Kenneth Jernigan pleads guilty to beating Hollmon couple to death ‘with a stick’ in December 2017
Byron Kenneth “Kenny” Jernigan has been sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without parole in the December, 2017 beating deaths of an elderly Patterson couple.
Jernigan entered a guilty plea to two counts of malice murder before Waycross Judicial Circuit Senior Superior Court Judge Dwayne Gillis in Pierce County Superior Court last week. Additionally, Jernigan and his attorneys signed an agreement that they would “never appeal” the sentences.
Barnhill and Assistant District Attorney Melanie Brogdon of the Waycross Judicial Circuit prosecuted the case.
Jernigan was represented by Karin Kissiah and Michael Schwartz of the Savannah office of the Georgia Statewide Capital Defenders Office.
Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty but struck a plea deal after it was determined Jernigan had suffered head trauma from an earlier incarceration.
“I am confident we could have gotten a death penalty conviction due to the heinous circumstances of this case,” Barnhill said. “The Hollmons never hurt anyone. However, I had to play the cards I was dealt. Because of (Mr. Jernigan’s) injury and under federal sentencing guidelines, the death penalty would not be an option.”
Jernigan has an extensive criminal record and served a 20 year sentence for an earlier crime before being released on parole.
In the plea, Jernigan admitted to killing Dan and Flora Hollmon of Patterson by severely beating them with a wooden stick.
The Hollmons both died of injuries sustained in the home invasion armed robbery at their Doris Road home near Patterson at about 8 p.m. Dec. 10, 2017.
Mrs. Hollmon died that evening of injuries she sustained in the attack. Though severely injured, she managed to make a 911 call to summon help for her and her husband before she died. Mr. Hollmon survived for 21 days. He succumbed to his injuries Dec. 31, 2017.
Barnhill said audio of the 911 call includes sounds of the confrontation and beating and of the couple’s effort to fight back against Jernigan. Mrs. Hollmon tells the 911 operator on the call that Jernigan was in the house and was hurting her and her husband and pleads for help to be sent right away.
There was reportedly evidence of a struggle inside the residence despite the fact both victims were elderly and in poor health.
Jernigan then allegedly left the couple for dead and set fire to the home, apparently in an attempt to cover up the crime.
The fire was quickly extinguished by emergency personnel after they rushed to the Hollmons’ home.
Deputies rushing to the scene in response to the 911 call reportedly missed Jernigan by “just minutes” as he fled the scene.
The Hollmons had known Jernigan all of his life. Jernigan had been dating a young woman who often helped out the Hollmon couple and was reportedly their “god-daughter”. The Hollmons had no children of their own. Jernigan had allegedly beaten the woman the week before the murders and she had secured a temporary protective order against him and left the area. Jernigan reportedly went to the Hollmon home looking for the woman and then demanded money from the Hollmons. Jernigan’s attempt to rob the couple was reportedly fueled by his need for money to support his drug addiction.
Jernigan is believed to have taken “an amount of cash” but law enforcement officials say the amount stolen has never been determined.
Jernigan fled the area and was taken into custody in a traffic stop in Long County the day after the crime. He attempted to commit suicide by stabbing himself and allegedly confessed to killing the Hollmons to both Long County Law Enforcement Officers and to Detectives Rebecca Williams and Robby Boatright of the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement (ACE) Unit.
Barnhill commended the Sheriff’s Office and especially the work of the ACE Team in processing the scene, securing evidence and getting a signed confession from Jernigan.
“They did great work,” he said. “The ACE team is an asset to Pierce County. It allowed law enforcement to pool their resources and act quickly and efficiently to make an arrest and solve the murders.”
Barnhill specifically praised Williams and Boatright for their work.
“They had a calm, measured approach interviewing Jernigan and he confessed to the murders,” he said.