Butts County Deputies Arrest Two Men in 2008 Cold Case Murder

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Members of the Bridges family celebrated the arrests by releasing balloons at Willie Paul Bridges's gravesite Saturday.  (Family photo)

Two men faced a judge for the first time Sunday in a 2008 murder case.

Zerra Tiqoun Brown, 36, and James Massa Byrd, 36, are both charged with armed robbery and murder in the death of a beloved Butts County store owner. 

Willie Paul Bridges, 58, was returning home after closing up shop on December 10, 2008 when Byrd and Brown approached Bridges to try to rob him.  One of the men fired a gun and a bullet struck Bridges in the neck. 

Bridges succumbed to his injuries 101 days later.

The murder investigation stalled until Sheriff Gary Long took office in January 2013.  He spearheaded a renewed effort to close the case and nearly seven years later, investigators arrested Byrd and Brown. 

"I'm just happy," said Wuan Bridges, who learned of the arrests in his father's case Thursday.  "I've been happy--very happy, [because] I've been sad for six years."

Sheriff Long said Bridges's death was particularly difficult because he had been such a prominent figure in the community and was known to help people in need. 

"They could've [gone] to his store and asked him for money.  He would've [given] it to them," said Long.  "[He was] trying to survive, trying to support his family, comes home and this is what happens to him--just senseless." 

Investigators cracked the case by continuously asking suspects in other crimes for information related to the case. 

Byrd and Brown are charged with armed robbery and murder.  They remain in the Butts County Jail without bond.