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Death, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Part II

Warren Ullom: A talented musician's recovery, incarceration and swan song

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From the time of his arrest until his sentencing a year and a half later, Warren had one primary objective. "I felt that it was my duty to do right, and to create beauty, and to celebrate existence," he says in the letter sent from prison. "There were things I felt that I needed to say to specific people, emotions so acute that they could only properly be conveyed through art, so I wrote these songs."

The songs caught the attention of Slush Fund Records founder Dave Prasse and local filmmaker George King, both of whom had a hard time reconciling the seemingly reformed young man with the depraved person described in court documents.

"Back then, he was a different person," says King, who's recorded close to 70 hours of footage and twice visited Warren in prison. "He went through this ellipse. He descended into this dark place. And then he came back."

Once he was back, King says, Warren manically tried to fill his life with meaning, knowing he was short on time.

Warren led the Judies through a frenzied pace of shows and a relentless recording schedule. The band headlined that year's Corndogorama, played the Star Bar on New Year's Eve, performed a Criminal Records in-store, released a self-titled album, and, in the days before his final court date, recorded several new tracks and videos at Prasse's Ormewood Park studio.

"While everyone [in the band] was handling it differently, we all had a goal that was bigger than making a record," Warren says. "We were immortalizing a moment."

On June 7, 2010 — two years and one day after Rachel died — Warren pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Fulton County Superior Court. Part of the condition of his plea was for the D.A.'s office to drop the theft charge. It was the most crucial allegation that Warren's defense team would have fought had he gone to trial. They wanted to dispel any notion that Warren let Rachel die because he was after the earrings.

"Warren didn't use any kind of good judgment that night," says the Judies' longtime manager, Kahle Davis. "But when it comes down to it, he tried like hell to save her life while respecting her instruction that no one could know she was using heroin."

Warren received a sentence of 20 years. Less than a year into his incarceration, he says he sustains himself with thoughts of making music again, and the possibility of one day being able to help young people prevent addictions.

"Maybe sharing my experiences will help prevent these kinds of tragic events," he writes. "I can see myself working with addicts who feel hopeless, a feeling I remember all too well."

It's a second chance that won't be afforded to Rachel.

In a letter filed in Batman's court file, her sister Pamela describes the ongoing trauma of Rachel's loss. She says she's not angry or looking for revenge, but that she, too, would like to see something positive come from this tragedy.

"So far, all I have seen and experienced is the most painful heartache imaginable," she writes. "Day by day we are all learning how to cope. My mom doesn't leave the house much. She calls Rachel's phone number daily. She questions her faith and battles with thoughts of what she could have done differently in her life so that Rachel would still be here today.

"Our father works the same as always. He never has taken a break except to bury his daughter. If he even hesitates I believe he will fall apart and it will all come crashing down.

"As for me, I do my best. I have faith, and that gives me comfort in knowing where she will spend eternity. It does not, however, keep me from missing her like crazy. I still cannot get my mind around the truth that Rachel is gone."

About the story: This narrative was pieced together with court records, medical documents, autopsy reports, a dozen on- and off-the-record interviews, and a letter sent by Warren Ullom in response to a list of questions about his addiction, his crime and his recovery. Certain names have been withheld of individuals who were accused of wrongdoing but did not face criminal charges.

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