Detective: Woman was 'tortured' before dying

LAWRENCEVILLE — A 61-year-old business owner was bound and shot at least a half-dozen times before dying in her Snellville bedroom earlier this month, a detective testified Thursday.

The alleged killer, Conyers resident Damion Barton, 31, had lived with the victim and her husband and thought of her affectionately enough to call her “aunt,” the detective said.

Police found Eva May Francis’ body leaning against a nightstand, her hands bound with a phone cord and mouth covered with tape, her blood-stained bed strewn with credit cards and banking information. An autopsy showed she had been shot in her mouth, chest, abdomen, knees and thighs, testified Gwinnett police Det. Shelly Millsap.

“From the (autopsy) findings ... we believe she was tortured,” Millsap testified.

Francis and her husband, Earl, own cleaning and lingerie businesses in DeKalb County, Miami and Canada, where she was buried. She was known to carry home bank bags containing $2,000 each, which have not been accounted for, Millsap testified.

The murder weapon, a 9 mm handgun, and Francis’ silver 2003 Toyota 4Runner have not been recovered. Her bank accounts have not been affected, Millsap testified.

A suspect from the outset, Barton was arrested on murder charges Sept. 18 in the killing that had happened 10 days prior. He admitted to police he visited Francis’ home the night she died, but claimed he had left by 9 p.m., before she returned from work. Subpoenaed call records for a cell phone he was carrying told a different story, putting his phone near the home until the wee hours of the morning, Millsap said.

A girlfriend of Barton’s told investigators he showed up at her Atlanta home about 4:30 a.m. the next morning, driving a silver SUV and giving her about $300 cash to pay bills, according to testimony.

Francis and her husband had kicked Barton out of their Garnet Way home around Memorial Day after he’d driven a vehicle without permission, the family told police.

Millsap said Barton changed his story when confronted with the phone records. He claimed to have been picked up near Francis’ home by a woman who took him to a nearby bar, where they chatted in the parking lot, Millsap said.

“(Barton) said he built himself up to be some kind of big-time drug dealer,” and that maybe the stranger who picked him up had sicced robbers on the Francis’ home, where she thought he lived, the detective said.

Barton, sporting a wispy goatee and lopsided, teased-out hairdo, nodded repeatedly as if to support the story he’d told police as Millsap recounted it.

During cross-examination, Barton’s defense attorney, Edwin Wilson, called attention to the fact that no forensic evidence has been found yet to link his client to the crime scene. Nonetheless, Magistrate Judge Bob Mitchum bound the murder charge against Barton to Superior Court for a possible indictment.

Barton remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.