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Sheriff Ben Keith

The first law enforcement officer in Murray County to die in the line of duty was a young lawman who served only a small portion of his first term as sheriff. Ben Keith was thirty-five years old when he became sheriff of Murray County in 1907. Due to this tragedy, he left behind a wife and three children.

The incident that led to his early demise occurred on the night of July 27th, 1907 while Ben was pursuing John Harper, a criminal who had committed the murder of a young boy in Fannin County, Georgia. Sheriff Keith chased the suspect along the dark roads of Eton and ordered him to surrender. John Harper claimed in later testimony that Sheriff Keith did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer and that was the reason he fired his gun at him. The shot struck the young sheriff in the abdomen but he would not seek medical attention until his suspect was locked in a jail cell. Sheriff Keith died from his wounds the next morning.

John Harper was originally sentenced to the gallows for killing Sheriff Keith. The execution was scheduled to take place May 29th, 1908. However Harper was spared from the gallows by Governor Brown, who commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment in October, 1909. Under the terms of this new sentence, should Harper ever be pardoned by a subsequent governor, he would face a criminal trial for the original murder he had committed in Fannin County.

Although Ben Keith served only a short time, he proved to be a brave and diligent officer.

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