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Donnie Allen HULETT






A.K.A.: "D. J."
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: July 22, 2002
Date of arrest: August 2, 2002
Date of birth: April 16, 1981
Victims profile: Larry Phelps, 62, and Arvine Phelps, 69 (brothers)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Walker County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 29, 2004

Hulett was sentenced to death for robbing, shooting and beating Larry Phelps, 62, and Arvine Phelps, 69, on July 22, 2002. The two brothers were clearing brush near the Mountain Top Boys Home, a residence for teenagers who have been in juvenile court. Hulett then stole Larry Phelps' pickup truck. He was arrested on Aug. 2, 2002 in Casa Grande, Ariz.


A Walker County Superior Court judge on Thursday sentenced convicted murderer Donnie Allen “D.J.” Hulett to death


In Georgia, death row inmates die by lethal injection.

“The court fixes the sentence of death on both (murder) counts 1 and 2,” Judge Jon “Bo” Wood read from his ruling.

Wood set Hulett’s execution between June 1 and June 8, although it will not likely occur at that time.

“There will be many appeals, I’m sure,” Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin said.

“I’ve speculated that our grandchildren will be going to appeals,” said Sue Phelps, widow of murder victim Arvine Phelps.

Hulett was convicted last week for the shooting and bludgeoning death of Arvine, 69, and his brother, Larry Phelps, 62, while they were clearing brush at the Mountain Top Boys Home in Villanow on July 22, 2002.

Larry Hill, a LaFayette attorney representing Hulett, tearfully read a statement prepared by his client before Wood made his ruling.

“If I only had one wish, it would be for my life to be better than it was,” he said. “Soon it will be time to end the life.

“My mother don’t want me. My dad don’t want me,” he said. “The only people that have ever cared for me are either dead or can’t help me.”

Both families laid blame for the deaths and death penalty on “the system.”

“It’s (Hulett’s behavior) been predictable since probably the third grade,” Sue Phelps said. “The system didn’t do its job.”

“If they had put a hold on him, he would still be in jail, the Phelps brothers would be alive, and he wouldn’t be on death row,” Jerry Langston said. It’s not that we want him in jail, but we sure didn’t want this.”

Langston is Lynn Harrell’s fiance, wh o is Hulett’s mother.

Relatives of the convicted murderer took the stand on Thursday during the second day of a sentencing hearing.

Hulett Jr. fought back his tears as he listened to his mother and father dig through their past filled with drugs, booze and constant moving around south Georgia.

Lynn Harrell, Hulett’s mother, testified she smoked marijuana and cigarettes during her preg-nancy with her son. He would be her second child after having a daughter in a previous marriage.

“When he was little, D.J. would get mad if you didn’t turn the joint around and let him lick the paper,” Hulett’s mom said.

“It (drugs) was a way of life in our neighborhood,” Donnie Hulett Sr. said, adding he met Harrell at a “little beer store.”

Both parents testified they fought and struggled in front of Hulett while he was growing up.

The couple began raising their son with his parents, Hugh and Betty. Harrell was not fond of her baby’s grandparents.

“He (Hugh Hulett) was supposed to be a preacher, but he sat around drinking every day,” Harrell said.

“My dad was an educated man, but he was an alcoholic,” Donnie Hulett Sr. said. “He was an ordained minister who let alcohol take over his life.”

Hulett Sr. said his father would sometimes “go on a bender” when he would drink until he ran out of money or places to find liquor. There were several times he had to be admitted to the hospital to “dry out.”

Despite their flaws, Donnie Hulett Jr. and his grandparents loved each other, Hulett Sr. said. They died a year apart from each other while he was about 12 years old. That is when he started getting into trouble.

Hulett Sr. said he was concerned about his son’s cruelty to animals, arson, “huffing” gas, be-ing a bully to smaller children and getting marijuana from his friends. Hulett Sr. attributed the problems to Hulett Jr.’s way of dealing with his grandparents’ deaths.

“He started getting into trouble,” Hulett Sr. said. “I wasn’t real concerned at first. I figured he would straighten out.”

School officials began reporting that Hulett Jr. was skipping school at 12 years old, and once he ran away to live in a relative’s cabin for several days. That landed him in a youth detention center.

“He seemed not to care any more,” Hulett Sr. said. “We’ve carried him to a psychiatrist sev-eral times.”

When Hulett Jr. was 14, he swallowed his father’s blood pressure medicine after fighting with his current wife, Barbara “Cookie” Hulett.

Barbara Hulett described Hulett Jr.’s relationship with his mother as a “love-hate relation-ship,” adding he wanted to see his mother but she was not there for him.

“It seemed to be a normal relationship,” Harrell’s fiance Jerry Langston said.“

When Donnie Hulett Jr. was about 18 months old, Harrell left him with a friend to leave town with a traveling carnival. Donnie Hulett Sr. took that opportunity to reclaim his son, and said his mother did not see him again until he was 12 years old.

Hulett Sr. said when he brought his 18-month-old son home, he only wanted to eat cold food out of cans, and was able to open the cans be himself.


Slayings jolt UMs, others who knew brothers

By Alice M. Smith - Wesleyan Christian Advocate

August 2, 2002

The United Methodist connection is reeling across North Georgia following the senseless and brutal murders of two church members working on a mission project under the auspices of United Methodist Men.

Brothers Larry Phelps, 62, a member of Trinity UMC in Dalton, and Arvine Phelps, 69, a member of Dalton First, were shot at point-blank range by a gunman who robbed them and stole Larry Phelps' truck as the two men were clearing land at the Mountain Top Boys Home in Walker County. The United Methodist Men of the North Georgia Conference are providing labor for the construction of two homes and a chapel at the home, which serves as an alternative placement center for boys aged 14-17 who have been sent there by the court. 

The first home is under construction, and the men were clearing land for the second home, according to Burt Bridges, a member of the Mountain Top board and of Peachtree Road UMC in Atlanta which has given a great deal of support to the home. "It's a tragedy in the first word," Bridges said.  "Here are two good people, who were retired and could be doing anything they wanted, just trying to do good work for mankind and help us at the boys' home do something good for troubled boys, and their life gets snipped out by an irresponsible person or persons."

Walker County police identified Donnie Allen Hulett, 21, as the suspect in the case, and a manhunt was on for him as the Advocate went to press July 26. Both victims were retired teachers-Arvine Phelps taught mathematics at Dalton Junior College and Larry Phelps was an elementary school teacher in Whitfield County. Both were active in their churches and were always willing to extend a helping hand when the need arose, said their pastors and others. 

"Arvine was just really committed to the Lord and the work of the church," said the Rev. Steven Lyle, pastor of Dalton First.  "He loved helping folks, but he did it quietly and didn't put the spotlight on himself. ... He left us in the midst of doing God's work, and to me that is a great testimony to Arvine." Likewise, the Rev. Randy Healan, pastor of Trinity, described Larry Phelps as being "really active in the church, from being an usher to United Methodist Men to helping out doing things.  He was always helping people."

Larry Phelps, Bridges noted, not only worked on the Mountain Top grounds as a volunteer but also spent time with the residents.  "He got to know the boys, and the boys got to know him.  He would come and have breakfast with them and fellowship with them.  He was just a good man." Following the murders, the Mountain Top residents were sent to their respective homes for about a week.  Upon their return July 28, a memorial service was held at the home.

Funeral services for both men took place on July 26 at their respective churches a few hours apart.

United Methodist Men's commitment to the construction project at the boys home is unwavering, said Tom Lowery, Dalton District president, and Joe Kilpatrick, conference president.  UMM plans to build a memorial to the slain brothers on the home's grounds, Lowery said. "I don't think the men will be defeated, discouraged by this," Kilpatrick said, "but they will respond with renewed dedication to honor the Phelps brothers ... by continuing their tradition of service."

He said the slayings point to the need for the services the home provides and that the murders might have been prevented had the perpetrator been helped as a child to overcome his problems.  "This demonstrates why redemption is so necessary, why the church has such an important role to play.   We hope that Mountain Top work and the work of redemption that goes on there will be in place for the new generation of boys." The home is operated by an independent board of directors but has always received much United Methodists support.  The nearly 500 acres of heavily wooded land on which the facilities are located is owned by the Atlanta-Marietta District, which rents the property to the home for a token amount each year.

Presently the home can accommodate up to 12 boys in one dormitory who attend school on site and usually stay there from nine to 12 months.  About 80 percent of the boys who are age eligible receive their GEDs at the school, Bridges said. Peachtree Road has been involved at the home for 10 or 12 years since the church conducted its first Great Day of Service, when volunteers fanned out to work in various mission projects in the area.  When the church conducted its Abundant Heart Campaign to raise a million dollars to give away in conjunction with a building program at the church, the congregation gave $175,000 to the home to be matched by other gifts.

"We have matched that money with grants and other funding," Bridges said, which is being used to help build the two new homes and chapel.  Pews from the remodeled chapel at Peachtree Road will be used in the Mountain Top chapel. The church has been involved in other ways, giving seed money for the school and providing volunteer labor. Like Bridges, Peachtree member Alton Conway serves on the board and has been involved in the construction work at the home. The church's Boy Scouts  have camped out with the residents at the home and worked on projects there.


Donnie Hulett


The victims


Arvine, 69, and his brother, Larry Phelps, 62.



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