Accused killers of Peace Corps volunteer from Georgia acquitted

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Kate Puzey reads a book to her neighbors' children in November 2008/ Emilie Jacobs-Finnegan

Fresh out of surgery and recovering at home this weekend, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson may have suffered one of the most disappointing setbacks of his career.

More than 5,000 miles away, in the west African country of Benin, the four men accused in the 2009 murder of 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey of Georgia were acquitted on Saturday and set free.

“The trial lasted two full days. In the end, they were all let go,” said Isakson, still slightly hoarse from the after-effects of his four-day hospital stay last week.

Because the trial coincided with his surgery, Isakson was unable to make it to the court house. In his stead went U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. Puzey’s mother, Lois, and brother, David, bore witness as well. The case has been largely forgotten — I haven’t found a single international wire report on the verdict. The Peace Corps has issued a terse statement acknowledging the outcome.

Kate Puzey, who graduated from high school in Cumming, was an English instructor in a Benin village when, on Feb. 9, 2009, she sent an email to the country’s Peace Corps director. She reported that Constant Bio, who taught at Kate’s school and was regularly hired to put together to Peace Corps training sessions, was molesting local girls.logo-all

Word at headquarters leaked out. Jacques Bio, brother of Constant Bio, was an associate director for Peace Corps Benin.

One month later, Puzey was found dead on her front porch. Her throat had been slit.

The Bio brothers and two others were arrested. Isakson attended Puzey’s funeral, uninvited – and would spend the next seven years pushing Benin authorities to put Puzey’s accused killers on trial. He made three trips to Benin. He delivered a letter from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the country’s president. He visited the minister of justice. The FBI was made available.

In the meantime, Isakson developed a close relationship with Kate’s parents – to the point that Lois Puzey was featured in a 2016 campaign ad for Isakson. (Harry Puzey, Kate’s father, has since died of cancer.)

In our interview, Isakson noted that Benin’s legal system has its origins in the French, or Napoleonic system. Criminal trials are bench trials. There is no jury.

“I believe in the rule of law. We just didn’t have the influence to get the information that we needed to be heard before the court,” Isakson said.

Despite the outcome, the senator said he hoped the trial provided some closure for the Puzey family. In 2011, Isakson sponsored Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The measure increased protections for Peace Corps volunteers who are victims of violence, including sexual assault.

“I feel some self-satisfaction about that even if the verdict didn’t go our way,” Isakson said.

The senator, by the way, said his surgery – to fuse two discs in his lower back – was a success and that he intends to be back in Washington next Monday.

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The inaugural Miller Legacy Dinner will be held tonight at the Georgia World Congress Center. But the former governor whose name it honors won’t be able to make it.

A family spokesman sent word that Zell Miller isn’t able to travel and won’t be able to attend the event, which honors the brand-new Zell Miller Institute. A letter from him and his wife Shirley will be read at the gala.

“He regrets that he will miss it, but he greatly appreciates those who have supported this effort,” said the spokesman, Brian Robinson. “It means a lot to him that so many friends are coming to the first Miller Legacy Dinner.”

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young and House Speaker David Ralston will all be at the event, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson recorded a video tribute.

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David Perdue has made a name for himself in the U.S. Senate for criticizing Washington’s spendthrift ways and the country’s piling debt. So consider this carefully-crafted statement following the release of details about President Donald Trump’s opening offer on this year’s budget (which reportedly does not touch the biggest drivers of the federal deficit: entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare):

“Setting clear spending priorities is a good first step, but let’s be realistic, there is a lot we have to do to fix our country’s fiscal problems. We can’t simply cut spending to solve the debt crisis. In addition to cutting spending, we have to grow the economy, fix our broken budget process, save Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the spiraling cost of health care.

 

“I’m glad to see President Trump begin to realign Washington’s actions with the American peoples’ priorities, and I’m optimistic more can be done. We are going to have to take some bold actions if we want to dig out of this fiscal hole and tackle this debt crisis.”

This may be the closest Perdue has come so far to criticizing his ally’s policies.

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A tale of two fundraisers: Former state Sen. Dan Moody and ex-Johns Creek Councilman Bob Gray live in the same swanky Country Club of the South neighborhood in Johns Creek.

They also scheduled two fundraisers, just a day apart, with neighbors and donors. Gray is asking for considerably more cash, while Moody’s supporters include former Rep. Jack Kingston’s son Jim.

Compare and contrast:

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