A Bulloch County Superior Court immunity hearing for William Marcus “Marc” Wilson, charged with felony murder in the June 14, 2020, shooting death of Haley Hutcheson, took a long pause in its second day after Judge Michael Muldrew held Wilson’s lead attorney, Francys Johnson, in contempt and had him removed from the courtroom.
Hours later, the day ended with the defense team filing motions to have Muldrew recused both from eventually trying the case and from deciding whether Johnson is guilty of contempt.
Johnson’s removal from the hearing occurred Thursday morning, after he refused to hand a binder of documents, said to be e-mail printouts, to the judge, and insisted on giving them instead to the clerk of court. The Statesboro Herald did not have a reporter present for the morning session but learned what had happened from other sources.
After a few witnesses were heard and Johnson was ejected, the court took a long midday break by 11 a.m. so that Muldrew could attend a funeral in a neighboring county. But he initially set 2 p.m. as the time for the hearing to resume. By that time attorneys for the prosecution and the defense – minus Johnson, who was in the custody of deputies elsewhere in the Judicial Annex – had gathered in the courtroom, along with members of Hutcheson’s and Wilson’s families and other people interested in the case.
But the pause then continued, with attorneys and other court officials occasionally going out through a side door before returning to the courtroom. At 4:30 p.m., the courtroom suddenly became silent, and Muldrew was announced and returned to the bench.
Wilson, 22, handcuffed but dressed in a suit, returned with defense attorney Mawuli Davis, and was seated with him and defense attorney Martha Hall.
“The court intended to resume this hearing around 2 o’clock. …,” Muldrew said. “At that time the court was prepared to address an issue regarding Mr. Johnson’s contempt of this court. Before I could do that, I was advised by Mr. Davis and Ms. Hall that they were preparing some motions. I gave them time to file those motions.”
The motions included one to recuse, or “that this case be assigned to another court,” the judge explained, and also a motion to recuse him from the contempt hearing.
“The Uniform Rules of Superior Court require that once a recusal motion is filed that it then be passed on to another judge to review,” Muldrew said. “The court intends on doing that.”
Because of the motion to recuse, he would have no further dealings with the case until the other judge or court decides either to keep it or send the case back to his court, he said. Muldrew said he had intended to bring Johnson back in for a hearing on the contempt citation Thursday afternoon, but because of the motion regarding it he could not do so.
“Nor would I normally be allowed to enter an order releasing him from jail pending that hearing, but being consistent with what my plan was, this court will issue an order releasing him, and then he will be given an opportunity to be heard at a later date,” Muldrew said.
That hearing would occur either in Muldrew’s court or another court, depending on the reviewing judge’s decision. Johnson was actually held in the court building, not the jail, and Muldrew said he was already being released.
Muldrew also granted a continuance, or postponement, “until further order” in the case. So what was expected to be a three-day hearing effectively ended after a truncated second day, with no fixed date to resume.
What occurred Wednesday and Thursday was not part of a trial, and no jury was present.
Instead, it was an evidentiary hearing on a motion filed by the defense team seeking immunity from prosecution for Wilson – in other words, asserting that he shouldn’t be tried at all. This was based on a claim that Wilson was "defending himself, a third person and his habitation,” according to a brief Davis and Johnson filed with the court Aug. 5. Among other things, it cites a Georgia law that defines a motor vehicle or place of business, as well as a residence, as a “habitation.”
Witnesses at previous hearings testified that Wilson, while driving his car, fired the shot that struck Hutcheson, 17, in the back of the head as she rode with four other teenagers in a pickup truck on Veterans Memorial Parkway, Statesboro’s bypass, about 1 a.m. that Sunday.
But defense attorneys have asserted that Wilson, who is biracial, and a white girlfriend who was in the car with him had been subjected to a racist attack in which people in the truck called them “n… and n… lover.”
The then-girlfriend, Emma Rigdon, testified Thursday morning. WTOC-TV reported that Rigdon said she had been frightened when, after she and Wilson visited a drive-thru, the truck followed them through several traffic lights, veering into their lane several times while the young men inside waved and gestured.
She said Wilson had fired his gun toward the truck and yelled for the people in it to back off, the Savannah television station reported.
Wednesday’s portion of the hearing included testimony from surviving occupants of the truck, including driver Mason Glisson, who acknowledged that the teenagers had been drinking when they drove from Claxton to and around Statesboro that night. But, as in a preliminary hearing in August 2020, he again denied shouting racist epithets or driving aggressively.
One of the passengers, Luke Conley, again declined to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself, which was also his response during the August 2020 hearing. Statesboro police filed a misdemeanor obstruction charge against Conley last year, alleging that he had given conflicting statements.
Wilson’s attorneys filed a motion Thursday morning seeking to have the court waive the hearsay rule and admit evidence regarding Conley’s statements on the basis that he is “unavailable as a witness.”
Meanwhile prosecutors, led by District Attorney Daphne Totten of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, filed a motion Wednesday seeking to have the court quash student records of all the occupants of the pickup as illegally obtained evidence, after the defense subpoenaed these from the Evans County school system.
It was something accidentally handed to Johnson by a judge’s assistant in place of school records that led to Johnson’s refusal to hand the binder directly to Muldrew, resulting in the judge’s removal of Johnson on the contempt allegation, according to one observer.
“What the records were supposed to be were school records, but they were e-mail communications between Marc and other outside parties while he was in custody at the jail, which had not been turned into evidence by either side,” said the Rev. James Woodall, a policy associate from the Southern Center for Human Rights, who was in the courtroom.
Johnson was attempting to submit these to the clerk to establish proper chain of custody, Woodall said.