Justice in tragedy’s wake

Published 6:31 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

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An Editorial of The Lowndes Signal

There are certain joyous and tragic moments communities will always remember – the local school wins the state championship, a small-town girl or boy makes it in the “big time”, a natural disaster destroys a town, the death of a beloved friend.

For the small town of Highland Home in north Crenshaw County, a recent parole request denial reopened a community wound, reminding survivors of the tragic 2008 murder which killed two of its own beloved members.

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Antonio Jamar McNear of Ramer petitioned the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles for release Sept. 7 after serving 15 years into four consecutive life sentences. McNear’s prison term resulted from 2012 convictions for two counts of murder and two counts of first-degree robbery in the Aug. 27, 2008 killing of Charles Doug Kelley, 49, and Patricia Anne Barginere, 48. The board denied his plea after testimony for and against his parole, and many community members who remember the senseless murders breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

The murders occurred during an attempted robbery of what was then known as Kelley’s Grocery, now Nelson’s Grocery. Kelley and Barginere were shot and killed by McNear’s accomplice, John Lewis Thomas, Jr.  while working that day and Kelley’s mother Betty Kelley sustained injuries as she fled to get help.

McNear did not pull the trigger, but he was deemed guilty by a jury who handed down a conviction on two counts of intentional murder.

North Crenshaw County residents remember the tragic shooting as a senseless, needless act of intentional violence. People think about the murder often, especially when shopping at the store which remains little changed since the days when it was the only local source for fresh meat in the area.

District Attorney (DA) Charlotte Tesmer remembers the case well too. It was among the first she prosecuted as a newly appointed DA, made especially poignant because she had shopped at Kelley’s herself, like most other community members.

The tragedy is no less painful now, to the community and to the family members – Charles Kelley’s wife, Barginere’s son and daughter – who testified at McNears parole hearing alongside Tesmer.

“It wasn’t just two families that were affected [by the murders],” Tesmer said. “It was the whole community. It was a blatant, broad-daylight murder that got to the whole community.”

It still does, but families take comfort in knowing that court officials, like Tesmer, are still on duty, seeking justice in tragedy.

With this recent reminder of life lost by rural communities through tragedies like this, we commend Tesmer for what she does for the survivors and for her continued efforts to seek justice and make sense of senseless, tragic crimes.