ID’s ‘Atlanta Justice’ recounts local homicide cases

Credit: Investigation Discovery

Credit: Investigation Discovery

The weekly show debuts Dec. 28.

True crime over the years has become such a popular genre, entire networks are devoted to the subject, most notably Atlanta-based Court TV and HLN as well as Oxygen and Investigation Discovery, known as ID.

And frequently, these programs are used as a way to boost the image of both the police and district attorneys.

The Atlanta Police Department has had a tough year in 2020 with more than 144 reported homicides to date, the most in nearly two decades.

So the timing of “Atlanta Homicide,” debuting Monday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. on ID, is fortuitous.

The hour-long show features two former APD detectives and two former Fulton County prosecutors as they recount interesting homicide cases they solved largely in the 2000s. The production company, Lusid Media, interviewed them as well as victims and family members in each case and used actors to play younger versions of the real people in re-enactment scenes.

“We still feel proud we were Atlanta police officers and district attorneys,” said JD Stephens, an East Point native who worked with the APD for 31 years and handled 122 cases as a homicide detective. He is now second in command at the police department in Cumming. “It’s important for us to portray these agencies in a positive light. We hope we make those agencies proud.”

He said he knows 2020 has been a tense year between police and the Black community. “People don’t trust the police,” he said. “People are attacking us. I want them to see how much we care about individual cases and the victim’s families.”

Stephens said as a homicide detective, he wanted to bring justice to families after having to inform them of the heart-wrenching news that their son or daughter had been taken away. Still, “even when we make an arrest and bring closure, we can’t replace their loved one,” he said.

He stays in touch with some of the family members long after the cases are over. Some will call him like a therapist on anniversaries of the murder of their child. “This can go on for years,” he said.

Vince Velazquez, who worked with Stephens on homicide, is part of a similar show on TV One called “ATL Homicide” with his partner David Quinn. The third season of that show debuts in January. In an interview, he said he really likes Stephens.

“He’s a cop’s cop,” Velazquez said. “He has a gift for gab. He could talk to people with that Southern charm.”

Seeking diversity, the producers were thrilled to also land Nicole Redlinger, another Atlanta native and the only woman homicide detective out of 17 when she joined the APD unit in 2003.

“Men and women in these jobs play different roles,” Redlinger said. “I wanted to show a different side of law enforcement from a female perspective. Killers who lack a strong mother figure or typical family structure will sometimes gravitate to me and want to talk to me. Sometimes, they’ll gravitate toward a male figure. You’re doing a department a disservice not having both male and female detectives.”

While pondering going into law at Georgia State University, Redlinger did a ride-along with a cop and fell in love with the adrenaline rush. She moved up the ranks until she landed in homicide. “I just strapped in and started following the guys and learned as much as I could.”

Velazquez was one of the detectives she learned from. (She has appeared on “ATL Homicide” as well.)

“She’s very intellectual and analytical,” he said. “But she also has a very maternal side of her. It’s not fake. It’s real. She knows how to talk to grieving parents.”

Velazquez said her case files were voluminous. “Imagine a 1980s New York City phone book and then double that,” he said. “She had a real attention to detail.”

Explore>>RELATED: A look at TV One’s “ATL Homicide” featuring two retired APD detectives

Credit: Investigation Discovery

Credit: Investigation Discovery

Tanya Miller, who is now in private practice, said she liked that as a Fulton County prosecutor, she was placed on a homicide case early in the process so she could start building a case that could withstand cross-examination in a trial. “My job was to make sure everything was done by the book, and we go above and beyond and not leave any stone unturned. We didn’t want to just arrest a guy. We wanted to make sure we had a successful prosecution.”

Miller, who left the D.A’s office in 2013 after 10 years, said doing the show brought back warm memories of the camaraderie she had with the detectives. “These two are amazing,” she said. “The best in the business.”

Velazquez has seen Miller work in a courtroom. “I would not want Tanya Miller to prosecute me,” he said. “I’m just going to plead guilty. She’s a pitbull in court. She takes no prisoners. And she’s eloquent. She knows how to engage a jury and present the facts to an average person.”

The first episode of “Atlanta Justice” focuses on a gruesome 2002 murder of Atlanta MARTA employee Bobby Jackson, whose body was found duct-taped and dumped in a church playground in Buckhead. The detectives, led by Stephens, tracked down two women who both said they were his fiancé and point fingers at each other. The episode features video footage from the crime scene as well as the actual murder confession.

Stephens said some family members of the cases featured have reached out to him. “To me, I wasn’t working for the city of Atlanta. I worked for the family. I do that with every case. And by doing these stories, the families have to re-live all this pain. I want it to be done well. In the case of Bobby Jackson, we want to honor his memory.”

Other cases featured in upcoming episodes include a possible serial killer in 2005, a 2007 drive-by shooting of a 9-year-old, and a 2010 case of the shooting death of a recently married woman.

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution


“Atlanta Justice,” debuting Monday, Dec. 28 at 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery