MURDER CHARGES: Investigators said a man committed suicide, his family never bought it

WALKER COUNTY, Ga. — A death investigation, originally declared a suicide by investigators, has led to new charges.

The medical examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation performed the original autopsy of victim Donald “DJ” Fickey, and said it was a suicide.

Four years later, investigators say new information in the case led to the manner of death being reclassified as “undetermined.”

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From the beginning, Fickey’s family didn’t think he’d killed himself.

His sister, Amanda Shirley, told Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes what they thought really happened, and what they did to convince officials to reopen the case.

“We told them from day one this was not a suicide,” Amanda Shirley, the victim’s sister, said. “DJ would not have ever killed himself, he loved his kids too much, loved his family too much.”

Fickey, a father of three, was shot to death in his home in 2016.

The GBI’s medical examiner called his death a “suicide by shotgun,” but Fickey’s family never believed it. For the last seven years, his family has remained convinced he didn’t kill himself.

According to his family, it was all because of an affair.


“No one would listen,” Shirley said.

Earlier in the case, deputies had a person of interest in Fickey’s death, his roommate, Marshall Payne.

In October 2016, when her brother died, Shirley said there “was a lot going on” in his Walker County home, and that investigators never looked into it.

Shirley told Channel 2 Action News that Fickey and Payne were in a love triangle, with Fickey’s wife, Brandy.

Payne is the person who called 911 and reported the shooting.

“I tried to get the gun and it went off,” he’s heard saying on the 911 call.

Fickey’s family said Payne was having an affair with Fickey’s wife.

It took four years before they were able to convince the agency to reopen the case, with the help of investigator Eric Echols. Fernandes also spoke to Echols, to learn which details led to the case being reopened.

“I’ll fight for my brother ‘til the day I die,” Shirley said.

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Echols told Channel 2 Action News that after it was deemed a suicide, investigators “didn’t do their investigation.”

According to Shirley, Payne’s arrest wasn’t from “new information,” but information that was “always there,” because new people took a look at what was already available.

The GBI took a closer look after the family told them that Payne had been having an affair with Fickey’s wife.

Then, the Walker County DA reopened the case.

As a result of the new evidence, Payne’s been charged with murder.

Deputies arrested Payne on Wednesday, three years after the GBI changed the cause of death listed in the case.

He was indicted for murder by a grand jury in 2023.

Fickey’s family said that while it’s just an arrest and not a conviction, it’s still a victory. They don’t want Fickey’s children to believe their father chose to leave them by committing suicide.

Fickey’s family wants the justice they’ve been fighting for. The family is confident the evidence will convict Payne in court.


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