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Shooting, prior assault may be linked
Officials probe ties to attack, man defends late friend’s reputation
MurderSuicide 1 es web
Sheriff Ted Paxton and Lt Col. Gene Moss investigate the crime scene of what appears to be a murder/suicide case Wednesday night at 3235 Carlton Road. - photo by Emily Saunders
Authorities think a 75-year-old man who was shot to death earlier this week may have been targeted because he was a witness to a previous assault involving his attacker.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s investigators say 75-year-old Iowa Hill “Buddy” Preston was shot in the head sometime between Monday and Tuesday in an apartment he owned on Carlton Road.

The suspected gunman, who authorities have identified as 50-year-old John Michael Lito, later shot and killed himself in his own apartment, which was next door to Preston’s.

Preston’s body was found around 1 p.m. by one of his employees. Lito’s body was found by investigators a few hours later.

By Wednesday evening, Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton had announced that the shootings were being investigated as a murder-suicide.

Porter Downey, a longtime friend of Preston, said Friday he was upset with recent media reports that portrayed his late friend an unsavory manner.

Specifically, Downey was referring to a televised interview with a woman who said she knew Preston and was glad he was dead.

“He was always a friendly guy to me,” Downey said.

Lito had been released from jail on Aug. 1, investigators said. He was arrested July 26 and charged with aggravated battery in connection with the beating of another tenant at the Carlton Road property, David Payne.

Lt. Col. Gene Moss, commander of the sheriff’s law enforcement bureau, said Payne was taken to the hospital by Lito, who “in a rage had beaten him up severely.”

Moss declined to release details of the dispute.

“All we can say about it is there was a disagreement,” he said.

Payne remained hospitalized until Tuesday.

Moss said when Payne came home he found that his apartment had been burglarized and two firearms were stolen. He reported the burglary.

Capt. Paul Taylor, commander of the sheriff’s criminal investigations division, said Lito was a suspect in the burglary.
“Mr. Preston was an individual we had been trying to make contact with in relation to the assault on Mr. Payne,” Taylor said, adding that Preston was thought to be a witness in the case.

Preston was scheduled to meet with an investigator Tuesday morning, but never arrived.

When Preston’s body was found, Taylor said, Lito immediately became a person of interest.

Authorities then decided to check on Lito, whose body was found in his apartment.

Both guns stolen from Payne’s apartment were found inside Lito’s residence.

Moss said “a considerable amount of evidence” has been recovered.

“Early indications are some of that evidence directly links Mr. Lito to the death of Mr. Preston,” Moss said.

Downey said he had been friends with Preston for about 20 years. They got to know each other after Downey rented a boat slip from Preston.

“He wasn’t just some old guy that owned a quadriplex,” he said, adding that Preston owned more than one rental property and boat slips on Lake Lanier.

He said Preston owned Appliance Heaven on Franklin Goldmine Road and was a successful businessman. He said the business was originally on Atlanta Highway in Cumming across the street from Dairy Queen.

He said Preston started out doing sales for a liquor distributing company more than 20 years ago.

“Then he was a preacher for a while,” he said, though Downey did not know at what church or if it was local.

Downey characterized Preston as “quirky” and said he was a private person.

“He was a fairly relaxed individual,” he said.

Downey said he did not think Preston had any children, but that he did have an ex-wife.

Downey said he did not know Lito, but was aware of the burglary.

Sheriff’s crime scene technicians, Forsyth County fire personnel and officials with the coroner’s and district attorney’s offices also took part in the investigation.

Moss said investigators were still combing the residence and surrounding property on Thursday.

“We’re not leaving any loose ends,” he said. “This is taking a considerable amount of time because we have two scenes to process.”