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Natson guilty in Carter murder

Trial moves into penalty phase

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Posted: March 16, 2007 12:53 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2007 5:00 a.m.
A jury in Columbus, Ga. deliberated all day Thursday and three hours Friday before finding Michael Antonio Natson, 26, guilty Friday of murder, feticide and possession of a weapon during the commission of murder, said Statesboro Police Det. Terry Briley.
    Natson was found guilty of murdering Georgia Southern University student Ardena Marie Carter, 24, whom family members said was his girlfriend and expecting his child.
    During the two-week trial in U.S. District Court, Natson denied killing Carter, a Georgia Southern University student who had claimed he was the father of her unborn child.
    Carter's sister Gail Goodwin expressed joy Friday after hearing the verdict.
    "I feel elated. Relieved," she said. "It's been a long, tedious journey to get this far. This was hard for both families. Both families suffered a tremendous loss."
    Diane Croomes, Carter's mother, was overwhelmed with emotion as she spoke to the Statesboro Herald by phone Friday afternoon.
    "I feel real good," she said. "I'm blessed. This made a nice birthday gift for Dena."
    Carter would have turned 28 March 12, she said.
     Briley was still in Columbus Friday, as he was to testify in the penalty phase as well. Since he was still slated to testify, he was unable to discuss details of the case, he said.
    The jury was expected to reconvene Friday afternoon to consider whether Natson should face the death penalty. The jury must find that specific aggravating circumstances exist in order to consider a death sentence.
    If the jury finds those circumstances, the attorneys for Natson will introduce evidence of mitigating factors and argue for a sentence other than death.
    The case is being handled in federal court because Carter was killed on a U.S. military reservation.
    The prosecution contended that that Natson, 26, thought Carter was going to seek child support money from him.
    In a closing statement Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Lynch said no witness could verify Natson’s location the night of Sept. 11, 2003 — the last time Carter was seen alive.
    Briley began investigating after Carter was reported missing Sept. 11, 2003. She had been dropped of at her University Pointe apartment and told friend she planned to walk to the GSU Henderson Library.  Croomes reported her missing after no one saw her for several days.
    Cell phone calls Carter made led police to believe Carter was headed to Columbus, so they took the investigation to that area, found additional evidence and worked with federal agents in pursuing leads, according to GSU Police Chief Ken Brown.
    Months after Carter went missing, hunters found her body, as well as the remains of her unborn fetus, in some woods near Ft. Benning Dec. 16, 2003. Natson was  an active duty soldier assigned to Ft. Benning at the time.
    When Carter and her fetus' body were found, identity confirmed through dental records, the evidence — and the investigation — was handed over to military police and FBI agents, Briley said.
     Natson, originally from Statesboro, had "been discharged from the U.S. Army but subsequently joined the U.S. Air Force where he was assigned to Maxwell Air Force base, Montgomery, Alabama"  as a military policeman, according to Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Gregory Jones, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Atlanta Division.
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