After hearing closing arguments and the judge’s instructions, the jury in the trial of Marc Wilson for the June 14, 2020 shooting death of Haley Hutcheson carried more than a guilty or not-guilty decision on the original charge of felony murder with them into deliberations that began before 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Counting two long days of jury selection, Tuesday, Aug. 30, was the seventh day of the trial conducted by Judge Ronald K. “Ronnie” Thompson in Bulloch County Superior Court. He sent the jurors out around 2:10 p.m., but it was 2:44 p.m. when the lawyers had the evidence exhibits sorted out to send to the jury. At 6:30 p.m., the jury’s foreperson said they would need additional time, so the judge recessed the court with deliberations scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Tuesday’s session began with closing arguments from the attorneys. The state, or prosecution, gets to start and conclude the closing arguments, with each side afforded two hours. Tuesday morning Chief Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office first gave a three-minute opening statement, beginning by thanking jurors for their service and telling them the trial was about Haley Hutcheson, while holding a photograph of her as a smiling teenager.
“This trial is about this little girl,” he said. “That’s what this trial has been about, and I want to say that I appreciate your time, your attention and your perseverance through this long process. I want to say thank you for that. The family of Haley wants to say thank you for that.”
Black said he also wanted to wanted to thank “somebody that was key to this case,” and named the last witness who had been called by the state, a friend of Emma Rigdon’s who had told police after Rigdon spoke to her about Wilson having fired shots on Veterans Memorial Parkway the night Hutcheson died.
“Thank you for not listening to Emma when she said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ because if (the friend) hadn’t come forward, if (the friend) hadn’t had the courage to do that, against her friend’s wishes, this case would never have been solved,” Black said.
Wilson’s lead attorney, Francys Johnson, spent most of the defense’s allotted two hours on a vigorous assertion that the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, setting out a list of what he called reasonable doubts for the jury to take with them and also Wilson’s claim of self-defense.
“You now know that it was not Marc Wilson that instigated this, it was not Marc Wilson that escalated this,” Johnson said. “You know for yourself because you know more of the whole story. You’re closer to the whole truth. What Mr. Wilson did was what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances to save Emma Rigdon’s life, to defend his own habitation, his car, no less than his own home, and to save his own life.”
Lesser included charges
Black then returned to face the jury for his concluding argument, which lasted well over an hour, and began by setting out the points of the charges against Wilson, both from the original indictment and “lesser included charges,” which might be applied to his actions that resulted in Hutcheson’s death.
In fact, during a charging conference the previous afternoon, Monday, the defense had sought to exclude the lesser included offenses, so as to give the jury what Judge Thompson called an “all or nothing” choice, with felony murder being the only homicide charge. But Black at that time argued that case law required providing the lesser included charges where appropriate.
However, Monday night, Wilson’s defense team filed a request to have the lesser included charges listed and explained in the judge’s instructions, as he disclosed Tuesday morning before the jury was brought in.
As Black noted in his closing argument and Thompson conveyed in his instructions, the jury could acquit Wilson of felony murder – which means causing a death by committing another felony, in this case allegedly aggravated assault – but find him guilty of one of the lesser homicide crimes: second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
Second-degree murder in Georgia is a relatively rare charge. Under a 2017 Georgia law, this degree of murder can only be committed by causing a death through “cruelty to children in the second degree.” A child is defined in state law as a person under 18, and Hutcheson was 17, Black noted.
Voluntary manslaughter means causing the death of another person under circumstances that would otherwise be murder except that the accused acted “as the result of a sudden, violent and irresistible passion” caused by a provocation “sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person.”
Involuntary manslaughter, which prosecutors had originally opposed providing as a option in the Wilson case, even includes a misdemeanor form.
After stating the options, Black argued that prosecutors still believe Wilson guilty as charged, of felony murder and the other counts in the indictment. The indictment charged felony murder, five counts of aggravated assault and one count of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Johnson argued that he acted in self-defense and should be acquitted of all charges.
After 4 p.m. Tuesday, the jurors requested some definitions of the judge, and Thompson had them return to the courtroom, where he re-read the definitions. They then left for the jury room and continued deliberations until the 6:30 p.m. overnight recess.
All 15 jurors selected chosen through the Aug. 22-23 selection process remained through the five days of testimony and argument, including many times when the jury panel was sent out while lawyers argued over points such as the admissibility of evidence or testimony. The 15 appeared to include eight men and seven women, including just two Black persons, both women. When the 12-member jury was sent out Tuesday, one of the Black women was included, while the other was one of the three alternates.
When Wilson fired several shots from a 9mm handgun while driving his Ford Fusion, accompanied by Rigdon, along Veterans Memorial Parkway, Statesboro’s bypass, shortly before 1 a.m. on Sunday, June 14, 2020, one bullet struck Hutcheson, 17, in the head, as has not been disputed. At the time she was riding with four other teenagers from Claxton in a crew-cab Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
Wilson’s attorneys have long asserted that teenagers in the truck, particularly the three boys, initiated a conflict, shouting racial slurs, gesturing and swerving into Wilson’s lane, after mistaking Wilson, who is biracial, and Rigdon, who is white, for another interracial couple.
Wilson did not testify during the trial. But a recording of what he told two Statesboro Police Department detectives during a June 16, 2020 phone call he made to Rigdon while the detectives were at her apartment was played three times during the trial. The prosecution played it the first time while one of the detectives was on the stand. The defense called the other detective as a witness and played it again, and Johnson played it yet again during his closing argument.
Black, during his concluding argument, did not play it again, but highlighted quotes from Wilson’s remarks.
This transitional story for www.statesboroherald.com may be updated or replaced.