During my early years as a Macon reporter, my path crossed with the late Gregg Allman twice.
The first crossing came in 1974 when Macon artist Tommy Pilcher gave then Macon Mayor Ronnie Thompson a portrait of Allman. Pilcher had painted the portrait from a picture that was taken of the singer during a concert in New Orleans.
Thompson, an avid supporter of Capricorn Records and the Allman Brothers Band, thought the portrait should be hung at City Hall. I covered the brief ceremony that Thompson held for Allman and Pilcher.
"It's beautiful," Allman said.
Our paths crossed again later when I was covering the federal investigation of illegal drug trafficking in Macon. Allman was hauled before a federal grand jury to be grilled about his role in the alleged trafficking.
Federal grand jury proceedings are secret, but I learned of Allman's appearance by accident. At the time, Allman and Cher were an item. They spent time in California and Georgia, but mostly on the West Coast.
Rona Barrett was known then as Hollywood's gossip queen. She had a gig called Tattletales and often spewed her gossip on the national television show "Good Morning America".
I was watching "Good Morning America" when Barrett informed the nation that Allman was back in Macon and scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury that morning. Later that day, I confirmed that Allman testified before the grand jury, but I didn't learn specifics of his testimony until June of 1976 when John C. "Scooter" Herring went to trial on drug trafficking charges.
Herring was the road manager for the Allman Brothers Band and sometimes served as Allman's personal bodyguard. Two people testified against Herring. Ex-pharmacist Joe Fuchs told jurors he supplied pharmaceutical cocaine to Herring and Allman.
Allman received immunity for his testimony. But he told jurors he got his illegal drugs from Herring and Fuchs. Many believe Allman's testimony triggered the breakup of the Allman Brothers Band.
The trial took place in late June of 1976. On June 25, the story I wrote appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. The headline read, "Allman Under Heavy Guard" and the the subhead read "Death Threats Reported."
Because of the headline and story, Herring's defense attorney asked the trial judge to poll the jurors and ask each one of them if they'd seen the story and been influenced by it. That request was denied.
The first paragraph of the story read, "Threats against the life of Macon rock superstar Greg Allman have prompted federal officials to shield the key witness from danger by ordering U.S. Marshals to give him protective custody around the clock."
And shield him they did.
Allman was so protected that when marshals brought him back to Georgia, they slipped him into the visiting general's quarters at Robins Air Force Base. Wherever Allman went, marshals shielded him, even when he went to State Court to pay an overdue traffic ticket.
Herring was convicted of the drug charges and sentenced to 75 years in federal prison. But the appeals court concluded the headline and story could've influenced the jury and overturned the conviction. Herring later pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served about three years in prison.
Herring was released early when then President Jimmy Carter pardoned him.
Herring died in November 2007, nine years and five months before Allman, the man whose testimony helped send Herring to federal prison.
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