Emma Rigdon, who was with Marc Wilson in his car on the night in June 2020 that Haley Hutcheson was killed, testified Thursday that the pickup truck Hutcheson was riding in swerved at Wilson’s car, putting them in fear of being run off the road, as occupants of the truck hung out of its windows.
But Rigdon also said in sworn testimony that she never heard any racial slurs or other comments shouted by occupants of the truck. What she did hear was a loud noise she thought was something hitting the car after being thrown from the truck, she said.
Rigdon was a key witness Thursday in the second day of Wilson’s second attempted immunity hearing under a “stand your ground” claim of self-defense.
Unless granted immunity by Superior Court Judge Ronald K. “Ronnie” Thompson who is conducting this hearing, Wilson faces one charge of felony murder, five charges of aggravated assault and one of possessing a firearm while committing a felony, under an indictment returned by a Bulloch County grand jury in November 2020.
Thompson heard from Rigdon and some other witnesses Thursday in open court. But he did not hear, in public, from some other witnesses, Wilson’s defense attorneys wanted to present. In fact, after the first witness they put on the stand Thursday morning was announced, Chief Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black rose with an objection, and Thompson said, “Clear the courtroom.”
Journalists and the public went out into the lobby, while the judge and lawyers remained in the courtroom. Witnesses were also in the lobby. Periodically, bailiffs or attorneys would come out looking for individuals, proposed witnesses apparently, and take them in to talk to the judge. This lasted an hour before Thompson reopened the court to the public, and then he offered remarks he called a “civics lesson.”
Stating that his ruling could still go either way, he noted that if the immunity motion is granted, the prosecution would end, but the prosecutors would then have the right to appeal.
“If the court denies the immunity motion, then there’s going to be a jury trial, and the reason behind the previous order about pretrial publicity is in the event this does go to a jury trial, there doesn’t need to be all this misinformation out there about what the evidence in the case is, what somebody said, because some of this stuff, Number 1, doesn’t exist,” Thompson said, “or Number 2, under our rules of evidence, the jury shouldn’t hear some of it because it doesn’t meet with the standards, what the rules say, or sometimes something is admissible into evidence, but the effect of it would be so prejudicial that it would outweigh the benefit of its relevancy and it would unduly affect the jury’s opinion or decision.”
Nevertheless, the courtroom remained open to news media and the public for testimony Thompson heard after that.
By all accounts so far, Wilson fired multiple shots with a 9mm handgun he legally owned as the two vehicles traveled along Veterans Memorial Parkway around 1 a.m. on June 14, 2020, and one of the bullets struck Hutcheson, 17, in the back of her head. The four other teenagers, all from Claxton, that she was riding with drove her to East Georgia Regional Medical Center, where she died a short time later.
Wilson’s defense lawyers maintain that occupants of the truck subjected him and Rigdon to racially motivated aggression and that Wilson acted to defend them. Rigdon, 21 and a Statesboro resident, is white, and Wilson, now 23, from Sharpsburg but with family members living in Statesboro, is biracial.
They were dating in 2020 when they left Rigdon’s apartment the night of June 13-14 to get something to eat at Taco Bell. Wednesday in an opening statement for the hearing, Wilson’s lead attorney, Francys Johnson, asserted that the fatal interaction on the parkway was triggered by a case of mistaken identity, as occupants of the truck, who did not know Rigdon and Wilson, mistook them for a young white woman they knew from Claxton High School and a young black or biracial man they had seen her with during a stop at the Parker’s convenience store on Brampton Avenue.
Another member of Wilson’s currently four-lawyer defense team, Martha Hall, called Rigdon to the stand Thursday. Rigdon testified that she and Wilson first saw the pickup truck when they left Taco Bell, and the truck swerved into their lane.
“I felt they were kids. I believe that’s when Marc made the comment or one of us made the comment, 'They may be drunk,' " Rigdon said.
The then-couple had turned onto Veterans Memorial Parkway, Wilson driving and Rigdon seated beside him on the passenger’s side with her dog on her lap. They had passed the traffic light “at Hobby Lobby,” in other words the Brannen Street intersection on the parkway, when the encounter with the pickup truck and its occupants began, according to Rigdon.
“Right after we passed that is around the same time they started swerving into our lane, hanging out the window,” she said.
“Did you see them hanging out of the window, Emma?” Hall asked. “Yes ma’am,” Rigdon said.
“And what were they doing?” Hall asked
“Just swinging their arms around and…,” Rigdon said, her voice trailing off.
Hall asked if she had heard them yelling anything.
“I did not hear anything really,” Rigdon said.
In answer to another question, she also said she had not been close enough to see if their mouths were moving or any gestures, and noted that it was dark. Hall asked what happened next.
“They were swerving into our lane. … we were kind of going onto the side,” Rigdon said.
She made a sound indicating tires on the rumble strip at the edge of the road when asked what “going onto the side” meant.
Hall asked if there had been any conversation between her and Wilson in the car.
“I don’t remember exactly what was said between us but I know we were talking. I mean, I was scared. I was scared,” Rigdon said.
She said it was dark and she didn’t know what was going to happen.
Hall asked Rigdon if Wilson ever communicated with the truck’s occupants.
“Yes ma’am, I believe he was just kind of like, rolled down the window and was like, ‘Hey, chill! Stop! We don’t want any problems.’ ...,” Rigdon said.
She said she believes that was when Wilson first fired a shot “to kind of say, hey, you know, stop.”
The pickup truck slowed down, “but then got back up beside” the car, she said.
“Then we heard a loud noise. We didn’t know what it was,” Rigdon said.
But she said, “It sounded like they may have thrown something and hit the vehicle,” when Hall asked a further question.
Then Wilson fired the gun again, Rigdon said.
All heard before
Police have testified that they found beer cans, of a brand that occupants of the truck acknowledged having, along this stretch of road. Male occupants of the truck who have testified have admitted that they were drinking, even though they were underage at the time and including Mason Glisson, who identified himself as the driver.
None were charged with DUI or underage drinking from that night. Most or all of this has been reported before, from testimony in previous hearings.
Thompson sent the press and public out again shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, to talk with attorneys about admissibility of evidence. He set the hearing to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.