Judge denies bond for man accused of murdering woman on behalf of Smith State Prison gang

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 1:44 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 2:04 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Three people have been charged with a murder that prosecutors say is connected to a gang that operates inside that prison.

Dennis Kraft asked a Long County judge to let him out on bond.

Judge Glen Cheney denied that request meaning Kraft will remain in jail for now. Cheney said he just could not give bond to someone facing these kind of charges.

According to the indictment, Kraft worked for the “Yves St. Laurent Squad,” a gang that claims to run Smith State Prison.

Other people named in the indictment include Nathan Weekes, a Smith State Prison inmate who investigators accuse of being the leader of the gang, and his girlfriend, Keisha Jones.

The indictment claims that Weekes and Jones recruited Kraft to kill Jessica Gerling, an ex-Smith State Prison corrections officer who was said to be the “first lady” of the YSL Squad.

Gerling was murdered on June 28, 2021. At the time, she was facing charges for smuggling marijuana into the prison so the gang could sell it to other inmates. The indictment also says Gerling worked with Weekes and another man to kill Jerry Lee Davis in Wayne County.

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The nickname Weekes had for Kraft in his phone contacts was “John Wick”, a fictional hitman in a movie franchise of the same name.

The indictment also says that Kraft and Weekes used smuggled cellphones to plan Gerling’s murder while Weekes was already in prison.

With three murders spanning Wayne, Long and Tattnall counties, the indictment says that Gerling’s death was just one part of a larger pattern of violence from the gang.

“There seems to be too many wheels turning right now for me to put him back into the general population, not knowing, because I don’t know what the other judges are doing,” Judge Glen Cheney said.

Before Kraft was denied bond, his lawyer, as well as his brother and a former employer painted a very different picture of him.

Those three described him as a hard worker, and a family man, that should be allowed to return home to his children.

Kraft’s lawyer read a letter written by Kraft’s wife.

“On behalf of his children, his work family, and his friends, Dennis has always stepped up and been there for school events, sports, and travel sports. He hasn’t ever by choice missed a beat until now. On my kids’ behalf, they are pleading for bond until this can all be figured out,” Dennis Kraft’s Lawyer Jonathan R. Melnick said.

Kraft’s former employer and his brother also appeared in the courtroom insisting he had good character, and a job waiting for him if he were to be released.

The prosecution, however, urged Judge Cheney to consider the charges against Kraft: malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, tampering with evidence, and violating the RICO act.

“We have great concerns if he is out, as far as flight, and furthermore, and maybe more importantly, as to tampering with witnesses and evidence, as this is an ongoing case still,” prosecutor Joe Skeens said.

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An ongoing case, that the indictment says, that has more people involved that investigators don’t know about yet. The judge said the scale of the case is what ultimately made up his mind.

“If these allegations are true, then it goes beyond the walls, and everybody is in danger. The overall scheme that’s alleged here: racketeering, murder, the overall scheme was to make sure that, apparently, to make sure that nobody crossed them while they were at the prison. I’m not comfortable at this time granting bond,” Judge Glen Cheney said.

Kraft is due back in court on May 11 for more hearings.