More MS news articles for August 2002

Space pleads guilty, steps down

Former coworker and political opponent Jimmy McDuffie appointed interim sheriff

Saturday, July 27, 2002
Jennifer Moroz, Kate Wiltrout and Paula Reed Ward
Savannah Morning News

In a quick turn of events Friday, suspended Effingham County Sheriff Jay Space pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and resigned his post.

Arrested on five felony charges on July 10, Space entered the plea in return for four years probation before Superior Court Judge John Robert Turner.

Space likely will have to serve only two years of the probation, his defense attorney said.

Sentenced under the First Offender Act, Space's record will show no conviction at the completion of his sentence.

Later Friday, Space submitted his resignation, and Jimmy McDuffie, a former Effingham County sheriff's employee for 13 years, was appointed interim sheriff.

Space was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996 but didn't disclose it until last year.

In recent months, he came under fire for erratic behavior, including multiple car crashes in county vehicles and confrontations with officers from other police agencies.

Governor Roy Barnes suspended Space in June for 60 days, based on a recommendation from a three-member panel that investigated his behavior.

Then, less than a month later, District Attorney Joe Martin filed a formal petition to oust Space. The same day, Space was arrested for illegally purchasing 4,000 prescription pills over the Internet.

He was free on $10,000 bond pending Friday's hearing.

Bobby Phillips, who represented Space, said his client entered an Alford Plea, which means he did not admit guilt.

Space felt it was in his best interest to plead, Phillips said.

"I didn't want him to plead guilty. His wife didn't want him to plead guilty. And deep in his heart of hearts, he didn't want to plead guilty, but he didn't have a choice," Phillips said. "He could not physically afford to fight -- that's what it came down to."

Dave Simons, a spokesman for the former sheriff, said Space just wanted to put the situation behind him.

"Jay wanted this over with, and that's why he accepted the plea," Simons said. "His health wasn't quite where he wanted it to be, and that's why he felt it necessary to put this behind him."

Simons was unsure what Space plans to do in the future.

"At this point in time, Jay has no plans. He's going to take a few weeks off to find out what to do next."

In the meantime, it's up to McDuffie to restore faith in the Effingham County Sheriff's Office.

A detective with the Rincon Police Department, McDuffie has taken a leave of absence from his job as until a special election is held for the sheriff's position.

McDuffie said he plans to run in that election.

A Democrat, McDuffie ran against Space in 1996 and 2000.

"Me and Jay have been friends, probably close to 20 years," McDuffie said. "I hate it. I'm just torn apart that it happened the way it has. Any time you have a friend that gets in a situation like that, it's bad, and I consider him a friend of mine."

McDuffie met supervisors in the sheriff's office Friday afternoon, and they were receptive to him, he said.

"I hope that everybody's gonna have a positive attitude, get all this negativity behind us. It's time to move on."

Copyright 2002 Savannah Morning News