By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
[Atmore News was contacted by the victim’s family and asked to find answers for them if we could.]
The siblings of an Atmore man, whose body was found in the yard of his Ewing Drive home in November 2016, are having a difficult time coming to grips with the decision by prosecutors to reduce the charges against the man accused of killing their brother.
A plea agreement was worked out in February between Escambia County District Attorney Steve Billy and Huntsville resident Jeffrey Armstrong. Armstrong is accused of using a machete to cause the death of Daniel Keith “Danny” Fox, whose body was discovered by family members.
Under the arrangement, a copy of which was furnished upon request by Circuit Court Clerk John R. Fountain, Armstrong entered a guilty plea to first-degree assault and first-degree theft.
He was sentenced to serve 15 years on the assault charge, with 15 years on the theft charge to be served concurrently. Both sentences were suspended, and Armstrong was given credit for the time he spent in the county jail. He was ordered to spend three years on unsupervised probation, then released.
“I’m baffled,” said Jim Fox, one of Danny Fox’s five siblings. “I can’t understand how they could lower it down to assault, like he didn’t kill Danny. None of us can believe what in the world is going on. I really think he was just clearing his books. My brother had a bit of a record, and so did Jeff, so I think he figured there wasn’t either one of them worth investigating and threw the case out.”
The DA had not responded by Tuesday’s press deadline to several calls from Atmore News over the past two weeks seeking an explanation of the plea deal.
Jim Fox said he wasn’t surprised.
“We called there fairly regularly, trying to check the status, but we usually talked to his secretary,” Fox explained. “I called [Billy] after we found out that Jeff had been released, and he still hasn’t called me back. One of the family finally got to talk with him, and he said all the evidence was circumstantial, that if he took the case to court, he wouldn’t be able to get it before a jury.”
Even more baffling to the victim’s siblings was that they weren’t informed of the negotiated plea until after Armstrong had been freed from jail.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Jim Fox said. “I would think that if he was going to make some kind of deal like this, he would at least talk with the family and let us know what was going on.”
Armstrong, who reportedly had been friends with his victim since seventh grade, was stopped by police in Chipley, Fla. the day after Fox’s body was discovered and was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. He was behind the wheel of the slain man’s 1992 Ford F-150 pickup, which local authorities had reported stolen in connection with Fox’s brutal death.
The suspect was extradited to Alabama and was booked into the Escambia County Detention Center on December 27, 2016, and a county grand jury handed up an indictment for murder and first-degree theft against him in August 2017. The Huntsville man remained in the county jail more than four years before agreeing to the plea bargain.
Jim Fox lives in Crestview, Fla. The victim’s sister, Debbie Fain, and a brother, George Fox, both of whom live in the Huntsville area, were contacted for their take on the plea bargain but each declined comment.
The family spokesman pointed out that distance might have played a role in the decision to offer Armstrong a deal.
“None of us lives there [in Escambia County],” he said. “Personally, I think [the DA] thought we were going to go away, that we lived too far away to pursue it. I really think he just doesn’t care; I don’t know how to put it in any other words.”