Murder Probe Spans Years, State Lines

Willie James Hodges, 41, also known as "Pratt" from Epes, Ala., is now facing murder charges in Florida, Alabama, and Ohio.

The first murder that he's charged with happened on Nov. 26, 2001 at a quiet ranch-style house just outside Gainesville, Ala., in Sumter County.

On that day, the owner, Winnie Johnson, 66, was found murdered after an apparent burglary.

Investigators say Johnson was found shot to death in a bedroom, and the incident happened between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. They say she was found during the late morning hours by her husband after he returned from running errands.

For three years, Sumter County Sheriff Johnny Hatter says the investigation was deadlocked until they began working with investigators in Escambia County, Fla., on a murder with similar circumstances that happened about a month after Johnson's death.

"One thing that turned up was we were able to get a witness to say that he had talked to her about the case and someone assisted him to come to the house," said Sheriff Hatter. "That person who assisted him will be arrested after he's released from medical care."

Hatter said another break in the case came in September 2004 when his officers were able to track down the stolen high-powered rifle used in the Johnson murder. It was found in a house in Greene County, Ala.

Robert James "Buckhound" Henley from Boligee, Ala., was arrested at that time and charged with receiving stolen property and hindering prosecution first degree.

Meanwhile, Hatter says more arrests are likely.

"The young man who brought him here will be arrested as soon as he goes before the grand jury and possibly some more arrests. I'm not sure yet," the sheriff said.

As for Hodges, the third murder charge involves a similar case in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sheriff Hatter says he could soon also face a fourth murder charge in another part of Ohio.

If convicted, Hodges faces the death penalty in all of the cases. His case is expected to come before a Sumter County grand jury in the spring of 2005.


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