Judge rejects plea to reduce
woman's life sentence
The Augusta Chronicle
February 17, 1998
Three months after taking a life-without-parole
prison sentence to spare herself and her boyfriend possible death
sentences, Gina Spann was back in court Monday with the legal
argument that her sentence is too harsh.
When Ms. Spann, 32, pleaded guilty to murder
and use of a firearm during the commission of a crime Nov. 21, she
admitted she took part in the May 11 slaying of her husband, Army
Staff Sgt. Kevin Leroy Spann, 35. Specifically, she admitted she
directed three teen-age boys to kill her husband.
The plea agreement spared Ms. Spann from a
death penalty trial in Richmond County Superior Court. But Monday,
Judge Bernard J. Mulherin Sr. was presented a defense motion to
modify Ms. Spann's sentence of life without parole.
Defense attorneys Maureen Floyd and Richard
Ingram protested the hearing Monday, contending the motion wasn't
ready to be heard. The motion was filed in case the General
Assembly or courts someday decide that life without parole is
unconstitutional and should be abolished. If that happens, then
Ms. Spann should be allowed to challenge the sentence, Mr. Ingram
District Attorney Danny Craig argued against
allowing the motion to remain in limbo awaiting some change in the
law. Ms. Spann's plea negotiation specifically states that she was
giving up her right to any appeal and that if she did attempt to
challenge her conviction and sentence, then the plea deal was off
and she would stand trial on capital murder charges, he said.
It would be unfair to the public to allow the
motion to sit, possibly for years, while the prosecution's case
weakened with age, Mr. Craig said. He asked Judge Mulherin to
either dismiss the motion or nullify Ms. Spann's plea and sentence
and allow the state to try Ms. Spann.
Judge Mulherin dismissed the motion Monday,
explaining that it was moot. If it's decided someday that life
without parole is unconstitutionally harsh, then the sentence Ms.
Spann and any other prisoner is serving without parole would
automatically become life with the possibility of parole, Judge
In addition to Ms. Spann, four teen-agers were
prosecuted in Richmond County Superior Court for Staff Sgt.
Larry Kelley, 19, was tried and convicted of
murder. He is serving a life sentence plus five years. He twice
tried to carry out Ms. Spann's murder plots so she could collect
$300,000 in life-insurance policies that the Persian Gulf War
veteran had. He and Ms. Spann were having an affair.
Matthew Piazzi, 17, pleaded guilty to murder
and is serving a life sentence. He was the triggerman who agreed
to kill Staff Sgt. Spann the night before the murder. He was to
receive $8,000 from the insurance money.
Gerald Horne, 18, pleaded guilty and is serving
a life sentence. He agreed to kill Staff Sgt. Spann for $7,000 and
was present when the soldier was gunned down on his front porch.
Christopher Bargeron, 18, pleaded guilty to
conspiracy and received a five-year prison sentence followed by a
five-year probationary sentence. He failed along with Mr. Kelley
to kill Staff Sgt. Spann, but he did find Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne
to do the slaying.
Spann gets life sentence
The Augusta Chronicle
November 22, 1997
The wife of a Fort Gordon soldier accused of
hiring teen-age boys to kill her husband pleaded guilty Friday and
will spend the rest of her life behind bars.
Gina Spann, 31, could have been sentenced to
death if convicted of murder in Richmond County Superior Court.
But Friday, she admitted her guilt and pleaded guilty to malice
murder and use of a firearm during the commission of a crime. She
was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus five years.
Ms. Spann pleaded guilty and admitted she
caused or directed another person to commit the May 11 slaying of
Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Leroy Spann, 35, at his Old Waynesboro Road
Investigators contend the killing was Ms.
Spann's idea because she wanted $300,000 from life insurance
policies that covered her husband. The day after the Mother's Day
shooting, Ms. Spann was arrested along with Larry Wayne Kelly, 18,
who lived in the Spann home.
As part of Ms. Spann's plea agreement, District
Attorney Danny Craig will not seek the death penalty against Mr.
Kelly. Ms. Spann will also be expected to testify truthfully at
the teen-agers' upcoming trials on murder charges, the agreement
After questioning Ms. Spann and Mr. Kelly,
Richmond County sheriff's investigators also arrested Gerald Lewis
Horne, 18, Matthew Clark Piazzi, 17, and Christopher Lee Bargeron,
17. Investigators believe Mr. Kelly contacted Mr. Bargeron who
referred him to Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne.
Investigators believe Mr. Horne and Mr. Piazzi
were offered $5,000 from the life insurance money if they would
kill Staff Sgt. Spann. After an unsuccessful attempt May 10 to get
Staff Sgt. Spann to come to his door, Mr. Horne and Mr. Piazzi
stole his car and shot into a window of the south Augusta home,
investigators said. Later they were picked up by Ms. Spann and Mr.
The next night, the two teen-agers went back to
the Spann home. When Staff Sgt. Spann answered the door, Mr.
Piazzi fired a .38-caliber handgun twice, shooting him in the face
Mr. Bargeron, Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne are
scheduled to stand trial Dec. 1. Because Mr. Bargeron's case was
separated from the other two and because he has filed a request
for a speedy trial, only Mr. Bargeron is expected to stand trial
that week. Mr. Bargeron is representing himself on murder charges.
Three others say wife tried
to hire them to kill Fort Gordon soldier
The Augusta Chronicle
May 24, 1997
Three other young men have told police that
Gina Lynn Spann asked them to kill her husband, Fort Gordon
soldier Kevin Spann, officials said.
Michael Kelley, 20, the brother of Mrs. Spann's
teen-age boyfriend, says Mrs. Spann lured his brother Larry and
three other teens into a plot to slay her husband by manipulating
them with drugs and sex, among other things.
Sgt. Spann, 35, died on Mother's Day after
being shot once in his face and once in his chest at the couple's
Old Waynesboro Road home where he lived with Mrs. Spann, her
18-year-old boyfriend Larry Kelley and her 12-year-old son, police
Mrs. Spann, 31, Larry Kelley, Matthew Piazzi,
16, Gerald Horne, 18, and Christopher Bargeron, 16, all are in
jail, charged in Sgt. Spann's death.
Friday's scheduled bond hearing for Mrs. Spann,
Mr. Horne and Larry Kelley was postponed at the defense attorneys'
request. They want to wait until after a June 4 preliminary
hearing before seeking bond.
The two juveniles charged in the slaying of
Kevin Spann also are scheduled for the June 4 hearing.
Police say Mr. Horne was with Mr. Piazzi when
he pulled the trigger, but it was Mrs. Spann's idea and Mr.
Bargeron and Larry Kelley helped her devise the assassination
"She asked me to do it in the beginning of
January...She said she had this idea to get her husband out of the
way. I told her I was trying to stay out of trouble," Michael
He said he was in jail once for a misdemeanor
disorderly conduct charge and knew he never wanted to go back.
Police would not reveal the identities of the
other two people who said Mrs. Spann had also asked them to kill
her husband, but they are area residents, 17 and 18 years old.
"We have no reason to believe that those
statements we received from them are inaccurate," said Chief
Deputy Ronald Strength of Richmond County's Sheriff's Department.
Michael Kelley said he met Mrs. Spann last year
when she went to work at Taco Bell on Peach Orchard Road as a
manager where he was already working.
"I trained her as a crew member when she first
started," Michael Kelley said.
Then, Michael Kelley said, he got his brother
Larry a job there and Larry started hanging out with Mrs. Spann
after work. And two weeks later, about last December, Larry Kelley
moved in with her, Michael Kelley said.
"He had been living from friend to friend's
since about June of 1996, when he moved from home because of
problems we were having with our stepfather," Michael Kelley said.
That's one of the reasons Michael Kelley said
he and his brother were high school dropouts.
"It's hard to try to work and live on your own
and go to school. It gets frustrating and at the school they just
give up on us after we get in a little trouble. But we were both
trying to get on the right track and finish school."
When asked why his brother would live with Mrs.
Spann and why he was interested, Michael Kelley said:
"I think he thought he was in love with her. I
think the fact that she was older and she could give him stuff he
couldn't get, like drugs, and she was sleeping with him...and (it
was) a place to stay."
Michael Kelley said Mrs. Spann was a
mother-figure to many of the teens. When they had problems some
felt like they could talk to her and she wouldn't judge them.
"She seemed cool at first, but not anymore."
He said Larry Kelley never used drugs before he
met Mrs. Spann.
"She was giving him and the other boys acid,
alcohol and marijuana," he said.
Michael Kelley said Mrs. Spann had invited him
to her house.
"She said she and her husband had an open
marriage, and that if I was there when he woke up in the morning,
he would just step over me and everybody else - that he was used
Police said the Spanns were separated, but he
was living in a back room of the house because he was having
Police have confirmed that the gun they believe
killed Mr. Spann belonged to the Kelleys' stepfather, David Best.
Larry Kelley, Mr. Horne and Mr. Piazzi have been questioned about
a recent burglary at the south Augusta home of the Kelleys'
parents. It took place before the slaying, but no one has been
"Some jewelry was taken and a .38-caliber
revolver. He (Mr. Best) didn't know the gun was missing until we
asked him about it after the murder," Chief Deputy Strength said.
After the burglary a car fitting the
description of Mrs. Spann's was seen leaving the area, Chief
Mr. Piazzi's next-door neighbor, Amanda Quick,
17, said she was at a party at the Royal Palms Motel on Peach
Orchard Road the Friday before the killing with some of the
suspects in the slaying. The room was in Gerald Horne's name,
"Gerry had a gun....he was playing with it and
saying something was going to happen," Ms. Quick said. She said
there were about 10 people, mostly teens at the party where there
was alcohol, marijuana, and acid. Mrs. Spann stopped by.
Ms. Quick and Michael Kelley both said they had
heard something was going to happen, but had no idea it would be a
Police said it was the Royal Palms Motel where
Larry Kelley and Mrs. Spann picked up Mr. Horne and Mr. Piazzi May
10 to drop them off at the Spann's house when they tried to kill
Mr. Spann, but he wouldn't come to the door. The next day when
they picked the boys up again at the motel and dropped them off
and they succeeded in gunning down Mr. Spann, police said.
Michael Kelley says he wonders if the boys were
on drugs when they committed the crime and if the drugs had
something to do with why they would be involved.
"I think she just kept getting them high until
they were in the right state of mind....When you're high, you get
the feeling that you can't get caught and you feel invincible,"
Michael Kelley said.
Police say several people they have interviewed
have told them Mrs. Spann provided drugs to young people,
including the suspects in her husband's death.
But police say when the teens were arrested,
several hours after the killing, they were not high on drugs.
"They were all old enough to know better, but
they were still kids....very impressionable," Michael Kelley said.
"I think my brother deserves to do some time for his role so he
can learn a lesson....He's young. I hope he will get out and have
enough time to live a good life and do things right.
"I think she deserves the electric chair. She
messed up five lives - including her son's because now he doesn't
have a mother or a father.
Murder-for-hire motive often
The Augusta Chronicle
May 18, 1997
Last week wasn't the first time an alleged
murder-for-insurance-money plot involved a Fort Gordon soldier.
Twenty-five years ago, Fort Gordon Pvt. Kenneth
Barnes, 19, from Ohio, was shot to death, and it was made to look
like an accident involving someone else.
For years people believed the buried body was
that of an Augusta Quarry worker John Owens. Nellie Owens
collected on her husband's life insurance and the couple enjoyed
spending it for years before getting caught, officials said.
In the past week, 31-year-old Gina Lynn Spann
was accused of luring four teen-agers into killing her husband for
Mrs. Spann, her 18-year-old live-in boyfriend
Larry Wayne Kelley, his friend Christopher Bargeron, 16, Matthew
Clark Piazzi, 16, and Gerald Horne, 18, are all in jail charged in
connection with the shooting death of Mrs. Spann's husband, Fort
Gordon Staff Sgt. Kevin Leroy Spann.
Mrs. Spann was the beneficiary of a military
life insurance policy worth $200,000 and a civilian policy worth
$100,000. She allegedly had promised Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne
$5,000 each when the policy was paid. All were arrested the day
after the death.
But the Barnes scam lay dormant for years.
For years, the missing Pvt. Barnes was listed
as a deserter. But in 1982, police exhumed a body from the
Hillcrest Cemetery after getting a tip about an insurance fraud
scam. And the body was sent back to Mr. Barnes' family.
Martinez couple John and Nellie Owens and a
former Fort Gordon police officer were charged in connection with
Pvt. Barnes' death, given prison sentences and fined thousands of
For about nine years the Owenses got away with
making people think Pvt. Barnes' body was Mr. Owens' while they
lived under new identities in Florida, enjoying the $104,000 Mrs.
Owens collected on his life insurance policy.
"An informant called me one day and told me the
body we had in the ground wasn't Mr. Owens like we thought it
was," said district attorney's investigator Quentin Conway, one of
the lead detectives on the case.
Police say it would be harder to get away with
the Owenses' scam today because of new technology, procedures and
cooperation between insurance companies, victims' families and
Pvt. Barnes' death was ruled accidental. The
two gunshot wounds were not noticed and the body was buried one
day after it was found. That wouldn't be likely today, police
"We have a crime lab here in Augusta now that
wasn't here then, and if we need people from the lab to go to a
crime scene they will," said Chief Deputy Sidney Hatfield of
Richmond County's Sheriff Department.
"Before the evidence had to be sent to the
crime lab in Atlanta and would take a while to get results back,"
the chief deputy said.
"We also can videotape crime scene. ... We're
much more thorough now," he said.
It was an Owens family members who told police
about the scam.
That's what happened to Pamela Hartley, 29, who
was arrested March 1, 1996, in Augusta while living with her
mother in her Richmond Hill Road home across the street from Mayor
Larry Sconyers' house, said Brian Stamper, special agent in charge
of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Mayport Naval
Station in Jacksonville, Fla.
Ms. Hartley, who grew up in Augusta, was
convicted in 1996 of killing her husband, Navy Lt. Verle Lee
Hartley, by poisoning him with arsenic 14 years ago while they
were living in Florida. Ms. Hartley received at least $35,000
insurance money, at least $10,000 a year in veterans benefits and
free military medical benefits.
"When she was questioned by investigators in
1982, she denied giving arsenic to her husband and there wasn't
enough evidence against her," Agent Stamper said.
But new technology and time helped the case.
"The investigators used data bases and the
Internet to find people who knew the Hartleys in the 1980s and to
locate her. Several witnesses said Mrs. Hartley had asked them
about hiring an assassin.
Some family members, friends and neighbors had
known for years she did this. Relationships change over the years,
so people who didn't say anything back then were willing to talk
now," the agent said.
There are no numbers kept on how many murders
involve insurance as a motive, and there's no way of telling how
many murders have been committed for money, police said .
Many police, insurance company representatives,
lawyers and officials say they were not surprised by Mrs. Spann's
alleged murder-for-money plot.
"I have worked on a good number of cases of
families coming to me wanting me to look into situations where
families questioned payment of life insurance benefits to a
possible suspect in a death. Those situations happen more
frequently than you would imagine," said Augusta attorney Steve
Curry who worked for Linda Williams' family when her husband Luke
Williams III, who was convicted in 1991 of killing his wife and
their adopted son in 1989, tried to get insurance money.
He is in South Carolina on death row and has
not gotten a penny because of efforts by her family, the insurance
company and police.
State Farm agent Frank Spears said insurance
companies go to great lengths to make sure they don't pay people
who are suspected in deaths of policy holders.
"If there is anything suspicious about a
person's death or if the beneficiary is facing any criminal
charges related to the policy holder's death the insurance company
will not pay the benefits until it's settled in court."
For two years from the date of issue of the
policy, insurance companies can contest a claim on a
life-insurance policy. After two years, it is harder to contest,
but if someone is charged in the death of the policy holder it
will be done and the insurance company will hire additional
investigators, file civil suits and work with the police and
families if that's what it takes, Mr. Spears said.
"Insurance companies made anything we needed
available to us for Mr. Williams' criminal trial. Mr. Williams had
forged Mrs. Williams' name on the life insurance policy. The
company made the original document available to us," said
Edgefield Sheriff's Department investigator Don Bullock, a lead
investigator in the homicide.
"We were subpoenaed to the civil trial. We
didn't go because they didn't need us because we got a criminal
conviction. But we would have went and did everything we could to
help the insurance company see that he didn't get any money after
killing his wife and child."
"We have a lot of insurance cases and arson
cases but nothing involving this much money. This was about a
million dollars he stood to get, But it feels great that he didn't
get a penny because of all of our combined efforts."
Five held in slaying
The Augusta Chronicle
May 13, 1997
After botching the first attempt Saturday
night, two teens went back to a Fort Gordon soldier's house on
Mother's Day, shot him in the face and chest and killed him in a
plot devised by the soldier's 31-year-old wife and her live-in
teenage boyfriend, police said.
Kevin Leroy Spann, 35, a supervisor in Company
D Signal Battalion 442 at Fort Gordon, was pronounced dead at
11:40 p.m. at his home at 3805 Old Waynesboro Road of gunshot
wounds, said Richmond County Deputy Coroner Grover Tuten.
Matthew Clark Piazzi, 16, a Hephzibah High
School ninth-grader who recently dropped out of school, was in
jail Monday charged with shooting Mr. Spann.
Gina Lynn Spann and her live-in boyfriend,
Larry Wayne Kelley, 18, along with Gerald Lewis Horne, 18, and
Christopher Lee Bargeron, 16, also were in jail Monday, each
charged with being a party to the crime of murder, said Chief
Deputy Ronald Strength of Richmond County Sheriff's Department.
"The motive was two life insurance policies on
Mr. Spann's life, totaling $300,000, that Mrs. Spann was the
beneficiary of," Chief Deputy Strength said.
According to police, Mrs. Spann and Mr. Kelley
were living in the same house with Mr. Spann.
She told police during questioning that she was
not employed, police said. Mr. Kelley had no known employment and
is a Butler High School 11th-grader.
Investigators said Monday that they weren't
sure how long Mrs. Spann and Mr. Kelley had been plotting to kill
Mr. Spann. But, police said, the idea to kill Mr. Spann was his
wife's. Once the decision to kill Mr. Spann was made, Mr. Kelley
called his friend Mr. Bergeron, a Butler ninth-grader, and he
referred them to Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne, police said.
"They were both (Mr. Horne and Mr. Piazzi)
offered $5,000 to be paid when the insurance-policy money was
received," Chief Deputy Strength said. The didn't receive any
money up front, he said.
Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne, a Hephzibah
10th-grader, went to the Spanns' home Saturday to kill Mr. Spann,
but he never came to the door, so they stole his car and shot into
a window, police said.
"No crime juveniles commit surprises me anymore
because they have access to weapons and will use them.°.°.° She
(Mrs. Spann) had time to change her mind," Chief Deputy Strength
Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne took his car to make
it look like a robbery or burglary, police said. The car was found
on Pearl Avenue and Brown Road early Monday, police said.
On both nights, Mrs. Spann and Mr. Kelley took
Mrs. Spann's 12year-old son and went out while they waited for the
killing to take place, police said.
On both nights, Mrs. Spann and Mr. Kelley
picked up Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne at the Royal Palms Motel on
Peach Orchard Road and dropped them off at the Spanns' house,
police said. When Mr. Spann answered the door, Mr. Piazzi fired
twice from not more than 3 feet away, hitting Mr. Spann once in
his chest and once in his cheek, police said.
About 10:45 p.m. Sunday, Mrs. Spann called
police from a neighbor's home and said her husband had been killed
and was lying in the living room near the front door.
"We questioned both of them (Mrs. Spann and Mr.
Kelley) separately and found that there were many inconsistencies
in their statements," Chief Deputy Strength said.
The interrogations led police to Mr. Piazzi,
Mr. Horne and Mr. Bargeron.
About 5 a.m. Monday, Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne
were arrested without incident at the Royal Palms Motel. They were
being held without bond at the Youth Detention Center on Monday
night. Mr. Piazzi was charged with murder and possession of a
firearm during the commission of a crime.
Early Monday, Mr. Piazzi led police to a
.38-caliber gun hidden in a field near Amoco Polymer, police said.
Police say that was the weapon used to kill Mr. Spann. They did
not know yet to whom the gun belongs or where the boys got it
because it had no serial number, but they think it belonged to one
of the boy's parents.
Mr. Piazzi's father, Richard Piazzi, said his
son went to Hephzibah High for the first semester of 9th grade but
no longer attends and that they were home-schooling him.
He said he had seen Mr. Horne before and told
his son he didn't want him hanging around him and others because
he didn't like the way they looked.
"I thought he had stopped hanging with them. I
don't know what happened yet. But I would hate to think he did
something like that," Mr. Piazzi said.
When asked if his son could have killed Mr.
Spann, he said, "Something went wrong. I don't know what happened
yet, but it didn't sound right that all of those boys would be
hanging around that woman."
Gina Lynn Spann
Gina Lynn Spann
Kevin Leroy Spann, 35, a supervisor
in Company D Signal Battalion 442 at Fort Gordon,
dead at his home at 3805 Old Waynesboro Road of gunshot wounds.
Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Leroy Spann, 35.