By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Statesboro murder trial focuses on texts
Testimony indicates messages helped set up slaying
momom
Tarell Momon

Cellphone records revealed in court Monday showed what police believe to be evidence that a Statesboro woman plotted with others to have her husband killed.

Statesboro police Detective Sgt. James Winskey and Detective Kevin Wadley each took the stand Monday — Wadley more than once — and shared details of the June 30, 2013, shooting murder of local pastor Michael Anthony Riley.

The trial, which began Friday, is for Tarell Momon, 36, an inmate at Dooly State Prison, and Terrance Ray Griswould, 30, of Augusta, both charged in the "hit style" killing that took place at 113 Greenbriar Trail, the Riley home.

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.

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.

While witnesses have not yet identified the persons to whom Antoinette Riley sent several text messages days and even minutes before her husband was shot, they did state that there were several different cellphone numbers involved, and said phone text records revealed correspondence between Mrs. Riley and two persons who "signed" text with the names "The Gifted" and "King."

Police detectives in the initial phases of the investigation, when Antoinette Riley was detained at the police department for questioning, suspected "something was wrong" after listening to her 911 call to report that her husband had been shot. She never asked for an ambulance, but requested police instead, Wadley said.

"She was cold, not genuine," he said of the 911 call. And when detectives questioned her in an interview room, Riley "stared at the floor" and spoke in a manner where they could not understand her, he said. She crouched in a fetal position and appeared visibly shaken, and police determined "she was possibly involved in the death of her husband," Wadley said.

A search warrant to retrieve Antoinette Riley's cellphone records was granted after police found only one cryptic text, which Wadley said he did not think Riley had read because it was sent just after Michael Riley was killed. The text had not been deleted, as all previous texts had been, he said. That text message read, "Well Mom, I need you nut up ... wait 30 minutes, then call."

Other search warrants for records of cellphone numbers found in Riley's phone included what appeared to be conversations among her, Ledford, and someone whose texts were "signed" by " The Gifted."

While no one has said in court that "The Gifted" is Momon, the text messages indicate "The Gifted" was in a romantic relationship with Ledford. In previous court hearings, it has been stated that Ledford had a romantic involvement with Momon, who was in prison when Ledford, then a guard, met him. She was later terminated and Momon moved to another prison, but the two resumed a relationship when Ledford used a stolen password to visit Momon in prison, although she had been ordered not to do so.

Momon was behind bars when Michael Riley was killed, but the prosecution has alleged in previous court hearings that he orchestrated the "hit style" murder from prison.

In one text from Antoinette Riley to one of the cellphone numbers, she stated, "He tried his best to destroy everything I did in that house. I don't have a drop of love left for Michael Riley."

Another text from Mrs. Riley, read aloud by Wadley, states, "Michael needs to go... I hate him and ain't no fixing nothing. He don't do nothing for me or help around the house."

Other texts showed Riley sent "The Gifted" personal information about her husband, including the couple's address and his cellphone number.

The person known as "The Gifted" also communicated by text to Ledford, Wadley said.

Both Ledford and "The Gifted" texted love messages to each other, and Ledford texted to him, "She don't want the house messed up. I love you!!!" A text back to her from "The Gifted" read: "I'm getting in touch with them now. They said they were going to kill him."

Another text from Antoinette Riley to "The Gifted" read "Thank you." The reply read "It's all love, Mom. No disrespect." In previous court hearings, it was stated that Momon often referred to Riley as "Mom."

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorneys Daphne Totten and Joseph Cushner called other witnesses to the stand Tuesday, including forensic experts from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Savannah and records clerks from cellphone companies.

Jennifer Dalmida, a Verizon Wireless employee who certifies phone records, read other text messages between Mrs. Riley and persons using cellphone numbers found in her records.

Minutes before Michael Riley was shot, Antoinette Riley texted back and forth with "The Gifted" about what color her house door was, and that the back door and garage door were unlocked, Dalmida stated.

One text from "The Gifted" read "They in yet?" Mrs. Riley texted back "They shot him." The reply from "The Gifted" read "Get all the info about him out your phone." Riley's responding text was "He dead," said Dalmida.

Winskey testified about evidence collected from the home, including a quart Mason jar he said appeared to contain "moonshine."

Winskey testified that the suspected moonshine was confiscated because it was believed to be untaxed liquor, and that it had no connection to the shooting. However, the prosecution had him open the jar, which had been sealed by police, and passed it around for jurors to see and smell.

Witnesses also discussed a 9 mm handgun found in the Rileys' laundry room that Winskey said was inoperable and was not the gun used in the shooting.

Another 9 mm handgun found in the vehicle Berrian had been driving when he arrived at the probation office in Augusta also was found not to be the murder weapon, said GBI Crime Lab employee Brian Leppard.

The trial continues today at 9 a.m., with more law enforcement witnesses expected to testify. It is unclear when Mrs. Riley and Ledford will take the stand.

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

 

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter