No verdict, murder jury recesses for night

Jury returning 9 a.m. Friday to deliberate charges against Guy Heinze

Author: Tim Pulliam, General assignment reporter, tpulliam@wjxt.com
Published On: Oct 24 2013 07:25:18 AM EDT   Updated On: Oct 24 2013 11:37:57 PM EDT
Guy Heinze jury hung on murder counts
BRUNSWICK, Ga. -

Another night has come and gone and there's still no verdict in the Guy Heinze Jr. mass murder trial in Brunswick, GA. Heinze is on trial for the murder of eight people, including his father and seven extended family members, in Brunswick four years ago.

Jurors reached a decision on counts 10 and 11, which are drug charges, but the jury will be back again Friday because no decision was made Thursday night after two long days of deliberations.

After calling the jury into the courtroom about 1 p.m. Thursday, the judge told them to go back and keep deliberating. They later returned about 2:30 p.m. after requesting to see the video of investigators examining the bloody murder scene, and shortly after went back to deliberating.

The jury, consisting of eight women and four men, was recessed until 9 a.m. Friday morning.

“I’m not surprised they’re still deadlocked,” said Defense Attorney Gene Nichols. “They’ve been at this all day long after already having gone through this yesterday. It’s not surprising they’re still where they are.”

Nichols suspects the three holdout jurors think Heinze is guilty of the crimes due to lack of evidence presented in the case.

“Normally in these situations the majority are sitting, waiting, they’re stressed because they want the other three to come to a decision because they believe they have to come to a decision,” said Nichols.

Heinze could face the death penalty if he's convicted of malice murder in the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings at the cramped mobile home he shared with the victims in northern Glynn County.

Nichols told Channel 4 Thursday night that the court has given the jury more time, in hopes that they’ll come to a decision. Nichols expects the case will have to be re-tried when all is said and done.

“Most likely speaking, they’re going to come back and realize they cannot get to a majority, unanimous. They’ll most likely come back hung,” said Nichols.

Police say they believe Heinze, who admitted he had been using crack cocaine, single-handedly clubbed the victims to death with a shotgun barrel.

Defense attorneys say police ignored evidence and alternate suspects in their rush to build a case against Heinze.

A prosecutor asked jurors on Wednesday to convict Heinze based on evidence including a bloodstained shotgun and clothing, a clue given in a 911 call and signs that eight family members were killed in a cramped mobile home with only two being roused from bed.

Prosecutor John B. Johnson told jurors that the slayings stemmed from a fight between Heinze and 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr. over a bottle of prescription painkillers in the bedroom Toler shared with one of his sons.

"The defendant whether he was being angry, being mad, being upset that he couldn't get the drugs he wanted or because of the drugs (he had already taken), it doesn't matter, gets into an argument with Russell Sr. and he kills him," Johnson said. Afraid of being caught, Heinze then "goes through the house -- angry, mad or whatever -- and kills them all."

Victims of Aug. 29, 2009 murders

Glynn County mobile home murder victims (strip)
Guy Heinze Sr.45
Russell D. Toler Sr.44
Russell D. Toler Jr.20
Chrissy Toler22
Michael Toler19
Michelle Toler15
Brenda Gail Falagan   49
Joseph L. West30

View photos, details of victims

Johnson said only Heinze knew where each of the victims slept and would have been capable of slipping from room-to-room in the dark when the victims were killed between midnight and 5:30 a.m. He said Heinze was also the only person at first who knew the victims had been clubbed to death. Their wounds were so grievous, police at first thought they had all been shot.

Police found blood from four of the victims on Heinze's shorts, undershorts and shoes, but none on his shirt or body. He left a bloody palm print inside a drawer in the home and on the stock of a bloody shotgun found in the trunk of his car. Also in the car were a bloody cellphone that belonged to one victim and as well as the bottle of prescription painkillers. Lab tests found Heinze had cocaine, marijuana and the painkiller in his system.

The lead defense attorney for Heinze, meanwhile, used his closing argument to identify flaws in the investigation as he tried to persuade jurors that authorities intentionally overlooked alternate suspects and evidence that more than one attacker must have committed the killings.

Newell Hamilton Jr. told the jury it was hard to believe Heinze would kill eight people he loved over a bottle of "weak painkillers."

"If the object of the murders was to get the pill bottle and the idea was you couldn't hear people room-to-room and you could sleep through the beatings of people next door, then why didn't Guy Heinze simply leave?" Hamilton said.

He asked jurors to go back and listen to how distraught Heinze sounded on the 911 call. And he reminded the jury that two defense experts testified there must have been more than one killer in the house. A former police detective estimated three to five attackers committed the killings. He also noted the blood found on Heinze's clothing was smeared, not spattered, indicating it rubbed off on Heinze when he found the bodies rather than as the slayings occurred.

Hamilton accused police of failing to follow up on a tip that others had made threats against the Toler family and from taking into evidence pair of a homemade martial-arts style nunchucks found in a tire near the mobile home about two weeks after the slayings.

The victims included the suspect's father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr. The elder Toler was slain along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also killed was the elder Toler's sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph L. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., ended up the sole survivor but suffered severe head injuries.

Autopsies showed each victim died from being bashed in the skull with a blunt weapon. They suffered a combined total of more than 220 external injuries.

Police never found the murder weapon, but suspect the victims were beaten the barrel of a shotgun. A broken gun stock was found beside Rusty Toller Sr.'s head.

Heinze told police there were two shotguns in the elder Toler's closet. The one found in his trunk was ruled out as the murder weapon. Heinze told police he removed it from the house before police arrived because it had been stolen. Police checked the serial number and found the gun was legally registered to one of the victims.