Father of 3 shot dead on doorsteps; wife and her live-in lover charged
05/22/2018 1:57 pm PDT
UPDATE April 11, 2019:
At an April 11, 2019 sentencing held jointly for Tia Young and Harvey “Tim” Lee, Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Tracey Mason ordered Tia Young to life in prison with the possibility of parole — per Georgia law, she will be eligible for parole after 30 years — while sentencing Lee to life in prison without parole.
The duo was convicted days earlier of murder, aggravated assault and several other charges in the death of George Young, a 43-year-old father of three who was gunned down outside his Buford home in November 2017.
Gunned down on his own front porch, a bodyguard to the stars stopped dead in his tracks by a sniper lying in wait. But who'd want to murder the beloved husband and father?
The search for a cold-blooded killer would expose dark family secrets and lead to two shocking arrests.
Busy bodyguard George Young was working as usual.
"He was doing security, armed security for a high-profile celebrity," said Gwinnett County Police Det. David Smith.
The gig protecting rapper Lil Yachty wasn't George's first assignment of the day.
Ivy Young Barnhill says 12-hour workdays were the norm for her big brother.
"My brother worked a lot. He worked 70 hours a week," Ivy tells Crime Watch Daily. "He worked really hard to provide for his family."
In addition to his job installing security alarms, George had started his own business providing security for celebrities in Atlanta.
On November 17, 2017, after leaving the rapper's clothing line launch at an Atlanta mall, George headed home to his family in nearby Buford.
"It was very quiet, very clean, street lights, it was in a very good area," said Det. Smith.
But around 11:30 p.m., the silence of suburbia was shattered by gunfire just as George reached his front door. The proud father of three sons was shot twice from the side.
"His keys were actually in the door when he was shot and killed," said Ivy Barnhill.
Inside, George's wife Tia, upstairs in her bedroom, was startled by the sounds.
"I heard two loud gunshots. At first I didn't really -- I thought it was gunshots but I wasn't sure what it was, if it was firecrackers," Tia told Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV CBS46 just hours after the murder.
Tia tells cops her brother Tim grabbed his shotgun and went outside to investigate.
"You still hear on the 911 call, he comes back in and tells her it was her husband," said Det. Smith.
Police and paramedics race to the Youngs' home on Montauk Hill Drive, but it was too late. When the EMTs arrived, George was already dead.
Det. David Smith was one of the first investigators to arrive. His immediate reaction to the crime scene?
"This has to be some kind of ambush," said Smith. "He had no idea this was coming because the way his hands were, it's like everything just immediately dropped when he was shot."
Cops quickly rule out robbery as a motive.
"His wallet, phone and everything were still on him, so they didn't take anything," said Det. Smith.
No weapon was found, but a shell casing was recovered.
"When CSI got there they combed the area. They used metal detectors to try to find the other one," said Smith.
But the second casing was never located.
"The reason why we couldn't find the second shell casing was kind of weird to us," said Smith. "There wasn't many places it could have gone."
Detectives question George's grieving wife of more than 20 years, along with her mother and brother who also lived with the family.
"No one had any explanations or details to provide us that sent us in a certain direction," said Smith.
A couple hours after the murder, George's sister Ivy was awakened by her husband, who delivered the tragic news. Ivy still lived in South Carolina with the rest of her family. Within hours she was on the road, heading to Georgia, texting Tia along the way, trying to get answers.
"She told me that the police thought it was mistaken identity," said Ivy. "She said it could've been gang-related, like a gang initiation-type thing."
None of it was making sense to Ivy.
"I'm not saying that, you know, bad things like that can't happen in good neighborhoods. But it was a very nice, quiet neighborhood. And as many times as I've visited I never felt unsafe," said Ivy.
Ivy wasn't the only one surprised by the killing.
"Why someone would be, we considered to be ambushed on their front porch like that?" said Det. Smith.
Especially targeting someone like George Young.
"Everyone that we talked to, 'He was such a good man, all he did was work, he was working so early in the morning until late at night,'" said Det. Smith.
Immediately cops wonder, Could the murder be tied to George's work doing security detail for celebrities? Did something happen at his job that night with rapper Lil Yachty? After a few phone calls to his colleagues, that theory was tossed.
"All the information we were getting while on scene was the night had gone great," said Det. Smith. "He'd even told the person he was on the phone with on the way home that everything had gone really well and there hadn't been any issues."
So who'd want to kill George Young, and why?
Neighbors in the quiet Atlanta suburb of Buford were shocked, especially after hearing the shooting could be part of some kind of gang initiation.
"That was actually raised as a question by his wife in an interview the day after he was killed was that maybe it could have been a gang initiation," said reporter Amanda Coyne, who covered George Young's murder for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It's the same story Tia Young told George's sister Ivy Barnhill.
But Detective David Smith found the idea suspicious.
"We did not provide any kind of gang explanation or mistaken identity, that's not something we see a lot, especially in something like this," said Det. Smith. "Not in that neighborhood either."
It was just the beginning of explanations from Tia that would raise eyebrows.
The night of the murder, cops questioned Tia and her brother Tim Lee. Both were inside the house when George Young was killed.
"I expect them not to be able to remember everything, especially the first time, but their stories just didn't seem to add up, especially that short amount of time had only passed by, they couldn't get their stories together," said Det. Smith.
Tim tells cops when he heard the gunshots he grabbed his gun and went outside. When he saw George bleeding to death, he put his gun away and notified Tia.
"And Tia's story was that she came out of the bedroom, went to Tim's room. He wasn't there. And then she came downstairs and asked him if he heard that, and then he went to go check," said Det. Smith.
Cops say there's a problem with both of those stories.
"None of that took place on the 911 call," said Smith.
During the 911 call, which police have not released to the public, Tim is actually overheard telling Tia that George had been shot.
Something else suspicious about her call: When Tia first called 911, she told the operator the sound outside could be firecrackers because her neighbors are always setting them off.
"Again, to me that says, This is something you hear all the time, so why is today the day that you're gonna call police when you're accustomed to hearing this noise?" said Det. Smith.
Cops were starting to grow even more suspicious of Tia -- and they weren't the only ones.
"I just felt like it was weird. And I didn't really like it, I didn't like what I walked into and what I saw," said George's sister Ivy.
After driving six hours from South Carolina, Ivy arrived at his house expecting to find Tia an emotional wreck.
"I was around her when her father passed, so I knew how she grieved," said Ivy.
But she claims what she found wasn't a grieving widow at all.
"She greeted me like with open arms, like, 'Hey, Ive,' and gave me a hug and no tears, no nothing. And I just I couldn't believe it," said Ivy.
Ivy says no one at her brother's house seemed upset.
"Everybody just seemed like, you know, like he was on a vacation, not that he had been murdered. No one was mourning," said Ivy. "And I'm not to judge who, you know, how people mourn but no one was really crying or anything like that."
If things at her brother's house seemed unusual, they were about to get even more bizarre when Ivy saw a report on the local news.
"Her brother opened the front door of their home and found George collapsed on the porch. He ran back inside and told his sister to call 911."
"And I was like, 'Brother?'" said Ivy.
Ivy says Tia doesn't have a brother.
"And then another outlet said she referred to him as a cousin. I mean, he's not related to her. He's not related to us at all," said Ivy.
Even before leaving South Carolina, Ivy says she was already suspicious of Tim Lee. It started when she heard George had been killed and frantically tried reaching Tia at the house by phone.
"Timmy picked up the phone and answered and I said 'Who is this?' And he said 'It's Timmy.' I said 'Why are you there and why are you answering her phone?'" said Ivy.
Ivy says Tim grew up in the same town as she and George did, but they were never close friends.
"He was very quiet, you know, kind of like, kind of weird," said Ivy.
Tim tells Ivy when he lost his job, George hired him to work security for his company. Then when George found out Tim was living in hotels, he invited him to move in with his family.
"For a grown man that's not related to us to be living in the house was shocking, and it was shocking to me that he never mentioned it to me," said Ivy. "I just felt like, What's the big secret?"
Ivy's shock at learning Tim lived with her brother's family was about to get a whole lot worse. When she arrived at his house, she claims Tim and Tia were in his bedroom with the door closed.
"She came out of the room, that was my first inkling. And then her reaction, like no tears, no nothing. That just made me feel like something's not right," said Ivy.
Ivy claims the longer she stayed at her brother's house, the more uneasy she felt about Tim and Tia's relationship.
"She would hang out in Timmy's room more than she would hang out in the room that her and my brother shared," said Ivy. "One time I walked by the room and she was in his room charging her phone, sitting on his futon that he had in his bedroom. She seemed very comfortable in there, like there was candles lit, like soft music playing."
Detectives first learned that Tim and Tia were not really related when they were both brought in for questioning two days after the murder.
"It was alarming to me," said Det. David Smith.
And that wasn't the only alarm for cops.
Two days after George Young was gunned down on his front porch, his wife Tia and family friend Tim Lee are brought in for questioning.
"The stories still continued to change," said Det. Smith.
One of the biggest reveals: Tia tells cops that Tim isn't really her brother -- he's just a family friend who needed a place to live.
"To us that was a big deal, like, before, 'This is what you had said and now he's not your brother,'" said Det. Smith.
And their stories about what happened the night of the murder are shifty.
"She began to add things that didn't make sense," said Smith. "When we spoke with Tim it was the same thing, the story was not the same about when they saw each other. Now he had done things that he hadn't mentioned before."
The interviews soon yielded cops the break they needed: a bombshell coming from the Youngs' next-door neighbor.
"We were in the middle of the interview, and when we took a break and came out, one of the detectives had just left and called us and said 'Hey, this is what he just told us,'" said Det. Smith.
The neighbor says immediately after hearing gunfire that night, he looked out his window and saw who he believed was Tim. He was running from the Youngs' home to George's Lincoln Navigator parked in the driveway. The neighbor claims he watched the man remove something from the SUV, then run back inside.
Detectives return to the interrogation room and ask Tim about it.
"We asked him, you know, 'Did you ever go out to the car for some reason?'" said Det. Smith. "And he said 'OK, I know where you're going with that.' And he says 'I was getting the tracker off the car.' And so immediately we're like 'What are you talking about? What do you mean you took a tracker off the car?'"
Tim claims George had asked him to place a GPS tracker on his truck for safety.
"In case something were to ever happen to him, that they would be able to find the vehicle," said Smith.
But if George had really asked Tim to put a tracker on his truck, why the rush to remove it after the murder?
"'You took the time to step over his body, not offering aid to him, and your first thought was to go get the tracker.' And he said 'Well, it was just my first instinct because I wanted to protect George,'" said Smith.
Protect George from what? George had been shot and was bleeding to death on the porch.
"He's like 'I didn't want anyone in the family or friends to find out so they wouldn't think anything negative about him,'" said Smith.
Tim then tells cops George had been running guns from Florida to North Carolina, and a man involved had come looking for him.
"That guy had come to the house and visited them and told Tia that George owed him money," said Smith.
Could that man really be the killer? When cops asked Tia about the shady dealings, the elaborate story falls apart.
"She had no idea what we were talking about," said Smith.
"That made me very upset because I felt like they were trying to defame his character, and I knew that wasn't true," said Ivy.
When cops return to the Youngs' home to pick up the tracker, Ivy pulled Det. Smith aside, unknowingly exposing yet another major crack in Tim and Tia's story.
"I told him that I knew that there was an insurance policy and I felt like maybe that has something to do with it, but I wasn't sure," said Ivy.
Detectives were stunned. Just hours earlier at the police station, Tia told them she didn't believe there was a life insurance policy.
"There had been in the past, but to her knowledge they had lapsed," said Smith.
They soon discover that not only was there a $1 million life insurance policy on George, Tia was the sole beneficiary. And she'd already called the insurance company to process the payout.
"They had recorded phone calls where she had called less than 24 hours, right after the murder," said Smith.
It was all adding up. But Det. Smith says Tia's 13-year-old son also unknowingly exposed yet another of his mother's lies. It stems from the 911 call she made the night of the killing.
In an interview Tia gave to WGCL-TV CBS46, she said: "And I begged when I called 911, I begged them not to turn sirens on because I didn't want my kids to see him like that."
The Youngs' three sons didn't see their father like that. Amazingly, cops say, they slept through all the commotion.
"We were in and out of their rooms doing searches, we were talking to everyone. The medical examiner, the fire trucks, ambulances, police, CSI taking pictures, neighbors coming outside, everyone woke up but the kids," said Det. Smith.
Detectives believe they now know why.
"She had been giving him Unisom sleep pills," said Smith.
Tia admits giving one of her sons sleeping pills in the past to help him stay asleep at night. The boy told cops he hadn't had one for a month -- until the night of his father's death. However, that's not what his mom said.
"With my interviewing Tia, she stated that she had been giving it to him several nights that week and he said that that wasn't true," said Det. Smith.
Cops suspect the night of the killing, Tia gave all her sons a sleeping pill.
"Obviously we know the middle one had taken the pill willingly, but our theory may be that they had all been given that pill that night," said Smith.
Tim and Tia quickly became the prime suspects in George Young's murder. And not just in the eyes of detectives.
"I said 'I think you and Timmy killed my brother,'" said George's sister Ivy Barnhill.
Two days after arriving in Georgia, Ivy made that bombshell accusation to her sister-in-law.
"I watched every move that she made, she definitely had something to hide," said Ivy.
Investigators suspected the same thing, but they needed more evidence before making an arrest. They found much of it on Tim's and Tia's cellphones.
"It kind of all began to unravel from there," said Det. Smith.
Cops say the night George was killed, Tim was tracking his every move using the GPS tracker he'd placed on his truck and an app on his phone.
"So we knew he was the only person that would have known when he was coming home," said Det. Smith.
In addition to the life insurance money, investigators also uncovered what they claim is another motive for murdering George.
"Tia did not want to be with George anymore," said Det. Smith.
Despite what she told cops, friends and family said Tia and George's marriage was on the rocks. And there was plenty proof of that on her phone.
"The texts between Tia and Tim were very romantic," said reporter Amanda Coyne. "They were sexual, they were something that you would send to your boyfriend or your girlfriend, your husband or your wife, but definitely not your brother."
With evidence mounting against Tim and Tia, in April 2018 they were both brought back to police headquarters for another round of questioning. Cops immediately ask about their relationship.
"I put some explicit emails that she had sent to Tim down in front of her," said Det. Smith.
Tia admits to having an affair with Tim. She claims it stopped after the murder, but had started back up again.
"She was ashamed of it but she thought George was in a relationship," said Smith.
Investigators say they found no evidence George was having an affair, or that he knew his wife was.
"I don't think he would think the person that he opened his home up to and gave a job would ever do anything like that to him, or would betray him in that way," said Smith.
Unlike Tia, Tim wouldn't admit to anything.
"Tim did stop and request a lawyer once I confronted him about the relationship," said Smith.
After the interrogation, Tim and Tia were both arrested and charged in connection with the murder of George Young.
"They both have been charged with malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault," said Det. Smith.
Cops allege Tim and Tia conspired to kill George for the life insurance money and so they could be together. Police claim the emotion Tia showed in TV interviews following her husband's murder was all an act.
Det. David Smith believes Tim Lee either hired someone to actually pull the trigger, or did it himself.
"I think that it's more likely he did it, just because of the time frame," said Det. Smith. "I think he came out the back door, came and hid in the bushes, once he shot George, he went back in through the back door."
George's sister Ivy believes the same.
"I feel like he weaseled his way into that house and just wreaked havoc, and I do blame him. Out of the two of them, I'm more angry at him. But I'm disappointed in her," said Ivy.
In court, the couple pleaded not guilty. The judge refused to grant bail, keeping them behind bars until their trial. Det. Smith is confident that they'll be found guilty.
"This is not a case where there's just a few things that made us feel like they were involved. It was constantly coming back to them," said Det. Smith.
As for the $1 million life insurance policy, Tia has not collected a cent.
"Once the insurance company learned that she was a suspect, they hold that money and they will not let that money out until there is a conviction or they learn what's going to happen in court," said Smith.
Since their mom's arrest, Tia's three sons have been staying with her mother. Ivy hasn't seen her nephews since early December. Tia cut her out of their lives for accusing her of murder.
"I'm here, whenever they need me, they know I go hard for them," said Ivy Barnhill. "So as soon as they call me and say 'Ivy, I need this, I need that,' I'll be there. And I'm going to do everything in my power to take care of those boys, because they mean a lot to me."
As for the sister-in-law she once looked up to, if Ivy could talk to Tia today:
"I would tell her that I love her but I'm very disappointed in her. I feel betrayed," said Ivy. "I want them to know that my brother was a very good man. My brother loved Tia. He worshiped the ground she walked on. And he did not deserve this."
Two of the things prosecutors will have to contend with at trial are the facts that police say they did not find gunshot residue on Tia Young or Tim Lee, and the murder weapon has still not been found.
Currently no trial date has been set for the two accused killers.