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November 14, 2004 - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)

Couple Lived In Fear Of Past

By Craig Schneider and Bill Torpy

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

MOULTRIE - Jaime and Katerina Resendez lived in fear. They told friends they were trying to escape something from their past.

A year ago, drug agents raided their trailer in Berrien County and found 138 pounds of marijuana, authorities said. The couple immediately cooperated with investigators, leading to the arrests of several drug dealers in Texas, and reportedly to the drug's source in Mexico.

Since then, the couple had tried to rebuild their lives. They started settling down. After moving three times in the past year, they moved a few months ago into a one-story brick home in Colquitt County, close to Katerina's family. Both had jobs. The state had returned some of the children who had been removed from their care after the bust. The children were enrolled in school.

Lisa Gaines hired Katerina to work in her horse auction business and rented the family a house. Katerina had confided her fears. Gaines said Katerina had told her the drug arrest "was a blessing that it happened. It was something to straighten her out, she said."

"We prayed together," Gaines said. Katerina, she added, was "living for her kids."

But on Monday, trouble stormed back into their lives. The couple were shot to death execution-style in their home. Also killed were the couple's 3-year-old son, Juan Carlos; Katerina's mother, Betty Watts, who lived nearby; and Liliana Aguilar, 30, who lived with the family.

No suspects have been identified in the killings, though police believe there may be a connection to the couple's cooperation with authorities in the drug case.

Colquitt County Sheriff Al Whittington, who is assisting in the murder investigation led by the GBI, believes the killings were not the result of a robbery gone haywire. He suspects the couple knew the killers, even felt comfortable with them, and the slayings may trace back to the couple's drug-dealing past.

The crime scene just doesn't add up to a robbery, Whittington said. There was no forced entry. The crime took place in the middle of the day, at a house with people inside. Even after the slayings, there was still cash in the house, as well as electronics, he said.

Whittington believes the killers spent a considerable amount of time in the home. The boy's father apparently had time to try to hide the boy from the killers, authorities said. His body was found partially concealed under a blanket in a bedroom, between a mattress and headboard. The boy was shot in the head.

The killing of the child, in particular, seems to indicate the killers knew the family, said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, a longtime investigator. He believes they were killing every possible witness.

Whittington suspects the house was ransacked in a search for drugs or large amounts of cash.

Several family members have told authorities the couple had been apprehensive but not in fear for their lives.

"They did feel something brewing," Whittington said.

The murder scene was discovered by four children coming home from school, ages 12, 9, 7 and 5. Three of the children, who are Katerina's, are now living with their grandfather, Jerry Watts, who lost his wife, Betty, in the killings. The other child, a 12-year-old nephew, was taken into care by state child welfare officials.

Katerina's three children have hardly talked of the killings, said Mary Norman, Jerry Watts' sister. The family has tried to surround them with loving adults and children who keep them playing.

"We're trying to keep things as normal as possible," Norman said, "to keep them from being depressed."

Some family members question why authorities did not protect the couple in exchange for the help they gave in the drug case.

"If I was trying to help, I would hope they'd give me some protection," said Norman.

Berrien County Sheriff Jerry Brogdon, who arrested the couple and helped in the larger drug-dealing investigation, said he protected the couple as much as he could by not releasing their names after the drug bust. Also, their court case had been put on hold following the outcome of the broader investigation, he said.

Law enforcement officials say few informants receive much more protection than that.

Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis, who is based in LaGrange, said state authorities can do little to protect informants "other than keeping an eye on them and keep their names out of the public. The truth is there are so many informants, it would be impossible to protect them all."

Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said the state has no formal system to protect informants.

For their own part, the couple were not necessarily living a secretive life. They had moved back to Katerina's home area, only two counties away from their original drug bust. In addition, they were known for having neighborhood parties and frequent visitors. They had not informed Brogdon of their latest move.

Mourners gathered Friday at Mount Zion Baptist Church to attend the funeral for three of the victims --- Katerina, her son Juan Carlos, and her mother, Betty. Jaime Resendez's body will be returned to Mexico for burial.

Jerry Watts hopes to keep his grandchildren, Norman said. "They just lost their brother and mommy and daddy and grandma," she said.

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