Glynn County Magistrate Court Judge Wallace Harrell gave a succinct answer to a defense attorney’s elaborate plea to grant bond for Billy Reid Zeh, the former public defender who has been jailed since Aug. 20 on numerous allegations of assaulting a former girlfriend.
“I’m not going to grant bond,” Harrell said in a low monotone, quietly ending two hours of court proceedings in the case.
Zeh was returned to the Glynn County Detention Center, where he remained without bond on more than 15 charges that include aggravated assault, sexual battery, kidnapping, robbery and influencing a witness. Harrell also bound Zeh over to Glynn County Superior Court on the charges. Glynn County police detectives testified that evidence in the case included in-home surveillance video at the woman’s St. Simons Island home, which allegedly caught all or parts of the alleged crimes.
After a recess during the bond proceedings, an angry man approached the defense table where Zeh sat and erupted in profanity. He claimed loudly that Zeh presented a threat to his wife. Glynn County Sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse arrested the man and charged him with disorderly conduct, Undersheriff Ron Corbett said.
“Judge, my wife is terrified of this (expletive) son of a (expletive)!” the man shouted. The man shouted several more expletives directly at Zeh before deputies escorted him out.
The man’s wife was not the alleged victim in the charges. Outside the courtroom, the wife told The News she had an affair with Zeh that had soured badly.
Prosecutor Brad Rigby, of Cordele, told Harrell that Zeh’s alleged victim in the case feared for her safety if Zeh is released. Zeh served as Glynn County State Court public defender until June of 2018, stepping down after his second arrest in three months on charges indirectly involving the alleged victim. Zeh’s third arrest on Aug. 20 violated the conditions of probation established during Aug. 2 court proceedings on the two previous arrests. Rigby argued to Judge Harrell that Zeh’s probation violation demonstrates a lack of good faith in abiding by court orders.
“He’s already demonstrated a propensity not to honor the provisions of a bond,” said Rigby, who was called in to avoid a conflict of interest with the local State Attorney’s Office.
Zeh and the woman lived together for about two months, sometime between late 2017 and 2018 while Zeh was separated from his wife, police said.
Savannah defense attorney Tom Withers presented five people who vouched for Zeh if released from jail.
Zeh is a graduate of Frederica Academy, who has lived in Glynn County for more than 30 years and practiced law here for most of this century, Withers said.
Speaking on Zeh’s behalf were his mother, his younger brother, two childhood friends and Reid’s self-described “designated driver,” who said the two have become close acquaintances.
If Harrell had decided to grant bond, Rigby asked the judge to require strict conditions, including no alcohol, a breathalyzer on his vehicle, travel restricted to work, and no contact of any kind with the victim. Withers agreed those would be acceptable conditions, adding that treatment for alcoholism might be appropriate. The parents of Zeh’s present wife agreed that Zeh could live with them in Thomasville, Rigby said.
Judge Harrell listened emotionless throughout the bond proceedings before summarily dismissing Wither’s request.
Glynn County Police made a public appeal on the morning of Aug. 20 for help in locating Zeh, who was wanted on warrants charging him with two felony counts of aggravated assault, as well as robbery by snatching, kidnapping and battery. The charges stemmed from an incident late on the night of Aug. 16 at the woman’s home, in which an argument over her phone allegedly led to Zeh snatching it from her hand, choking her on two occasions, dragging her from a laundry room into the hallway by her feet and punching her with a closed fist. Glynn County Police detective Brad Butler said the woman had marks on her neck and eye consistent with the alleged Aug. 16 assault when he first met with her.
Glynn County detectives told police they reviewed the incidents on the woman’s in-home security film before securing the warrants.
Zeh turned himself in to the county jail later that evening. For her safety, county police officers and detectives remained with the woman at her home between the time the warrants were issued for Zeh’s arrest and the time he surrendered.
In that time, Zeh allegedly called and texted the woman repeatedly. He allegedly told her to “fix it,” meaning the charges police filed against him. He also allegedly asked her to contact Judge Harrell, Glynn County detective Brad Butler testified. “He said, ‘Fix this,’” Butler said. “’Call Judge Harrell. Fix this.’” The charge against Zeh of influencing a witness was filed as a result of this.
On Tuesday, police added 13 additional charges against Zeh, including sexual battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and simple assault. Those charges stem from incidents on Nov. 12 of 2018 and July 18 of this year, police said. Zeh allegedly grabbed the woman in a sexual nature against her will, gripped her by the throat while shoving her against a wall, and took a “boxer’s stance” before throwing punches at her. At one point, he allegedly threw her over a couch in a bear hug and brought his 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame to bear upon her.
Withers made a plea to have many of the charges against Zeh dismissed, including those of influencing a witness, kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment and sexual battery. Harrell gave a one-word answer to each request: “Overruled.”
Zeh’s troubles with the law began in March of 2018 when he was arrested for simple battery after allegedly attacking a man who was drinking with the woman at the King and Prince Hotel’s bar on St. Simons Island. He was arrested for DUI in June of 2018, stemming from an incident in which police say he struck the woman’s home with his vehicle and later ignored an officer’s order to stay off the roads due to alleged intoxication.
On June 2 in Ware County State Court, Zeh agreed in a pretrial diversion plea to seek anger management and was recognized for 40 hours community service. The DUI was reduced to reckless driving, for which he was given 12 months’ probation, given a $1,000 fine and ordered to perform 40 hours’ community service. His subsequent arrest violated the conditions of his probation.
“Fourteen days after being placed on probation he’s committing new crimes,” Rigby said.