GRIFFIN — Eric Ferrell arrives at the city police department here around 6:30 a.m. and puts on coffee for the cops.
Ferrell is in his early forties and, colleagues say, soft spoken but always friendly as he sweeps the floors, tosses the trash and does whatever else needs doing. In the holiday season, he builds the department’s float for the local Christmas parade and fixes up busted bikes to give to kids in need.
Once he finishes his daily duties at about 4 p.m., he heads to the nearby prison where he’s serving time for the shooting death of a pregnant mother of three. With five years left on his sentence, Ferrell appealed to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for early release. He drew support from an unlikely source: the Griffin police chief and two other officers. The three cops took the rare step of writing letters to the board to urge mercy.
In three decades of police work, Chief Mike Yates has never tried to get someone out of prison.
“There’s been several times when I went and tried to keep them in,” Yates told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Yates said he’s long been open to helping inmates who help themselves because, especially in the last few years, he’s been paying attention to the national discussion about criminal justice reform. He’s come to believe it’s practically and fiscally fruitless to keep people in prison after they’ve thoroughly reformed.
But Yates still didn’t see the traits he would’ve liked to have seen in the inmates who came over to work at the police department from the Spalding County Correctional Institute. He was disappointed by how many inmates got fired from the work detail for goofing off or doing a sloppy job.
That changed after Ferrell showed up. Officers started coming to the chief to brag about the new guy and how he was friendly and, importantly, didn’t have to have a guard standing over his shoulder all day. Yates learned that when Ferrell was a little boy, his mother was murdered while he was feet away in their home. As the chief and the inmate struck up a relationship, the lawman thought of how that early trauma must’ve affected Ferrell.
Ferrell would sit and chat in the chief’s office at the department, which is a long cinder-block former elementary school that sometimes smells of marijuana emanating from the evidence room. Ferrell would tell the chief about his plans for life after prison, which could be summarized by saying, simply, that he intended to work and never return to prison. They talked about remorse.
When Yates heard Ferrell was coming up for parole, he decided to write to the board, not realizing until days later that two of his officers were doing the same. Yates told Ferrell about his decision, adding a postscript — part joke, part threat: If you get in trouble again, I’m coming after you.
Ferrell swore he wouldn’t let the chief down.
In the back of his mind, the chief knew his support of Ferrell’s cause might not go over well with the family of the woman he killed.
Her name was Quishanna Loynes and she was 29. She was 10-weeks-pregnant and brushing one daughters’ hair, with her other young daughter and son at her side, one night in October 2008. The front window of their first floor apartment near Avondale Estates was plastered in Halloween decorations.
Out in the parking lot, other residents were arguing.
Initially Ferrell, who lived in the complex, was trying to stop the fight, but another bystander, Dequontist Lucas, told Ferrell to stay out of it, according to DeKalb County Police court testimony. Ferrell and Lucas started to argue and then each pulled a gun and shot at the other. (Both said the other fired first.) Neither man was shot, but one bullet flew toward Quishanna Loynes’ apartment.
Tyshara Loynes was 9 years old when that round pierced the window and hit her mom in the back.
Chaos followed that night in the kids’ lives and it wouldn’t stop for years, Tyshara Loynes said. They went to live with their dad. Their dad went to prison. They ended up in foster care. Constantly they’ve missed their mom — needed their mom. Her guidance and love.
Ferrell pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and got 15 years in prison. Lucas pleaded guilty to numerous charges and got 20 years, which was on top of the life sentence he received in Cobb County for the murder of 16-year-old Samuel “Dra” Steward during a July 2008 robbery.
Tyshara Loynes remembers Ferrell. He’d been a friend of her mom’s fiance.
“I don’t think by any means he’s a terrible person,” Tyshara Loynes, 20, said, “but the effect of what he did was terrible and it led us to go through some terrible things.”
She isn’t surprised to hear Ferrell is remorseful. She recalls him sending word to the kids after the shooting saying that he was sorry, especially because his own mother was murdered.
That crime had shot a chill through DeKalb County in 1982.
“Two men wearing ski masks tucked Eric in his bed at his south DeKalb home Monday night,” read the opening line in the front-page article in the Jan. 27, 1982, edition of the Atlanta Constitution. “Thirty minutes later his 26-year-old mother lay dead on the front porch from a gunshot wound.”
Janice Dismuke and a friend had been briefly held at gunpoint by the men, who took their jewelry and ransacked the house. Moments later, Dismuke was shot in the back and the men ran away.
Ferrell, who was about 5, was raised after that by an aunt who died after he went to prison, according to Griffin Capt. Homer Daniel, one of the letter writers. The Georgia Department of Corrections said Ferrell can’t be interviewed.
Does similar childhood experience lead Tyshara Loynes to think Ferrell should now get out of prison early? No.
“I’m not going to say he should be locked up forever,” said the 20-year-old who is a college student in Indianapolis, where her siblings also live. “But I think when you do something, you should suffer the consequences.”
Told the daughter wanted Ferrell to serve his whole prison stint, the chief said he understood.
“And,” Yates said, “I can’t say I wouldn’t feel the same way.”
Tyshara Loynes can also understand different points of view. She doesn’t have to look far to find them. Her own older sister, JaSha, said she’s always felt Ferrell’s sentence was too long. “My mom wouldn’t want that for him,” JaSha Loynes told the AJC.
The Loynes siblings have all aged out of foster care and say they are leading happier lives these days.
About two weeks after the police sent their letters, the board set a tentative parole month of August 2020, which would be an early release of about four years, according to records. It isn’t clear if the letters helped or not because the parole board’s deliberations are private and confidential, but the board says it considers all letters.
In the end, the board could still decide not to let Ferrell out on parole, but if he does everything right from here on, his chances would seem good.
The police chief said he wants to get Ferrell a job working for the city, maybe in sanitation or the streets department. He isn’t so worried about Ferrell messing up on parole. Otherwise, Yates said, he wouldn’t stake his professional reputation on the inmate and, ultimately, on mercy.
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