I-TEAM: Digging into past of suspect in killings of ex-wife, her friend

Ex-Glynn County lieutenant dead after standoff; 2 others killed

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor, Corley Peel - Reporter, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A Glynn County police lieutenant described by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as a suspect in the killings of his ex-wife and her male friend had recently been arrested and ordered to stay out of the county. 

Based on Robert "Corey" Sasser's background, friends and legal experts believe more could have been done before the slayings Thursday evening in Southeast Georgia.

"The history with Corey Sasser has been devastating in this community for so long," said Billy Reddick, who was friends with Sasser and his ex-wife, Katie Kettles-Sasser. "The court system could've done a lot better of a job."

The News4Jax I-TEAM learned the divorce between Sasser and Kettles-Sasser was finalized this week, before the double shooting in McIntosh County on Thursday night, which was followed by a slow-speed chase and then a SWAT standoff in front of the ex-officer's Brunswick home.

McIntosh County Sheriff Steve Jessup said deputies arrived just before 10 p.m. Thursday to find Johnny Hall Jr., 39, dead in his driveway and Kettles-Sasser, 34, dead in the house on Tolomato Island. Investigators said it appeared Hall and Sasser had exchanged gunfire.

A pursuit of Sasser ended at his Brunswick home in neighboring Glynn County. The Glynn County Police Department SWAT team fired tear gas into the truck and then found Sasser, 41, dead of a single gunshot wound to the chest. 

READ MORE: McIntosh County sheriff names 3 dead in Georgia

On Tuesday, Sasser and Kettles-Sasser were in court together for a hearing on the divorce. A family friend told News4Jax that's when the divorce was finalized and Kettles-Sasser was awarded full custody of their 9-year-old son. 

Although Sasser was court-ordered to stay out of Glynn County, he was allowed to enter the county to go to court.

According to family friends, Sasser wasn't taking the divorce well. Friends of Kettles-Sasser and Hall said said the two were in a relationship and Sasser had previously threatened to kill them.

A longtime friend told News4Jax that Kettles-Sasser feared for her life. 

"He finds her in a restaurant, threatens her again, right, to kill her when he’s not even supposed to be around her," said the friend who had known Kettles-Sasser since high school. "I’m just going to pray for that little boy because that’s the thing that makes me so upset."

A family friend who was at the home Friday told News4Jax that he spoke with Sasser just a few hours before the shootings. The family friend said he had no idea something would happen, but knew Sasser was upset. 

He said Sasser was distraught ever since he found out Kettles-Sasser was with another man, lost custody of his younger son and lost his job -- on top of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military

Ex-lieutenant's background

The I-TEAM looked into Sasser's past.

In 2005, Sasser, then a sergeant with the Glynn County Police Department, shot and wounded a convicted drug dealer. Sasser was cleared in that case.

In 2010, Sasser was cleared in the fatal shooting of Caroline Small during a police chase. That same year, Sasser was promoted to lieutenant.

After seven years of marriage, Sasser and his wife, Kettles-Sasser, separated in March.

Since that separation, family and friends said that Sasser went downhill.

Richard Pari, one of his good friends, said Sasser loved his two sons -- his 9-year-old he had with Kettles-Sasser and the 20-year-old he had with a previous wife.

"It's sad, you know, because now he has two boys and this family left behind," Pari said. "That being said, we have to think about everybody involved in this."

Pari said Sasser was getting help for PTSD, but it wasn’t enough.

I-TEAM: Digging into ex-Glynn County lieutenant's background

"The man had a cry for help. He needed somebody to help him," Pari said. "Somewhere in the system, it broke and he didn’t get the help he needed. I think all this could’ve been avoided if you had counseling and was able to talk to people."

Things escalated last month. Sasser was arrested May 13 on a charge of domestic battery after police said he went to his then-estranged wife's home, tried to kick down the door and threatened to kill her. He was released on bond after that incident. He was allowed to have contact with his wife and was allowed to have guns. 

The Glynn County Police Department suspended Sasser on March 15. 

On May 17, Sasser was arrested after a standoff in the woods with police.

The Glynn County Police Department fired Sasser on May 24 following an internal investigation.

After the second arrest, Sasser was Baker Acted, and was ordered to have no contact with his wife and to give up his guns and not possess any other firearms.

Additionally, Magistrate Judge R. Flay Cabiness ordered that Sasser stay out of Glynn County. Sasser was ordered to live with his sister in Alabama, seek treatment for PTSD and report to a private bond agency every 30 days. He could travel to Glynn County, but only for court appearances. He had to notify the bond agency 48 hours ahead of time and had leave the county within two hours after the court proceedings. 

READ: Court documents

Records show a private company, CSRA Probation Services, was contracted by the Glynn County court to keep track of Sasser, who was not ordered to wear a GPS monitor. Josh Askew, a bail bondsman, told the I-TEAM that he believes that was a mistake.

Askew said he feels more should have been done to protect the victims. But he points out the judge and police are bound by the laws in place.

The I-TEAM asked Askew whether Sasser should have been allowed out on bond.

"We can ask many people that and just play with what their beliefs are and what their opinions are. It is their constitutional right to have bond, again, unless they are a flight risk or a capital felony," Askew said. "So it is really up to the judge to make that decision."

The I-TEAM left a message for the owner of CSRA, but had not heard back from him as of early Friday evening. The judge on the case declined to make a statement Friday.

Attorney weighs in

Many friends and legal experts told the I-TEAM that they believe the shootings were preventable.

"This is a tragedy, and these people killed should have, in no way, had the system fail them so rapidly, so repeatedly. Kind of everybody, in some way, has a little bit of blood on their hands," said attorney John Phillips, who has an office in Brunswick. "I’d like to know what the judge knew when the judge made the decision the judge made."

Phillips, who is not affiliated with the case, said given Sasser’s violent history, someone should have seen the red flags and kept Sasser in jail or at least on closer watch.

"It seems troublesome to me that he was allowed bond with this threat out there," he said.

Phillips believes that the families of Kettles-Sasser and Hall have wrongful death lawsuits, because the government should have done more to protect them.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.