“I have a blank slate in front of me,” said the father of five and grandfather of nine. “I’m sure I will end up doing something. There’s an old steelworkers saying: ‘I was looking when I found this one.’ I’m no worse off than I was before I found this job. So I’m sure I’ll do something other than sit at home.”
When Head does take a seat in the Marietta home he and his wife, retired state court judge Beverly Collins, have occupied for seven years, it may be behind some keyboards, an acoustic guitar, or at a computer loaded with recording studio software.
“I’d like to work on my music. I can’t read music but I do play, compose and arrange. I love it,” he said. “I’ve got one CD out, ‘Amazing Grace Rocks For Ages.’”
Head said he learned piano in his home town of Dry Pond and took up the guitar while serving for six years in the U.S. Navy Reserves.
“They didn’t have a piano, so I had to learn the guitar,” he said. “I bought an old guitar for six dollars and a half and went to the flight deck at night. I’d sit on the catwalk and teach myself guitar.”
Professionally, Head said if he practices law, “it will be criminal defense,” and said he doesn’t find the juxtaposition of roles uncomfortable.
“I was a criminal defense attorney before I was solicitor, and that wasn’t awkward,” he said. “I think a good attorney can wear any hat.”
Head said he hasn’t been asked to join a firm, so his next career may be as a sole practitioner as he was from 1978 to 1984 and again from 1993 to 1998.
Head graduated from Jefferson High School in Jackson County in 1964, went to North Georgia College in Dahlonega until 1965, and served in the Navy from 1965 to 1971, the first four years of which were active duty.
“I went to North Georgia for a year and then decided I didn’t like going to school,” he said. “Active duty changed my mind.”
Entering inactive duty in 1969, he began studying industrial engineering at what is now Southern Polytechnic State University, graduating in 1972.
Head then attended Woodrow Wilson College of Law in Atlanta, graduating in 1978 and opened his own practice the same year.
As solicitor general, an elected office, he served from 1984 to 1992, re-entered private practice, then ran in July 1998 for the vacant seat of Tom Charron, which was temporarily filled by Ben Smith Jr.
“I succeeded Benjamin Franklin Smith,” Head said about the son of former DA Ben Smith Sr., who died in 1980. “Benjy succeeded me (as solicitor general) when I left the office in 1992.”
Head said he will never forget Nov. 5, 1998.
“That’s when I was sworn in (as district attorney). It was also my birthday,” he said. “This county has been good to me. They gave me the best birthday present I could ask for.”
The voters of the county gave him unchallenged elections, except for the 2000 Republican primary when Forrest Shealy garnered 20 percent of the vote.
“I haven’t had opposition since,” Head said.
Opposition is at the heart of the justice system, and the district attorney, with a $6.25 million budget and staff of 120 including 38 attorneys seeks to prevail in the office’s single objective, he said.
“The mission is to enforce the laws of the state of Georgia and prosecute those who violate the criminal statutes,” Head said.
Within that mission, however, he has carved out a legacy of projects.
“We started a crimes against women and children unit so we could focus more on the prosecution of those cases without letting them drag on too long,” Head said about a 2001 initiative.
Within the past five to 10 years, he also organized the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program as a joint venture between the YWCA, the county victim-witness unit and the WellStar hospital system
“It’s called SANE,” Head said. “The victims of sexual assault don’t have to be revictimized when they get examined. Now there’s a private place they go to. They don’t have to sit out in the public waiting room. It doesn’t take near as long. They don’t go through the emergency room. The victim gets treated with the dignity and respect with which they should be treated.”
He will also be leaving behind a new system.
“One of the biggest changes is vertical prosecution,” Head said. “That means when a case comes into this office, it gets assigned to a prosecutor and that prosecutor stays with it all the way through to the conclusion of the case.”
He said the horizontal structure previously in place, using an indictment unit as a gatekeeper, led to court backlogs and a lower conviction rate.
“You end with cases that are not necessarily good cases that have been indicted and the attorney who has it then may say, ‘Why did somebody indict this?’ and then they’re stuck with it,” Head said.
He recalled some of the convictions he himself has obtained as DA, like one memorable 2007 trial in which he secured the death penalty.
“Stacey Humphreys was probably the saddest. Two real estate agents in west Cobb were killed,” Head said about the 2003 slaying of Lori Brown and Cindy Williams. “It was a senseless murder. Sometimes you can understand passion and drug deals gone bad, but in this case, there was nothing.”
Head said he has already offered advice to his successor, D. Victor Reynolds.
“Don’t trust the press,” Head said. “I have never felt that the press was a friend. Just make sure you’re doing everything you need to do. Don’t think the press will ever cover for you, because they will not.”
Jesse Evans, an assistant district attorney for Cobb who has worked with Head since 2001, said he’s a little sad to see his boss retiring but happy because he knows that Head is ready for retirement and the next chapter of his career.
“He’s been a very good boss, very good to me and my peers and a good friend of law enforcement and victims of crimes in the DA’s office,” he said.
Evans also said Head is leaving the district attorney’s office a “better place because of his leadership.”
“He’s done some remarkable things here, in regards to the fight against criminals. We all wish him the best,” he said.
Former Cobb commission chair and the state’s current attorney general Sam Olens said he respects Head for always being a “straight shooter” and having so much respect for his colleague in the district attorney’s office.
“I always found him to care about his employees,” said Olens said. “Every meeting that related to the budget was always about his employees and assistance that they needed.”
Olens, who has known Head for about 18 years, said he also thinks Head has done and excellent job for the citizens of Cobb in prosecuting cases and believes Reynolds will be a great successor.
Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee said, “I think he’s done a stellar job of managing the office effectively and efficiently ... providing a tremendous value to the citizens of Cobb.”
Lee, who’s known Head for about 10 years, also said his leaving the district attorney’s office will be a “big void,” but he’s confident that Reynolds is going to be able to step right in, using his own personal style and professionalism and not “miss a beat” in the office.