A Bulloch County judge denied a motion Monday to continue the trial of a man accused of orchestrating a "hit-style" murder while he was in prison.
Tarrell Momom, 35, was an inmate in Dooly State Prison in Unadilla when Michael Anthony Riley, 51, was shot and killed June 30 at his Greenbriar Trail home in Statesboro. Police have not identified which of five suspects was the gunman.
Michael Riley's wife, Antoinette Braddy Riley, 49, of Greenbriar Trail, and her daughter Katrina Denise Ledford, 30, of Davisboro, each pleaded guilty to murder earlier this year in connection to the case.
They both testified that Ledford met Momom and became romantically involved with him when she was a prison guard at Washington State Prison. Ledford continued to visit Momom after he was transferred to Dooly State Prison. She was fired because of the illicit relationship.
In earlier testimony on the day she entered her plea, Antoinette Riley said her daughter was fired in the fall of 2012 and was not supposed to be allowed access to any Georgia prison for visitation, but she appeared on the "preferred visitor" list thanks to an employee's compromised password and therefore was able to continue seeing Momom.
Each testified that they sought Momom's help in planning the shooting of Michael Riley and that Momom directed the "hit" from prison.
According to testimony earlier this year, Ledford introduced her mother to Momom via a three-way phone conversation just weeks before Michael Riley was killed.
Antoinette Riley testified that Ledford wanted her mother to know her boyfriend. Momom had a cellphone, even though prison inmates are not supposed to, she said.
Eventually, Antoinette Riley and Momom began communicating by text about having her husband "handled" or "dealt with," according to testimony.
When Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel Totten asked Antoinette Riley whether she understood that Momom would arrange for her husband to be killed, she responded, "My understanding was they were going to intimidate him, rough him up, like he had done to me," claiming she and her husband had marital problems.
Antoinette Riley said she sent Momom text messages revealing her exact Greenbriar Trail address, a description of her husband's vehicle and pictures of her husband and the vehicle. She also let Momom know that on the night he would send someone to her house to "deal with" her husband, she would leave the back door and garage door unlocked to allow access.
According to Totten, on the night Michael Riley was killed, Momom sent a text to Antoinette Riley asking, "They in?" to which she responded, "They shot him." Antoinette Riley testified that she never saw who shot her husband.
Momom's attorney, Gabe Cliett, based in Metter, asked for a continuance for the trial Monday, claiming he has not had adequate time to speak with Momom in prison and review several boxes of evidence.
Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed denied the motion, after consideration of the fact that the case has been ongoing for more than a year. Jury selection for the trial is slated for Sept. 17, and the trial is expected to begin Sept. 22.
Peed also denied a motion to sever Momom's trial from that of another man charged in Riley's shooting death.
Terrance Ray Griswould, 29, of Augusta, and Travis Lorenzo Berrian, 29, also of Augusta, also were charged with murder in connection with Michael Riley's death. Berrian was shot and killed after he shot and wounded a probation officer during an attempt to arrest him in Augusta in July 2013.
Statesboro attorney Stuart Patray, representing Griswould, asked for his client's case to be severed from that of Momom, citing a fear that jurors would be prejudiced upon seeing Momom enter the courtroom accompanied by guards from the Correctional Emergency Response Team.
Momom was flanked Monday by two large guards as he entered the courtroom. Security officers asked people sitting in the front rows of the courtroom to move, clearing the benches. The guards stood beside Momom throughout his appearance in the courtroom.
Patray pointed out the reasons for heightened security for Momom may include his alleged membership in the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based gang.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Cushner countered, saying the officers would be viewed no differently from other courtroom security and that jurors likely would not know the difference between the two.
Peed denied the motion to sever the cases as well.
As part of her plea agreement, Antoinette Riley agreed to testify in the trial. Ledford also is expected to testify. Totten said she anticipates the trial will take up to 2½ days.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.