5 years after police chief's slaying, Grant still grieves - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

5 years after police chief's slaying, Grant still grieves

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By Barbara Czura - email
Posted by Dana Franks - email

GRANT, AL (WAFF) -- Jury selection is underway in the Jerid Eldridge trial. Eldridge is charged with the murder of Grant Police Chief Verlon Lemaster.

Eldridge is the second suspect to go to trial in this case. The first trial ended in a guilty verdict for Brian Butler, the teenager accused of pulling the trigger. Now his accused accomplice is going before a jury nearly six years after the shooting.

On August 15, 2003, Lemaster entered a home off Cathedral Caverns Highway. He and officers from surrounding agencies were trying to pick up a runaway.

Investigators said Butler and Eldridge were hiding in a closet. Several shots were fired and Lemaster was hit.

Emergency crews were on the scene in minutes, but Lemaster later died at Huntsville Hospital.

"When they said it was him, everybody was just heartbroken," said his friend Paul Headrick.

A memorial for Lemaster now stands at City Hall and his picture hangs on the wall of the Grant police station.

"When they look over my shoulder, they know Verlon Lemaster's on my shoulder and I'll never forget where he came from," said Grant Police Chief Roger Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle said it's a daily reminder for him of what who he hopes to be.

"He had severed the community with all of his heart, his loyalty," he said. "He was the type of person if he'd give you the shirt off his back."

Eldridge's trial is the second murder trial Lemaster's sister Brenda Barnes has had to sit through in the past few years.

"It's been very hard," Barnes said. "It'll be six years in august and it's been tough."

Barnes said the painful struggle hasn't gotten any easier.

"I just can't imagine why this happened and I would love to understand it," she said. "I'd love to be able to understand why."

Porky's Restaurant is down the road from the police department. Lemaster visited there every day and even had his own table. Years after his death, the community still grieves.

"We'll get closure, but we won't really stop missing him, really," Headrick said. "Every time you drive by City Hall and see that monument sitting there, we think of him."

Robert Martin has lived in Grant all his life. He said Lemaster was more than a police chief, but was also a special friend. Martin and Barnes both said they hope this final trial will help them find closure.

"We need closure of some sort for the families that were involved and the friends," Martin said. "We just want this to end."

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