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Statesboro murder trial begins
Prosecutor: Prison inmate a monster, a murderer, able to influence others
Tarell Momon

Jurors learned Friday that the gun used to kill a Greenbriar Trail man June 30, 2013, was never found.

The murder trial of Tarell Momon, 36, an inmate at Dooly State Prison, and Terrance Ray Griswould, 30, of Augusta, both charged in the "hit style" killing of Michael Anthony Riley, 51, of Greenbriar Trail, began Friday.

Riley's wife, Antoinette Braddy Riley, 50, of Greenbriar Trail, and her daughter Katrina Denise Ledford, 31, of Davisboro, each pleaded guilty earlier this year to murder charges and are expected to testify as the trial continues this week. A fifth suspect, Travis Lorenzo Berrian, 29, was shot and killed after he shot and wounded a probation officer during an attempt to arrest him in Augusta in July 2013.

In opening arguments Friday, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Totten said Antoinette Riley planned the murder for days before her husband was shot and killed while he slept.

She described the Rileys' marriage as "a shambles" and said the couple lived in separate bedrooms, fought over finances and Antoinette Riley's spending habits, and alleged Mrs. Riley was having an affair. She told the court problems escalated after Michael Riley allegedly "trashed" his wife's room.

In later testimony, Statesboro Police Det. Keith Holloway said he found an envelope on which notes written in two different sets of handwriting referred to moving the other's possessions, tension between the two and references to "paying your own way."

Totten said text records show frequent communication between Antoinette Riley and Momon, that "told a story about murder." The two texted "minutes before" Michael Riley was killed, discussing plans for the murder.

Momon was in prison at the time of the murder but had a cellphone, even though they are prohibited in prison, she said. Momon had been dating Ledford, who was a guard in another prison when she met Momon, according to previous reports. When the illicit romance was discovered, Ledford was terminated and Momon was moved to Dooly State Prison in Unadilla.

Ledford continued to see him, using another person's pass code to visit him in spite of orders that she not contact him. Ledford introduced Momon to her mother, who began corresponding with him via text and phone, Totten said in earlier court hearings.

Totten also told the court that Griswould's phone and car were used during the murder, and said the entire scheme was directed by Momon from prison.

"He is a monster," she said. "He is a murderer, able to influence others to do what he tells them to do" even behind bars. Both Griswould and Momon are members of the Gangster Disciples, she said.

Momon entered the courtroom under heavy guard, shackled and handcuffed, flanked by three guards from the Correctional Emergency Response Team. He has been under such guard each time he has appeared in court. He and Griswould met in prison, she said.

Griswould's attorney, Lori Mullins, countered Totten's opening statement by describing Griswould as a "compassionate" person, saying that her client had been taken advantage of by others. She said Berrian had borrowed Griswould's car, which had his cellphone charging inside, and said Griswould knew "nothing about a murder." A woman is expected to testify that Griswould was with her when the shooting occurred, she said.

Mullins said evidence would show that Antoinette Riley had gunshot residue on her hands and clothing.

"Forensic evidence shows that Antoniette Riley pulled the trigger," she said.

Momon's attorney, Gabe Cliett, was brief in his opening statements.

Momon had never been to Statesboro before court hearings, had never met Antoinette Riley and was in prison when the shooting occurred, he said. Investigators do not have Momon's cellphone, and Antoinette Riley gave conflicting stories, Cliett said.

Totten called several witnesses Friday, including police officers and neighbors who saw a suspicious car near the Riley home just before the shooting.

Janet Matthews testified that she was up early preparing for a trip when she noticed a "gold or silver Ford" that could have been an older LTD parked near her property next to the Riley home. She took a picture of the car with her cellphone and said she thought someone was in the car. When she prepared to snap another photo, the car sped away, she said.

Derrick Proctor, another neighbor, noticed the car cruising slowly past, then watched as it turned around. When he went outside for his morning paper, he saw the car was parked halfway off the road. The car had big rims and appeared to be a Ford Crown Victoria with "tinted windows and custom brake light covers," he said.

Back inside his home, as he drank his morning coffee, he then heard a gunshot, he said, He ran outside and saw the car speeding away. Before he could call police to report the shot, police cars began arriving on the scene, he told the court.

Holloway gave details of collecting evidence, including a 9 mm shell casing found near Michael Riley's bed. The shell casing did not match other ammunition found in the home. Another handgun in poor condition was also found but was not the firearm that was used in the shooting, he said.

Dr. James Downs, a medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified that Michael Riley died of a single gunshot wound to the head, just underneath his left eye, and that the bullet severed a vertebra, paralyzing him instantly before he died moments later.

The prosecution hauled in boxes and boxes of evidence to be introduced as the trial continues Monday. Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner is hearing the trial, as Judge Gates Peed recused himself from the trial in September, citing a conflict with another trial.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday in the Bulloch County Judicial Annex.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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