A Bulloch County grand jury last week indicted William Marcus Wilson, who was 21 when arrested, with charges of felony murder and aggravated assault for the June 14 shooting death of Haley L. Hutcheson, 17, plus five additional counts.
The felony murder charge and one aggravated assault charge specific to Hutcheson were included in the Statesboro Police Department’s original June 16 arrest warrants. The indictment charges Wilson with four other counts of aggravated assault and with one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
An indictment is not an indication of guilt but is instead a grand jury’s determination, based on a presentation by prosecutors alone, that enough evidence exists to bring specific charges to trial.
Hutcheson, who was a Claxton High School student, was pronounced dead at East Georgia Regional Medical Center about 1 a.m. that Sunday after she was hit by a bullet while riding in a pickup truck with four other young people. Wilson allegedly shot more than once at the truck from his car while both were traveling around Veterans Memorial Parkway, in other words Statesboro’s U.S. Highway 301 bypass.
Count 1 of the indictment accuses Wilson of felony murder for causing “the death of Haley Hutcheson, a human being, by shooting her in the back of the head with a firearm …” while committing a felony, aggravated assault.
This is the essence of a “felony” murder charge in Georgia. It alleges that while committing a felony, someone caused a death, whether or not he specifically intended to kill that person. But it carries the same potential penalties as a “malice” murder charge.
Count 2 then accuses Wilson of aggravated assault for shooting Hutcheson. Count 3 accuses him of possessing a firearm, specifically a Taurus 9mm handgun, while committing a felony, again the alleged aggravated assault of Hutcheson.
But Counts 4, 5, 6, and 7 charge Wilson with committing aggravated assault against the four other people who were in the truck – Mason Glisson, Maci Neagley, Luke Conley and Ashton Deloach – by “discharging a firearm multiple times” in the direction of the vehicle.
In an online press conference July 6, some of Wilson’s defense attorneys, accompanied by his parents, asserted that he had been defending himself and a girlfriend who was with him in his car from a racist attack. Attorneys Francys Johnson and Mawuli Davis suggested that the “stand your ground” principle of self-defense might be invoked, citing Davis’ previous experience with this type of case.
During the first-appearance and bond hearing, which was delayed to Aug. 18 because of COVID-19 concerns at the Judicial Annex, these attorneys asked if occupants of the truck had shouted the racial slurs “n…” and “n… lover” at Wilson, who is biracial, and the girlfriend, who is white, and attempted to run them off the road. But no witness directly affirmed this during that hearing.
Both the defense press conference and a June 16 Statesboro police-hosted conference in which members of Hutcheson’s family called for the shooter, then unnamed, to turn himself in were held before Judge Michael T. Muldrew issued a gag order July 7 in Bulloch County Superior Court.
Among the things, the order specifically prohibits the prosecutors, defense attorneys and other officers of the court from commenting on whether a guilty plea or a deal for a lesser charge is possible in this case.
During the Aug. 18 hearing, Glisson, 18, testified that he and the other teenagers in his truck were drinking beers when he drove them from Claxton and around Statesboro that night.
Under oath, Glisson said he was “absolutely positive” he had not tried to run anybody off the road. He testified that he did not know what any of his passengers had done or said, except that one of the two young men, Deloach, told him that the other, Conley, “shot a bird out the window” at occupants of the car.
Glisson said he heard shots fired and that someone in the truck shouted “Get down!” which he did before turning around and seeing Hutcheson slumped over.
After Statesboro police charged Conley, also 18, with misdemeanor obstruction for allegedly making conflicting statements about the night Hutcheson died, Conley cited the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions during Wilson’s hearing.
Conley was already facing charges in Bulloch County State Court filed by the Georgia State Patrol for DUI, hit and run (failure to stop or return to scene of an accident), and other misdemeanor driving and alcohol offenses from a separate May 7 incident.
Emma Rigdon, identified by police as the girlfriend who was with Wilson in his car the night of June 13-14, was not called to testify during the August hearing. But SPD Detective Travis Kreun testified about statements she reportedly made to police, including that Wilson told her he had heard racial slurs from the truck’s occupants but that she had not heard any.
Rigdon was subpoenaed to last week’s grand jury proceeding, according to the court record.
Wilson, who had no record of previous arrests, had been visiting Statesboro the weekend of Hutcheson’s death. He then returned to his parents’ home in Coweta County but came back June 17 and turned himself in at the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office to face charges. He and his parents also surrendered his handgun.
Muldrew denied Wilson bond Aug. 18, so he remains in jail. Another of his attorneys, Martha C. Hall, filed a motion for reconsideration of bond Oct. 19, noting in it that he had been held at that point “for over 120 days on unindicted charges.” But an Oct.28 hearing was cancelled, to possibly be rescheduled.
Exceptions to the gag order allow attorneys and court officials to acknowledge documents filed with the court and to report the scheduling of proceedings. Bulloch County Clerk of Courts Heather Banks McNeal said she saw no new court date listed as of Tuesday.
Jury proceedings throughout the state had been halted from mid-March through September under COVID-19 emergency orders from Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton.
After he allowed for a phased reopening this fall, Bulloch County convened a grand jury Nov. 2-4 for the first time since February. Both the May and August quarterly grand jury sessions had been cancelled.
But the November grand jury issued more than 170 indictments last week, including several for other homicides that occurred in Statesboro and Bulloch County in recent months.