An old saying goes, “If you play with fire long enough, you’re going to get burned.” The same holds true for repeat criminals in Georgia – “If you are convicted of enough felonies, you’re going away for a long time.” Ricky Lamar Priester, 32, of Thomaston, a repeat offender, is finding that out, facing life without parole behind bars after being found guilty last week of the 2014 home invasion of a Thomaston resident.
The Georgia Recidivist Act, sometimes called the ‘Three Strikes Law,’ states that if a person with three prior felony convictions is convicted of another felony that does not require the death penalty, the person must do the maximum sentence the judge gives them without the possibility of parole.
Following a jury trial last week, Priester was found guilty on two of five charges – Home Invasion and Impersonating a Public Officer. Because Priester already had three prior felony convictions on his record, Upson County Superior Court Judge W. Fletcher Sams sentenced him to life in prison on the Home Invasion charge, and 10 years to serve, consecutive to Count 1 on the Impersonating a Public Officer charge.
Priester’s two accomplices, father and daughter Samuel and Kristen Piper, are also facing jail time, but accepted plea deals in return for testifying against Priester. Samuel Jackson Piper, 48, was given 20 years on the Home Invasion charge, with 12 years to serve, followed by eight years probation. Kristen Nicole Piper, 25, was also given 20 years on the Home Invasion charge, but will serve five years, with 15 years probation.
The trial actually happened twice last week. The first trial started on Monday and ended Tuesday with a hung jury – 11 members voted to convict, but one member would not go along. According to District Attorney Scott Ballard, there have been allegations suggesting “foul play” involving the holdout juror. The DA’s office is looking further into those allegations.
Assistant District Attorney Ben Coker seated a second set of 12 jurors and started the trial again Wednesday morning. According to Ballard, Judge Sams took no chances of additional jury tampering. He ordered meals delivered to the jurors and kept them at the courthouse from start to finish. The trial began at 9 a.m. The jury verdict was read at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday night.
The home invasion occurred on December 27, 2014. Kristen Piper had become friends with a homeowner on Joe White Street, and helped set up the invasion. Priester and Samuel Piper went to the house and presented themselves as police officers, showing the homeowner police badges and guns. After gaining entrance to the home, they kept the homeowner from leaving and demanded money and narcotics.
A neighbor of the victim noticed what was going on and found it suspicious and called 911. When Thomaston Police Officers arrived on the scene, they found one of the two men still in the house and arrested him. Moments later, Thomaston police stopped a suspicious vehicle and arrested the other male suspect and a female accomplice identified as Kristen Piper.
Priester and Samuel Piper were both charged with Home Invastion, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Assault, False Imprisonment, and Impersonating a Public Officer. Kristen Piper was charged with Home Invasion, Armed Robbery, and Tampering with Evidence.
At his trial, the jury found Priester not guilty on the charges of Armed Robbery, Aggravated Assault, and False Imprisonment. After pleading guilty to the Home Invasion charges, the other charges against the Pipers were not pursued.
Priester is allowed to appeal the judge’s ruling, and an appeal is expected.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.