Defense attorneys for the Glynn County man charged with killing his father and seven others four years ago say a witness reported finding a bloody martial arts weapon outside the mobile home where the slayings occurred, but police never mentioned it in their case.
Guy Heinze Jr., 26, faces the death penalty if convicted of the August 2009 slayings. His lawyer, Newell Hamilton Jr., was granted a new opening statement on the trial's third day Thursday because new information may affect Heinze's defense strategy.
Hamilton said lawyers on both sides learned this week that the mobile home park's manager notified police days after the killings that she found a pair of bloody nunchucks in a tire outside the home. Her call to police was recorded but the weapon was never logged as evidence.
Thursday included a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic biologist testifying that the blood on the 16-gauge shotgun found in the trunk of Heinze's Mercury Cougar belonged to his uncle, Russell Toler Sr. -- one of the victims killed that morning. A cell phone also found in the car contained blood belonging to Joe West, another of the victims.
Blood on the shorts Heinze was wearing that day was a DNA match to Toler Sr., and two of that victim's children: Russell Jr. and Chrissy. Blood on the tip of a knife found at the scene was also a DNA match to that of Russell Jr.
Lt. Kevin Bullard with Glynn County Sheriffs Office testified he took Heinze's booking photo and put his clothing in a nylon mesh bag. During cross examination the defense got Bullard to admit its possible the evidence in the bag could be cross contaminated or this evidence could contaminate other evidence because the mesh bags are reused.
Earlier Wednesday, Glynn County Police Officer Roderic Nohilly testified that when he interviewed Heinze, he admitted he was high on crack cocaine and marijuana the morning of the murders.
Nohilly also testified that they received a tip that police should investigate a physical threat made against the Toler family -- the man who owned the trailer, his sister and four children and who all died in the attack -- by two individuals with possible gang ties. When asked by the defense why police did not investigate the tip thoroughly, Nohilly said one of the individuals was in jail at the time of the murders and they didn't have a first name for the second person.
On Wednesday, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner testified the victims clubbed to death suffered more than 220 injuries total, mostly from repeated blows to the head that caused deep lacerations, skull fractures and internal bleeding around the brain.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue testified that most of the victims were stuck with such tremendous force that pressure from the blows cracked the base of their skulls.
"You normally only see these kinds of injuries in automobile accidents or when people fall from buildings," said Donoghue, a Savannah-based medical examiner for the GBI.
Donoghue walked jurors through each autopsy Wednesday, showing them dozens of graphic autopsy photographs of the victims and their wounds.
Donoghue testified that all eight victims died from blunt trauma to the skull and brain.
The suspect's father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr., had 22 external wounds — skin tears, scrapes and bruises — to his head, neck and shoulders plus multiple internal injuries. Rusty Toler Sr., 44, had more than 30 wounds including a deep laceration nearly 6 inches long that creased the top of his head.
His older son, 20-year-old Russell D. Toler Jr., had several teeth knocked out and was stabbed three times in addition to being bludgeoned. And his younger daughter, 15-year-old Michelle Toler, suffered 48 external injuries to her face, head and arms. She also had broken bones in her left hand.
The edler Toler's two other children — Chrissy Toler, 22, and Michael Toler, 19 — suffered similar injuries. So did his sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph W. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., ended up the sole survivor. Prosecutors said he suffered severe brain damage and could not help them as a witness.
The medical examiner testified wounds to all eight victims appeared consistent, as if they were caused by the same weapon or similar ones. Donoghue said parallel marks on some victims indicated they were beaten with a long, thin object such as a nightstick.
He agreed with prosecutor John B. Johnson that the weapon could have been a shotgun barrel. That's what police suspect was used to commit the slayings, though no murder weapon was found. He also conceded to Heinze's defense attorney, Newell Hamilton Jr., that the weapon could have been something else.
"The barrel of gun certainly fits the pattern," Donoghue said.
"But so does any pipe," Hamilton replied.
The first Glynn County police officer to arrive at the scene testified the 16-gauge shotgun recovered from the truck of Heinze Jr.'s car that appeared to have dried blood on it.
The defense argued that Lt. Keith Stalvey's testimony contained information not included in his incident report, and under cross examination admitted he couldn't be sure it was blood.
"No sir, I wasn't certain it was blood," Stalvey said.
On Wednesday, jurors heard the frantic 911 call in which Heinze said he had come home from a late night out and discovered the bodies. On the call he cried: "My whole family is dead! It looks like they've been beaten to death."
Prosecutors have told the jury it's significant that Heinze knew immediately how the victims had been killed. Glynn County police Lt. Keith Stalvey, who was the first officer on the scene, testified that the victims' head injuries were so grave that he at first thought they had been shot.
Heinze's defense attorneys say police rushed to build a case against Heinze and ignored other possible suspects. Defense attorney Hamilton also told jurors that police were ill-equipped to deal with such an overwhelming crime scene, with blood spattered on the floors and walls of a home already covered with trash and discarded clothing.
Hamilton pressed Stalvey on why he persisted in questioning Heinze at the scene when he was shaken after seeing the bodies and was under the influence of drugs. Heinze told police he had been smoking marijuana. Drug tests later showed crack cocaine and a prescription painkiller in his system.
"You have walked into the crime scene and seen blood covering the walls," Hamilton said to the police officer. "You wouldn't assume he was traumatized by that?"
"He may have been traumatized, but I was at a murder scene," replied Stalvey, who said Heinze was not a suspect at the time and wouldn't have been questioned if he had been because he was intoxicated. "And I was trying to the best I could and find out who did it."