By Natalie Simms
While out on an early morning run in the summer of 2002, Denise Biersmith never expected to be confronted by a convicted sexual predator on the lake trail behind Georgia Highlands College. Her encounter with Billy Edgar Murrell continues to haunt her and now that he has been granted a tentative parole date in 2021, Biersmith is urging the community to help keep him in prison as long as possible.
Biersmith, who contacted Hometown Headlines about the pending parole decision, describes what happened to her 18 years ago.
“I sensed immediately that there was something wrong with this man as he stopped me and asked me to admire his dog. I reluctantly stopped for a moment as the trail was closed up ahead and I was confused about which way I should continue running. As he prattled on about how cute his dog was, I realized there was an open car door behind me that he was pushing me toward while he continued to move aggressively toward me,” says Biersmith.
“I immediately dodged him and ran back the way I had come. Thinking I would run back to my car without incident, it did not occur to me that he would actually follow in pursuit. He took the road…I was on the trail where I could not see him. As I turned the last bend and saw my car, to my dismay, he was there blocking my car in with his.”
She says she had two options to get past him, either run through the woods to the college buildings or running past time and onward toward the college maintenance shop about a quarter mile down the road. She didn’t think leading him into the woods was wise, so she made a path forward.
“As I passed him and my car, he opened his car door to expose himself, fully naked while he masturbated. He was giggling in a high-pitched, shrill way that made my skin crawl,” she says. “I refused to make eye contact with him looking straight ahead at my destination. I continued to run past him as he revved his engine. The lake was on my left and a grass field was up ahead on my right. I chose to detour off into the field thinking he would not follow me into the grass. I was wrong.
“He followed, but the grass was deep. His car got caught in the ruts of the field edges a few times but he was able to catch up to me. He was blaring music from his car but I could still hear him giggling. He rolled up next to me and then bumped me with the front fender of his car. When he hit me, I fell down but adrenaline helped me pop back up and continue running.”
Biersmith kept running toward the maintenance shop when she heard the sound of another vehicle coming down the road. Murrell heard it as well and quickly pulled back onto the road and drove off but not before Biersmith was able to see his tag number.
“I stepped out onto the road and flagged the approaching truck down. I was lucky…I got away,” she says. “Though I successfully escaped from him before he was able to capture me, abduct me and rape me, I am still a victim. He has caused me many sleepless nights and terrible nightmares. My thoughts are never far from those he actually captured and did great damage to.”
Biersmith is one of eight victims attacked during the summer of 2002 by Murrell who was living in Floyd County after his release from Hays State Prison the previous January. He was out on parole after serving 15 years for the kidnapping, rape and sodomy of a Tift County woman in 1987.
During his seven months of freedom, Murrell continued to victimize young women and children in Floyd County, according to court records. He was arrested in August 2002 with a 17-year-old girl he had abducted and raped repeatedly, documents show. He was charged with 18 counts against the eight victims including child molestation (1), stalking (7), sexual battery (3), aggravated assault (1), public indecency (1), rape (2), terroristic threats (1), and false imprisonment (2). The case went to trial in the spring of 2004 with Murrell found guilty of 11 of the 18 charges and sentenced to 35 years in prison. He was acquitted of the rape charges, three counts of stalking, one count of sexual battery and one count of false imprisonment. The Georgia Court of Appeals later reversed the terroristic threat conviction, reducing his sentence by five years.
You can read the entire Court of Appeals decision, which includes a description of each incident against each victim. The case: The case.
Biersmith, who now lives out of state, says she testified at his trial. Last month, she received a letter from the Georgia Office of Victim Services stating that the Georgia Parole Board had granted Murrell a tentative parole date of August 2021, but that she could contest it before a final decision is made.
Other interested in keeping Murrell behind bars also can submit letters. The deadline is this Wednesday, Aug. 5. Letters can be submitted online to firstname.lastname@example.org (be sure to list in reference to Billy Edgar Murrell, GCD ID: 433721).
In addition, Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson says “we are opposing his release.” She could not comment on the case other than that.
Says Biersmith: “I was extremely disturbed to hear that he might be granted parole by the state of Georgia. He is a repeat offender who has greatly affected the lives of many young women and girls in a community that I grew to love. The pain he caused me, the young women and small children of Rome will traumatize us for the rest of our lives.
“My single voice may be small and far away from Rome but it is still mighty when teamed with others. I need your help to keep this monster in jail. No community deserves his presence preying on their women and children.”