District Attorney's Office


Conasauga Judicial Circuit of Georgia

   Serving Murray & Whitfield Counties


September 27, 2018 (Dalton) – Jay Thomas Burlison (75), formerly of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, was convicted today by a Whitfield County Jury for the offenses of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault arising from the November 12, 1984 shooting death of Earnest Griffin, shooting of Mary Burlison (now Mealer) and attempted shooting of Ronald Harris. The trial was presided over by Superior Court Judge Scott Minter and Burlison was represented by Micah Gates of the Public Defender’s Office. Judge Minter has set sentencing for Tuesday, October 2nd at 2 PM.

Burlison was indicted by a Whitfield County Grand Jury in late 1984 for murder and aggravated assault. Mary Burlison had filed for divorce alleging domestic violence and Mr. Burlison had actually been arrested for battery against Mary two weeks prior to the shooting. The evening of the shooting, Burlison told his oldest step-daughter, Ann, that the next time he saw her mother he was going to kill her and anyone she was with. The couple had been separated for approximately two months at that point and Mary had recently won a temporary hearing in the divorce receiving custody of the one child she had with Burlison and receiving a restraining order that Burlison stay away from her and her place of employment. Shortly before the shooting, around midnight, Burlison arrived at the Golden Gallon in Rocky Face (now a Kangaroo) where Mary was store manager. He parked and exited his vehicle with a .22 caliber revolver and began shooting. Evidence showed that he first shot Earnest Griffin in the head. Mr. Griffin had recently begun a romantic relationship with Mary. Burlison then proceeded to shoot once at Mary missing and hitting an ice cooler and then chased her to her vehicle where he shot her four times before running out of bullets. Burlison then chased Mary into the store striking her in the head with the butt of the gun and attempted to shoot the store clerk, Ronald Harris, but was unable to do so because the gun was empty by that point.

After the shooting, Burlison fled the jurisdiction and the state and was not located until earlier this year. Whitfield County Detectives Glenn Swinney and Greg Putnam investigated the case in 1984. Swinney, now Chief Investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, testified about the man-hunt for Burlison in the days and weeks following the shooting and about his continued efforts to locate Burlison over the intervening 34 years. Based on Swinney’s investigation, it appears that Burlison never again held a driver’s license, never worked for a paycheck where taxes were withheld, never registered another vehicle or had utilities registered in his name and otherwise lived “off-grid” since 1984 until late 2017 when his health began to decline and he moved back to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee where he was originally from and where he still had family. Due to his health situation, either he or someone on his behalf registered him for Medicare and for benefits through the Veterans Administration. That use of his social security number triggered a notification back to the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office in March of this year which reopened the investigation. Burlison was arrested on July 2nd in Lawrenceburg by Swinney with the assistance of Domestic Violence Investigator Jeff Silvers, also of the District Attorney’s Office.

The trial of the case was hampered by the intervening death of two important witnesses, including the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, and by the loss of all physical evidence including three bullets, one recovered from the ice cooler at the scene, one from Mary at the hospital and one from Earnest Griffin’s head at autopsy. A further challenge was that one of the two eye witnesses, Ronald Harris, had subsequently been convicted in 1996 in Ohio for child rape. Harris was serving a life sentence and had to be transported from the Ohio prison system to Georgia by Whitfield County deputies and returned afterward. The jury was made aware of Harris’ conviction. Burlison faces up to 20 years to serve in prison on each count.

Update – October 2, 2018 – Superior Court Judge Scott Minter sentenced Mr. Burlison today to serve 20 years in prison on each count consecutive for a total of 60 years. At sentencing, Judge Minter advised Burlison that while some may see him as he is today, an old man in a wheel chair, others remember him as the man he was in 1984 and have not forgotten what he did and what harm he caused. Prior to sentencing, Eric Griffin, the son of Earnest Griffin, testified and told the Court about what sort of man Earnest Griffin had been and what time he has missed with his father over the past 34 years.

Bert Poston
District Attorney
Conasauga Judicial Circuit

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Bert Poston,
District Attorney

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