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Prosecutors say Wilson verdict brings closure
Defense vows to continue fight
Francys Johnson, lead attorney for Marc Wilson, center left, addresses the news media surrounded by supporters after Superior Court Judge Ronald K. ÒRonnieÓ Thompson sentenced Wilson to 10 years in prison Tuesday, Sept. 20, following his Aug. 31 convictio
Francys Johnson, lead attorney for Marc Wilson, center left, addresses the news media surrounded by supporters after Superior Court Judge Ronald K. "Ronnie" Thompson sentenced Wilson to 10 years in prison Tuesday, Sept. 20, following his Aug. 31 conviction of involuntary manslaughter for the June 14, 2020 shooting death of Haley Hutcheson. (Statesboro Herald photo/Scott Bryant)

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit prosecutors and William Marcus “Marc” Wilson’s defense attorneys and other supporters had very different reactions to his receiving a maximum 10-year sentence Tuesday for involuntary manslaughter.

The family of Haley Hutcheson, who died at age 17 from a gunshot Wilson fired on Veterans Memorial Parkway early on June 14, 2020, had waited more than two years since her funeral. Family members attended many court sessions, including two multi-day hearings during Wilson’s unsuccessful quest for immunity under Georgia’s “stand your ground” law.

Meanwhile, he had spent about 21 months in jail before being released on bond in March.

The jury in the six-day trial at the end of August acquitted Wilson of felony murder, which would have carried a life sentence, and all other charges from the original November 2020 indictment.

But from the lesser homicide charges included as options in Judge Ronnie Thompson’s instructions, the jury found Wilson guilty of the one implying least culpability, involuntary manslaughter.

It carries a sentencing range of one to 10 years, and after hearing from witnesses that included members of both families, Thompson imposed the maximum sentence, all to serve in prison, minus the almost two years already in spent in jail. The judge noted that the parole process would eventually be available and that Wilson could seek a new trial or appeal to a higher court.

District Attorney Daphne Totten, who attended the sentencing hearing, and Chief Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black, lead prosecutor in the case, said the verdict and sentence were a welcome conclusion.

District Attorney Daphne Totten, left, and witness Emma Rigdon listen to instructions from Superior Court Judge Ronald K. ÒRonnieÓ Thompson as Totten cross examines Rigdon during an immunity hearing for William Marcus ÒMarcÓ Wilson on Wednesday, March 2.
In this file photo, District Attorney Daphne Totten, left, and witness Emma Rigdon listen to instructions from Superior Court Judge Ronald K. Thompson as Totten cross-examines Rigdon during an immunity hearing for William Marcus Wilson. Totten, who attended the sentencing hearing, said the verdict and sentence were a welcome conclusion after Thompson sentenced Wilson to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

“We’re grateful that this case is over and that Haley’s family can finally have some closure,” Totten said.  “It’s been a long two years getting to this point…”

“This was a hard fight,” Black said. “We were able to prevail by trusting in our jurors, by trusting in our court. We are pleased with the result, the (victim’s) family is pleased with the result. There has been an outcry of justice for this defendant and we feel that justice has been served.”

 

Defense reacts

But Wilson’s attorneys rejected the idea that the maximum sentence was justice for what they and his other supporters still maintained were shots fired in self-defense. All along, the defense attorneys asserted that some of the five teenagers in the pickup truck Hutcheson was riding in, particularly the three young men, initiated a conflict, gesturing and swerving into his lane, after mistaking Wilson, then 21, who is biracial, and Emma Rigdon, a young white woman he was dating at the time, for another interracial couple.

The defense attorneys, Wilson’s parents, Rigdon and other supporters were joined by representatives of several civil rights and social justice advocacy organizations, including the Southern Center for Human Rights, Just Georgia and others on the steps of the Judicial Annex after Tuesday’s hearing.

“Make no mistake about it, our task was very clear, and that was to stop a legal lynching,” said Wilson’s lead attorney, Francys Johnson. “This DA, like many runaway DA’s across the state – Daphne Totten is no different from a Jackie Johnson – wanted Marc Wilson’s life, and despite the sentence today, she will not have it. Marc Wilson will have a life, and I’m grateful for that.”

Various group spokespersons spoke vowing “to continue the fight.”

Johnson said the defense team would file an appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals and motions for prosecutorial misconduct with the State Bar and the Supreme Court of Georgia.

He asserted that one way the prosecutors acted inappropriately was by failing to provide written victim impact statements to the defense team with sufficient time for review before the sentencing. This was the subject of a sidebar conference attorneys had with Thompson at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing.

“Your Honor, just for the record, I want to be clear about our opposition to moving forward today with today’s proceedings,” Johnson then announced. “The statute that we cited at the bar was clear that the district attorney has an obligation to disclose to us any victim impact forms that they have … five days before this hearing, and they have not done so.”

But Thompson said he preferred to hear live testimony and would not be reading affidavits before his decision. Black then introduced the statements into the case record during the hearing.

 

Victim’s family

The only witnesses Black called for the sentencing were Haley Hutcheson’s aunt Heather Ernst and stepmother, Allison Hutcheson. They testified, tearfully and with anguished voices, about how they first learned what had happened the night Haley was killed, how the family had remembered her at her funeral, and what they miss most about her.

“We had to wake our children up and tell them that their sissy was gone and that they would never see her again,” Allison Hutcheson said, after telling of the calls she and her husband, Haley’s father, Dusty Hutcheson, received that night.

She described Haley as “a good young’un,” who loved animals and talked of becoming a veterinarian and “did not like to see anybody hurt and would stand up for people when nobody else would.”

Then Allison Hutcheson described things her family has gone through during the public and media attention to Wilson’s case, including messages calling her deceased daughter a racist and other nasty names.

“My surviving kids have been emotionally and mentally tormented for two years,” she said. “I made them sleep on a mattress on my bedroom floor for six months because I was terrified from the death threats and the emails, up until last night.”

When defense attorney Muwali Davis asked if any of this had come from Marc Wilson, Hutcheson said, “Not personally, no sir.” Asked if any of it had come from Wilson’s family, she said, “No sir, that I’m aware of, but they were from his supporters, people that claimed to be his supporters. I don’t know who they were.”

Wilson’s attorneys called more than 10 witnesses, including family friends, a teacher, coaches, an aunt and other family members, who vouched for his gentleness and responsible behavior. Several called him a “gentle giant” and “teddy bear.”

He had no prior record of arrests.

 

Wilson’s parents

Wilson never testified or made a statement to Hutcheson’s family during the hearing. But his father, Deron “Pat” Wilson, and mother, Amanda Wilson, both did so when they testified.

“This has been a horrific tragedy, a horrific tragedy,” Pat Wilson said. “For this family … to my left, my heart goes out to you all. It’s gone out to you all every day. This dad, I can tell you, I can’t imagine, but I can at the same time. I pray for you all each and every day, ever since I’ve learned about this … and we will continue to pray for y’all.”

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