Repeat offenders in Georgia: A failed system, a family shattered

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The brother and friend of slain Atlanta woman fight to for more protections against violent offenders. Video by Ryon Horne

The history of the man accused of killing Mariam Abdulrab exposes breakdowns that leave Georgians at risk

Mariam Abdulrab’s family has been trying to understand the unthinkable: the brutal murder of the 27-year-old Atlanta woman who seemed universally adored.

“Everyone who met her couldn’t get enough of her,” said Ali Abdulrab, her brother. “She made people feel better. It was just her thing. She did it without even thinking about it.”

And yet, in the wee hours of Aug. 13, as she arrived home from her bartending shift at a Midtown bar, her terror-stricken boyfriend dialed 911.

He had heard a commotion in front of their house and saw a heavyset man in a security shirt force Mariam into a vehicle at gunpoint. He couldn’t give chase because his car was blocked in the driveway.

Within hours, as police searched for Mariam, a man walking his dog in southeast Atlanta discovered a woman face down near an abandoned house. He dialed 911 and told the operator that the body was bloodied and motionless.

“This is somebody’s baby,” the distraught man told the emergency operator.

Police quickly arrested 27-year-old Demarcus Brinkley, and in November he was indicted on nine felony counts, including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape. The case was particularly unnerving because Mariam apparently had no connection to the accused, unlike the vast majority of homicide victims. But Brinkley was familiar to the criminal justice system.

As state legislators and others explore ways to combat a recent increase in violent crime, Brinkley’s case highlights the persistent challenge of curbing violence by repeat offenders and the reality that there are no simple fixes. The case illuminates the ways the state’s social service, mental health and criminal justice systems touch one another, and how failures in each can undermine public safety and lead to devastating consequences for Georgians — even years later.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigated Brinkley’s history and uncovered numerous gaps in Georgia’s justice system and its handling of a man who first showed signs of being sexually aggressive when he was still a child. Foster care, the mental health system, prosecutors, a veteran judge and the state probation system all touched Brinkley.

None broke the pattern.

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“Everyone who met her couldn’t get enough of her,” said Ali Abdulrab, brother of Mariam Abdulrab. “She made people feel better. It was just her thing. She did it without even thinking about it.”

Credit: Family photo

“Everyone who met her couldn’t get enough of her,” said Ali Abdulrab, brother of Mariam Abdulrab. “She made people feel better. It was just her thing. She did it without even thinking about it.”

Credit: Family photo

Combined ShapeCaption
“Everyone who met her couldn’t get enough of her,” said Ali Abdulrab, brother of Mariam Abdulrab. “She made people feel better. It was just her thing. She did it without even thinking about it.”

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Police told Mariam’s family that the attack apparently grew out of Brinkley’s spotting her, randomly, at a gas station where she had stopped on her way home from work. As Mariam’s family started peeling back the layers, they say they discovered a series of breakdowns that shocked them.

“This is the perfect storm of what goes wrong,” said Asya Morgan, a family friend and attorney, who grew up with Mariam in the Gwinnett County suburbs and is trying to help the family seek answers.

“I blame the entire system,” Mariam’s brother, Ali, said.

‘High risk’ to reoffend

Much of Demarcus Brinkley’s 27 years have been filled with trouble and violence.

As a child, he was beaten by a stepfather, suffering an open fracture to his arm. While young, he had been exposed to sex and pornography. His mother, who had 12 kids, couldn’t provide stable housing and struggled to get her kids to school. Brinkley left school in the 9th grade, and the state took custody of him after he was sexually aggressive with a sister.

While in foster care, Brinkley got in fights in group homes and was placed in a residential treatment program for children who are emotionally disturbed and exhibit sexual aggression.

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In November, 27-year-old Demarcus Brinkley was indicted on nine felony counts, including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape. Brinkley had been on probation at the time of Mariam Abdulrab's murder, and he was required to register as a sex offender. However, Brinkley never received a risk level assessment from the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board.

Credit: handout

In November, 27-year-old Demarcus Brinkley was indicted on nine felony counts, including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape. Brinkley had been on probation at the time of Mariam Abdulrab's murder, and he was required to register as a sex offender. However, Brinkley never received a risk level assessment from the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board.

Credit: handout

Combined ShapeCaption
In November, 27-year-old Demarcus Brinkley was indicted on nine felony counts, including murder, kidnapping and attempted rape. Brinkley had been on probation at the time of Mariam Abdulrab's murder, and he was required to register as a sex offender. However, Brinkley never received a risk level assessment from the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

The first breakdown in protecting the public came seven months later. According to court records, Brinkley was discharged from the treatment program by the juvenile court in spite of objections by those overseeing his treatment. He was 17.

“They were concerned that, if left unsupervised, he had a high risk of reoffending,” a social worker testified, according to a court transcript.

Soon, the predictions were borne out. Brinkley was accused of sexually assaulting two young girls. Details of the crimes are horrific.

In 2012, Brinkley was accused of raping a 7-year-old living at his mother’s home. Yet prosecutors in then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s office allowed the case to stall after the child’s mother, who was homeless, failed to fully cooperate.

Then in 2013, Brinkley, at the home of a family friend, was discovered on top of a naked 6-year-old, according to court records. When discovered, he pulled up his pants and ran, court records show.

“This is the perfect storm of what goes wrong."

- Asya Morgan, attorney and a family friend of Mariam Abdulrab

The child told witnesses that Brinkley had removed her clothes and placed a pillow over her face when she screamed.

In September 2015, Brinkley, then 21, pleaded guilty to attempted rape, child molestation, battery and cruelty to children. He faced up to 30 years in prison on the most serious charge.

It was up to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk to decide what justice looked like.

Prosecutors wanted 15 years in prison followed by another 15 on probation. But Brinkley’s attorney wanted Newkirk to consider Brinkley’s childhood, saying “he was a victim himself.”

The events in court that day represented the next missed opportunity.

‘Magic pills’

Everyone agreed Brinkley had had a rough life. But the prosecutor urged the judge to remember the vulnerable victims.

“These are babies that he took advantage of for his sexual gratification,” said Rodney Atreopersaud, the Fulton prosecutor who represented the DA’s office at the hearing. “And there is no excuse or justification for that, and we agree that he is very profoundly troubled.”

Judge Newkirk said he wished he had “magic pills to make everybody happy and, more importantly, be absolutely right.”

His decision: Brinkley would serve seven years behind bars, with credit for the two years he’d spent in jail waiting for his case to come up. Then he’d spend eight years on probation, have to register as a sex offender and stay away from children. The judge said he would recommend that Brinkley get treatment in prison, mentioning the state medical prison in Augusta. Newkirk admitted, though, that he had no control over whether Brinkley got intensive treatment once he was in the hands of the state Department of Corrections.

ExploreLittle solace for families of Atlanta’s homicide victims

Then, Newkirk made a hopeful comment, suggesting Brinkley had something he could look forward to: “You are going to get out of prison at a fairly young age.”

The Georgia Department of Corrections would not say which prisons housed Brinkley. His last stop was a state’s prison in Waycross, according to the Department of Corrections website.

Brinkley’s mother said while he was in prison her son did not receive intensive treatment.

Struggles after prison

Brinkley was released from prison just before Thanksgiving in 2020 and handed over to the Georgia Department of Community Supervision to handle his probation.

He was required to register as a sex offender. However, Brinkley never received a risk level assessment from the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board. The board, which is understaffed and has a backlog, is supposed to rate sex offenders for their risk of reoffending as they are released into society. The ratings help alert the public and law enforcement to potentially dangerous individuals.

Combined ShapeCaption
Personal messages to Mariam Abdulrab adorn the memorial mural to her on Wylie Street. As state legislators and others explore ways to combat a recent increase in violent crime, the case of Demarcus Brinkley, the suspect in Abdulrab's murder, highlights the persistent challenge of curbing violence by repeat offenders. (John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Personal messages to Mariam Abdulrab adorn the memorial mural to her on Wylie Street. As state legislators and others explore ways to combat a recent increase in violent crime, the case of Demarcus Brinkley, the suspect in Abdulrab's murder, highlights the persistent challenge of curbing violence by repeat offenders. (John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Personal messages to Mariam Abdulrab adorn the memorial mural to her on Wylie Street. As state legislators and others explore ways to combat a recent increase in violent crime, the case of Demarcus Brinkley, the suspect in Abdulrab's murder, highlights the persistent challenge of curbing violence by repeat offenders. (John Spink / john.spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

What’s more, Newkirk hadn’t mandated special probation conditions that DCS says are required of many sex offenders after release, things like lie-detector tests, an ankle monitor, treatment programs or assessments. Newkirk’s sentencing order said DCS could add other conditions, but DCS said conditions not specifically ordered by a judge cannot be enforced.

Still, DCS said it followed the judge’s conditions for Brinkley and had “meaningful contacts” with him, though it wouldn’t provide details. The agency also wouldn’t disclose how it had measured his risk in their internal ratings.

Brinkley bounced around jobs, his mother said, first working at a fast food restaurant job, then despite his criminal record getting employed in some sort of security position. He struggled to keep access to his medications and stopped taking them, according to his mother, LIsa Barkley

Complicating his monitoring: Brinkley either lived in motels or was homeless, his mother said. Because as a sex offender he couldn’t be close to children, he struggled to find a place to live. His mother said he wasn’t allowed to live with her because she lived in an apartment complex with children nearby. Shelters that his probation officer suggested wouldn’t take him because of his sex offender status, she said.

“You can’t be OK if you’re homeless,” Barkley said.

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Mariam Abdulrab's brother Ali, left, says that his family is furious that the system failed to protect the public. Demarcus Brinkley “should have never been out,” said Asya Morgan, at right, a family friend. “If he was going to be out, then he needed severely heightened supervision.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mariam Abdulrab's brother Ali, left, says that his family is furious that the system failed to protect the public. Demarcus Brinkley “should have never been out,” said Asya Morgan, at right, a family friend. “If he was going to be out, then he needed severely heightened supervision.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Mariam Abdulrab's brother Ali, left, says that his family is furious that the system failed to protect the public. Demarcus Brinkley “should have never been out,” said Asya Morgan, at right, a family friend. “If he was going to be out, then he needed severely heightened supervision.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Brinkley had been out of prison for nearly nine months when security cameras caught him and Mariam Abdulrab at the same gas station not far from her home in southeast Atlanta, according to what police told her family. It was near 5 a.m. on Aug. 13. Brinkley apparently followed her home from the station.

‘Should have never been out’

Surveillance video at her house captured Mariam’s abduction, her brother, Ali, said. “Thinking about what she was thinking and going through all the way to the end is what bothers my family the most,” he said.

But what infuriates them now is how so many parts of the system that they thought would be in place to protect the public did not work.

Brinkley “should have never been out,” said Asya Morgan, the lawyer and family friend. “If he was going to be out, then he needed severely heightened supervision.”

Mariam’s story wasn’t just a tragic case where one dangerous man fell through the cracks, Ali said. He says it suggested a system that isn’t working in spite of laws and programs that are supposed to protect the public.

“We really don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” said Ali. “From what we’ve learned it seems like it could easily happen. After everything I’ve learned, I don’t feel safe for other people.”