Final grave robber sentenced, community still recovering from cemetery crime

BURKE COUNTY, GA (WFXG) - American Legion Post Commander Leroy Bell was the first to find the toppled head stones and dug up graves in April at the Old Church Cemetery in Burke County.

Even though it's been seven months since he saw the desecrated grave site, he says the sight is still fresh in his mind.

"It was reprehensible; it's just heart pounding to know that happened," said Bell.

Jerry Atkinson Jr. and Ralph Hillis Jr. confessed to disturbing five graves.

Hillis was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation Wednesday. Atkinson was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 10 years of probation in August.

The robbers dug up the graves of children and Revolutionary and Confederate soldiers.

Investigators say they put their bones back into the graves after stealing clothes and anything else in the casket.

Even though Bell has been waiting months for closure to the cemetery crime, Hillis Jr.'s sentencing is another sensitive issue.

"I'm glad everything has been completed but I hate it for the family, I've know Hillis all his life and I knew his father and his mother for many, many years," Bell, said.

He says the damaged relationships and the damaged cemetery could take years to mend.

Bell says they are taking donations to restore the cemetery, if you'd like to help call Bell at (706) 564-6066.