’ve actually visited his site on the Internet and read some of the stuff he’s written and there’s just absolutely a complete lack of admission that he did it or remorse,″ McIntosh said. ``It just seems like after 18 years that he ought to be showing some type of remorse ... and asking for forgiveness for what he did.″

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