Plot details against sheriff-elect emerge year after slaying

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- For months before sheriff-elect Derwin Brown's death, he was shadowed by would-be assassins who plotted to kill the man who'd boasted he would clean up a department mired in corruption, investigators say.

On December 15, 2000, the day before Brown was to take office, they got their chance. Brown was shot to death in his driveway, felled by 11 of the 16 bullets fired at him.

For nearly a year, the investigation stalled and sputtered. But on November 30, investigators charged three men with his murder.

The arrests came just days after former deputy Patrick Cuffy agreed to cooperate and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in an unrelated shootout at his home in March.

Cuffy and Paul Skyers -- who worked for a security company owned by incumbent DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey -- have since told investigators that the men spent Friday nights rehearsing Brown's killing, making practice runs to the neighborhood to prepare for the attack and the getaway.

The men agreed they would kill Brown if he was alone in a place with a clear escape route, investigators say, even drawing straws to determine who would be the triggerman.

Ex-deputy Melvin Walker drew the short straw, Cuffy and Skyers told authorities. According to their account of the night, Walker stepped from the shadows and opened fire with a Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol.

Even more compelling, perhaps, was that Cuffy and Skyers told investigators the men took their orders from Dorsey, who was angry about losing the election to Brown.

Dorsey, Walker and another man, David Isaiah Ramsey, have been charged with murder. Skyers and Cuffy have not been charged in relation to Brown's death.

The investigators' account of the plot to kill Brown emerged last week at Dorsey's bond hearing, where prosecutor Chris Harvey detailed his interviews with Cuffy.

"Two to three weeks after losing the primary election Sidney Dorsey showed Patrick Cuffy a note that said 'Kill Derwin Brown,"' Harvey said.

Cuffy told investigators Dorsey had a hit list that included a district attorney and at least four others, and that Dorsey promised the men promotions and jobs if they helped him.

Brown had been elected sheriff just months before, and he had announced plans to fire 38 jail employees, most of them appointed by Dorsey. Friends told the sheriff-elect to watch his back.

"The atmosphere was so hostile between Derwin Brown and Sidney Dorsey anything could have happened at anytime," said Harry Ross, a friend and political consultant to Brown.

Attorneys for the defendants deny their clients had anything to do with Brown's death. Dorsey's attorney, Brian Steel, said investigators are relying solely on Cuffy and Skyers. He believes they concocted the lie about Dorsey's involvement to avoid prosecution.

Investigators said Cuffy told them he met with Dorsey several times to discuss the murder and that Dorsey wanted Brown strangled so as not to leave any ballistic evidence.

Dorsey has gained support in the community since he was charged November 30. A group of clergy held a rally for him in front of the jail, just steps away from a memorial to Brown. Joyce Dorsey, the former sheriff's cousin, said the family has been in constant prayer.

"Ain't no way in the world they can convict him," said the Rev. Carl Dorsey, Dorsey's first cousin. "First of all, it's not true. If we're going to believe in truth, justice and the American way, he's free."

Dorsey was denied bond; Steel said he will appeal the decision and move for a speedy trial.
Regardless of who is punished in the slaying, Phyllis Brown said it will not ease the pain that comes from losing her husband.

"My pain comes from the fact that I've lost my lifelong partner," she said. "They can arrest 50 people, convict them, hang them, whatever, but it will still not bring my Derwin back."

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