Teen pleads guilty, gets 30 years for killing community activist


As crime closed in around Barney Simms’ southwest Atlanta home, the longtime community activist dug in, even after he was the victim of a robbery in July 2015.

Less than a year later, his lifeless body would be found behind a towering hedgerow he had planted some 20 years earlier. A troubled teen allegedly shot and killed Simms, stealing the 70-year-old former housing executive’s car, wallet and television.

On Monday, with his trial scheduled to begin, that suspect, 18-year-old Eric Banks, pleaded guilty to Simms’ murder. As part of his plea deal Banks received a 30-year prison sentence, avoiding a possible punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Banks had claimed Simms made a pass at him and said they first met two days before the April 2016 shooting. He said he felt threatened and killed Simms in self-defense, though prosecutors noted Banks shot him in the back — twice. Police also said they didn’t believe the suspect’s account.

Banks remained at large for nearly a week before turning himself in to police at his mother’s behest. She had spotted him in surveillance footage from the Virginia Avenue Waffle House, where the teen had met Simms an hour before the murder. Banks had ditched Simms’ car but later admitted to police he had stolen it.

Simms was a stalwart volunteer, serving as president of his homeowners association, board chair of Atlanta Victim Assistance and a slew of other organizations.

He was known as a jazz lover who stood out because of his trademark walrus mustache and sartorial flair.

“He gave his life for this community, ” state Rep. Douglas Dean said at a candlelight vigil following Simms’ death. “When this is all over, we must make our neighborhoods safe. He didn’t move out. He fought to make this community right, making the black, African-American community better. He didn’t run to a better neighborhood. He wanted to be right here.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

DeKalb awakes to snow, dangerous roads, many closures
DeKalb awakes to snow, dangerous roads, many closures

DeKalb County is covered in a crisp white blanket of snow this morning. Schools were closed, including DeKalb County Schools and Emory University, as well as government offices and other establishments. The Mall at Stonecrest, Perimeter Mall and the Gallery at South DeKalb, also known as South DeKalb Mall, were all planning to open late, at noon...
Cobb buses won’t hit the icy roads, some of which caused rollovers
Cobb buses won’t hit the icy roads, some of which caused rollovers

CobbLinc will not be out amid an iced-over metro Atlanta. The county announced that is has suspended its bus service as “deteriorating road conditions across Cobb County will prevent them from running routes today.”  Andrea Foard, Cobb’s transit division manager, said they’ll evaluate conditions throughout the day...
Atlanta businesses and government offices close Wednesday due to snow
Atlanta businesses and government offices close Wednesday due to snow

Last updated at 9:50 a.m. Atlanta residents woke up Wednesday to find mostly everything coated in white after about an inch of snow feel across parts of the city. The roads are icy, and numerous businesses have decided to close as a result.  Atlanta government offices and municipal courts are also closed, as are all Atlanta University Center institutions...
Schools closed today, what about Thursday?
Schools closed today, what about Thursday?

The dusting of snow, but particularly the glaze of ice under that pretty frosting, caused superintendents across Georgia to call off school Wednesday. Now the question is, what about Thursday? Will schools be open? Melting snow and ice and refreezing water on the roads could make for treacherous conditions with the low temperatures forecast for Thursday...
DeKalb government offices closed due to snow
DeKalb government offices closed due to snow

DeKalb County government offices and buildings are closed today as snow blankets streets and frigid temperatures continue. Libraries, senior centers, and recreation centers are all closed today, in addition to the county courts. Garbage pick-up, already cancelled Monday due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, will be delayed another day. Three DeKalb...
More Stories