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On this day twenty-three years ago, two local law enforcement officers lost their lives when a 55-year-old man ambushed and fatally shot them while on duty.
On January 3, 2000, Broxton patrol officer James Bryant, 35, was dispatched to assist a property owner in removing a trailer from his property on the north side of Broxton. Willie Mitchell, known as a "recluse and hermit," was living in the mobile home at the time.
Mitchell hid a high-powered rifle in the woods behind the trailer before Bryant, and other officers arrived, according to the evidence presented during his trial. When Bryant arrived, Mitchell dashed into the woods, retrieved the gun, and shot Bryant in the head and both arms. Staff Sgt. Clyde Almond "Tub" Merritt of the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia State Patrol trooper Lisa Stocks arrived to assist.
Sgt. Merritt provided cover for Stocks as she attempted to crawl to Bryant after he had been shot. Mitchell then opened fire at Sgt. Merritt, fatally shooting him in the chest.
Mitchell remained in the woods with his weapons for some time as local law enforcement and officers from all local agencies surrounded the property. He was eventually apprehended and arrested on various charges, including two counts of malice murder.
In November 2006, Mitchell was found guilty of the charges by a Ware County jury.
Following his conviction, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Sgt. Merritt had worked as an employee with the Coffee County Sheriff's Office for ten years. He shared three daughters with his wife.
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