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Man charged with murder, feticide in cold case deaths of south Georgia family found burned in home

Jason Michael Walker, 47, was arrested and charged with murder in the deaths of the Wideman family, whose bodies were found shot and burned in March 2002.
Credit: via Emileigh Forrester / WALB

REBECCA, Ga. — A Georgia man has been charged with murder in the deaths of three people - including a pregnant woman - nearly two decades after the crime.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, authorities arrested Jason Michael Walker, 47, of Pulaski County, and charged him with murder, aggravated assault, and first degree arson.

The charges are in connection with the deaths of Thomas Wideman, 51, Deborah Wideman, 48, and Melissa Wideman, 20. Walker was also charged with feticide for causing the death of Melissa Wideman’s unborn child, determined to be Walker’s biological child, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In the early morning hours of March 22, 2002, authorities said a driver passing by the Widemans' home off Highway 112 East in Rebecca, Georgia saw the home on fire and called emergency responders. 

The small town is roughly 160 miles south of Atlanta in Turner County, just outside of Tifton, Georgia.

When crews got there, they found the three bodies of the Widemans, along with Melissa Wideman's unborn child, inside the burned home. Authorities said the 20-year-old was 8-and-a-half months pregnant.

After finding the bodies, the Turner County Sheriff's Office requested the GBI's Perry, Georgia regional office to help investigate the deaths. An autopsy by the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that the three adults had been shot and died prior to the fire.

During the initial investigation, the GBI said detectives conducted interviews, collected and analyzed evidence until "all leads were exhausted." Suspects were identified, but authorities were unable to charge anyone at the time. 

Then, in December 2014, the case was reassigned to a new GBI agent and Turner County investigator. Together, the reviewed all the original evidence and re-interviewed several witnesses. It was during this leg of the investigation that a new witness reached out to investigators to identify a white man who was seen leaving the Widemans' home during the timeframe that the murders took place.

The new information, the GBI said, "corroborated the evidence obtained during the initial investigation" and the follow-up investigation. 

After the new information was presented to the Tifton District Attorney's office, it was presented to a Turner County Grand Jury. That jury met on Dec. 1, 2020 and after the evidence was presented, the GBI said the Grand Jury returned a "True Bill" on the indictment, charging Walker in the case. 

The case has now been handed over to the Tifton Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. But, investigators are still asking for anyone with information on the case and the charges against Walker, to contact the GBI at 478-987-4545, the Turner County Sheriff’s Office at 229-567-2401, or the Tifton Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office at 229-386-7900. Tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477) or going online.