They have waited 36 years for justice

“Bring home some bread.”

Those were among the last words Christine Tackett ever said to her husband. It was near midnight when Roger Tackett left their Cobb County home, heading to the Tenneco convenience store to lock up for the night. The 35-year-old manager of the store also wanted to finish some paperwork so he’d be free to attend Father’s Day Mass the next day.

He would never make it home.

Wrapping up just shy of 2 a.m., Tackett grabbed a loaf of bread — leaving a note and some change to pay for it on the counter. Setting the bread in his car, Tackett returned to lock the store door.

He came face to face with two armed men — Van Roosevelt Solomon, a one-time Baptist minister, and Brandon Astor Jones, a 36-year-old absentee father. They wanted Tackett to give them money; he could open the register but he couldn’t open the safe.

They shot him, wouding him in the thumb, twice in the hip and twice in the head. Tackett died in a pool of his own blood on the storeroom floor.

Solomon and Jones were arrested almost immediately. A Cobb County police officer happened to be outside the store at the moment the shots were fired, dropping off a stranded motorist who needed to use a pay phone.

Both blamed the other for firing the shot that killed Tackett. Both had gun powder residue on their hands.

That was 1979.

‘A long time coming’

Solomon was electrocuted three decades ago. But Jones is hanging on almost 37 years after the shooting. At 72, he is the oldest man on Georgia's death row. But his long wait for the executioner may be at an end. Jones is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday, 11 days shy of his 73rd birthday.

If he is executed, he will be the first of five Georgia convicts who have exhausted their death sentence appeals; the other four could be scheduled for lethal injections in the coming weeks. Georgia carried out five executions last year, leaving 76 men on the state's death row.

“I am not happy about that day, but I feel like justice is being served,” said Katie Tackett King, who was 7 when her father was murdered and has gone on to become a lawyer.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I feel the weight of another person’s life being taken. And I don’t feel happy about that. But I also feel the heaviness of living a whole life without my father by my side. And he (Jones) robbed us of that in a very, very vicious way.”

The Tacketts moved to Smyrna in 1971 from Statesboro. Tackett taught Russian, French and Latin at then-Georgia Southern College, but as that program faded he landed a position teaching languages at an Atlanta private school.

Six years later, that teaching position was eliminated and he took a job pumping gas. It actually paid better than teaching had, and Tackett eventually became store manager.

King knew her father long enough to have memories of him, but they are often fuzzy. She remembers little things. A stuffed monkey her father brought from the store. Her “papa” watching her cross the street to her friend’s house.

“There are memories, but they fade,” said King, now a 44-year-old mother of three sons. “I try to cling to things. I feel I’m more reliant on pictures and talking to my mom and getting stories from her than my own recollection. And that’s hard.”

‘She said he’s gone’

Mother and daughter clearly remember getting the news of Tackett’s murder.

Police called Christine Tackett (now Christine Bixon) just before 2 a.m. on June 17, 1979, looking for the Tenneco manager. “I said, ‘My husband is the manager and he went to the store. And he’s there,’” Bixon said.

A few minutes later, an officer called back to tell her there had been an “accident” involving her husband.

Bixon waited until daylight to tell her daughter.

King woke on Father’s Day to neighbors talking quietly in the living room and a heaviness in the air. Her mother and grandfather, both weeping, delivered the news to the little girl in her bedroom.

“She (Bixon) said he’s gone. She never said he had died. Never said he was killed. … She said he had gone to Heaven,” King said.

“I thought Heaven was up and hell was down,” King said. “I remember after this had happened drawing pictures or writing him a note and holding it up to the ceiling so he could see it. … I did that for years. It made me feel closer to him.”

The tragic event sent the lives of Bixon and her daughter down a different path.

Bixon finished her chiropractic training at Life College, now Life University, and moved to Florida in 1983 with her then-12-year-old daughter to get married and escape her dead husband’s “ghost.” Her new spouse was himself a chiropractor and the next year they had a son.

“It gave her a fresh start,” King said of the move to the Orlando area.

A Bible in the jury room

The two women are much more focused on Jones' pending lethal injection than they were on Solomon's Feb. 20, 1985, electrocution.

Thirty years ago Bixon was distracted by starting a new practice with her second husband. And there was a new baby who demanded her time and attention.

“We had so many things to focus on to survive,” said Bixon, who moved back to Georgia — Cherokee County this time — after her second husband died last March. “It was like, ‘I’m glad that’s taken care of. I’m glad there is closure there.’ It wasn’t something we pondered and talked about.”

Back in 1985, King had just started high school.

"I knew there were two people involved, so it (Solomon's electrocution) felt like halfway closure," King said. "I felt like one piece of the puzzle had been put in place, but there was a whole 'nother (piece) hanging out there."

Jones’ brief reprieve came in 1989. Four years after his co-defendant was executed, a federal judge ordered a new sentencing trial for Jones because the jury in the first one had a Bible during deliberations. Jones would go on to be sentenced to death again in 1997 and has been awaiting execution ever since.

Solomon had hired Jones, an ex-convict with multiple aliases, to work for his painting company soon after Jones moved to the area from Chicago. Prosecutors were unable to say whether Jones or Solomon fired the fatal shot. Both men tested positive for firing a gun, and police found two .38-caliber handguns on the storeroom floor — a large Smith & Wesson and a smaller Colt.

Jones’ lawyers have argued he had a difficult upbringing, suffering emotional, mental and physical abuse. He was given up by his mother as a baby, although he would return to live with her at age 12. He alleges he was also beaten by prison guards when he was locked up for 15 months at 16.

‘He had been tortured’

Growing up, King knew little about what happened the night her father died.

While in law school, she researched her father’s case, learning some brutal details about his death for the first time.

“I knew he had been shot, but I did not know how,” King said. “And I did not know how many times (he was shot). I did not know he had been tortured. … They had taken turns shooting him prior to shooting him execution style,” King said.

During the trials, Bixon left the courtroom when there was testimony about her husband’s injuries. So she only learned he had been pistol whipped 10 days ago when her daughter brought it up in a conversation.

Still, the mother and daughter say they don’t hate Jones.

“I think forgiveness is one of the most important … human characteristics that we have to let us move forward in our lives in a positive way,” King said.

“When I say I forgive him, it does not mean I condone what he did. What he did is a horrible thing and I believe it deserves a just punishment, even though it’s taken an incredibly long time to go through the criminal justice system.”

“I know he’s an older man,” she continued. “But it’s not my fault it’s taken 36 years for this whole thing to run its course through this very slow system that we have. I wish it wasn’t the case.”

Fresh in the women’s memories are images of Tackett leaving money on the counter so the cashier coming in the next morning could ring up his purchase. And then placing the bread on the front seat of the car.

Even today, when she sees the sunlight streaking through the clouds, King thinks of her “papa.”

“I feel he’s talking to me, reaching out,” King said. “That’s a sign from him (saying), ‘I’m here and I’m watching out for you.’”