- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - A Georgia prosecutor said Friday he won’t bring criminal charges against the Savannah doctor who served as local coroner for 40 years before he resigned abruptly as authorities investigated allegations that he used taxpayer money for personal gain.

Since he was first elected Chatham County coroner in 1973, Dr. James C. Metts Jr. had treated patients by day and examined dead bodies at whatever odd hours police called him. The job earned him a small part in the 1994 bestselling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Then Metts resigned shortly after winning re-election in 2013. County officials had called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after an audit turned up at least $141,000 in questionable expenses to the coroner’s office.

Roughly 18 months later, the prosecutor assigned to review the case said Friday he found nothing in the GBI’s 2,000-page report to warrant charges against 82-year-old Metts.

“There was no evidence that I saw of criminal impropriety,” said Tom Durden, district attorney for the Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit. “I’m not saying different minds might not have done some things a different way. But as far as anyone trying to get over on the system by breaking a law, I didn’t see it.”

The county audit that triggered the investigation turned up what appeared to be payments to Metts for a secretary he didn’t have as well as for personal expenses including property taxes, auto insurance and cellphone bills. Metts tried to settle the matter in Dec. 2013 by sending county officials personal checks for $141,000, but the criminal investigation moved forward.

Longtime friends including Savannah doctors and lawyers spoke out in Metts‘ defense early on, saying he may have been a lousy bookkeeper but he certainly wasn’t a crook.

“We obviously think Mr. Durden reached the right conclusion and are thankful for his diligence in sorting the facts out here,” Metts‘ attorney Tom Withers said Friday. He declined to comment further.

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