JULIETTE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) - Just two days before convicted killer Andrew Cook's scheduled execution, the sheriff who investigated the grisly murder of two Mercer students 18 years ago is remembering that horrible night.
The quiet spot on Lake Juliette where 22-year-old Grant Patrick Henderson and his girlfriend Michele Cartagena were murdered has changed a lot in 18 years. The lakeshore has been raised, pathways paved, and Dames Ferry Park provides a beautiful spot for locals to enjoy nature. That's exactly what Grant and Michele wanted to do the night of January 3rd, 1995...the night they were brutally murdered at that very place.
"Andy pulled in, and when he pulled in, he shot at them with an AR-15...spraying the side of the car," recounts Sheriff John Cary Bittick, who took the call the morning of January 3rd. When he arrived on scene, he found Hendrickson's car riddled with bullets, his body in similar condition. Cook shot Michele and dragged her body a few feet away; he then pulled off her underwear and spit on her body. Cook reportedly did not even know the couple. Bittick believes Cook was chewing tobacco at the time, and spitting was a reflex. It helped in the investigation to find him.
In their investigation, Bittick says they had to trace the gun by the shell casings found at the crime scene. They interviewed local pawn shops, and because they did not have any DNA to match the saliva found at the scene, it took two years to connect Cook to the murders. He was arrested on a fish and game violation in Jones County. That's when he asked for a lawyer.
Cook also confessed to his father, an FBI agent at the time.
"He told his dad during that time period that something came over him and he didn't know what it was," Bittick remembers.
Bittick says this was the hardest case he's ever dealt with in his 30 years as Sheriff of Monroe County.
"This is my third death penalty case and my third execution, and none of them are easy. I think it's going to be difficult on all three families," says Bittick.
Cook was sentenced to death in 1998--his FBI agent father had to testify against him...a major testimony that many believe led to his son's sentence. Soon after, his father would resign from the FBI.
"Grant and Michele were two really good kids that had their entire lives ahead of them, and from all indications would have been extremely good, productive citizens," Bittick says.
Now, Cook waits in prison to die, as the lonely spot on Lake Juliette remains--the memory of what happened there 18 years ago surely fresh in his mind.
41NBC reached out to Grant Hendrickson's mother, but she understandably did not want to comment on the case. She said she plans to be at Cook's execution on Thursday. 41NBC's Andrew Reeser is also scheduled to be there, and will have a report on the news at 11.