YEAR IN REVIEW: Looking back at 2012

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New leadership: The passing of former Thorsby mayor Dearl Hilyer in October 2012 cast a pall over the installing of the new town council the next month.

Editor’s note: Below are briefs representing the top North Chilton County news stories of 2012 in chronological order.


Thorsby treasure threatened

In early January, the Helen Jenkins Chapel, a landmark of the town of Thorsby, was under serious threat.

The century-old church, founded by Swedish immigrants, had significant termite damage to much of the building, including a column that supported the church’s steeple. The discovery forced town leaders to close the church indefinitely and go to work on finding a way to preserve the special sanctuary.

The town learned about the damage in December 2011 when an engineer was brought in to look at the floors, which had dropped as much as 4.5 inches in one corner.

Thorsby had gotten a $5,000 grant to repair the floor, but the engineer, Dwight Austin of Austin Engineering, LLC, soon found bigger problems.

His inspection showed that the steeple column could fail any moment and that floor settling was prevalent throughout the building.

In May, shopping in Thorsby would help save a local landmark.

The town council decided to donate part of sales tax collected in May to help restore the chapel.

The council voted to set aside a third of all retail sales tax collected in May for renovations.

In August, the Thorsby Town Council approved a rental fee schedule for the renovated chapel.


Man convicted of murder appeals death sentence

A man convicted of the murders of four people, including two Thorsby Elementary students, appealed his death sentence.

Michael Brandon Samra claimed his punishment was “improper” because co-defendant Mark Duke’s death sentence was changed to life in prison based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Duke, who was 16 at the time of the murders in 1997, and Samra killed Duke’s father, Randy Duke, after a dispute over the family truck. In trying to cover up the crime, the two killed three other people in the Pelham residence: Randy Duke’s girlfriend, Dedra Hunt, and her daughters, 7 year-old Chelsea and 6-year-old Chelisa.

The girls were both students at Thorsby School.

Duke was convicted in 1999 and given the death sentence. The death sentence was commuted to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that no one could be executed because of crimes committed while under the age of 18.

Samra and his counsel filed an argument on Jan. 23 that Samra’s death sentence is improper because Duke was more culpable in the crimes and was receiving a lesser sentence.

The state attorney general’s office filed a brief refuting the claim.