A woman who pleaded guilty in the “hit style” murder of her husband testified Wednesday in the trial of two men charged in the same case.
Antoinette Riley told jurors on the fourth day of the murder trial that she believed her husband was going to be beaten, not killed.
Tarell Momon, 36, an inmate at Dooly State Prison, and Terrance Ray Griswould, 30, of Augusta, are on trial for the June 30, 2013, murder of Michael Anthony Riley, 51, who was shot in the head as he slept in his Greenbriar Trail home.
Prosecutors allege Momon, who was in prison at the time of the murder, orchestrated the shooting from his prison cell and said Griswould was involved in the plot as well.
Antoinette Riley and her daughter, Katrina Denise Ledford, 30, of Davisboro, each pleaded guilty in June and were each sentenced to life in prison with parole. A fifth suspect, Travis Lorenzo Berrian, 29, of Augusta, committed suicide after pulling a gun in a probation office when officers tried to arrest him. He shot a probation officer in her side before shooting himself fatally in the neck, according to testimony Wednesday from Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent William Boyd, who investigated that shooting.
Antoinette Riley took the stand Wednesday, telling jurors she and Michael Riley slept in separate bedrooms because of marital distress, and said she planned to file for divorce after the Fourth of July.
She said her husband, angry because she spent too much time with family in Sandersville and worked too much, ransacked the room in which she kept her clothing and personal items. She told about an argument during which she unplugged his treadmill while he used it so they could talk, and he physically attacked her.
“He was laying on me and I couldn’t breathe,” she said, adding that he shoved her head into a wall.
Antoinette Riley told jurors she knew Momon through her daughter, and in an interview with police, which was recorded and shown to the jury, she said Momon was “a truck driver from Atlanta,”
However, in Wednesday’s testimony, she said Ledford later told her Momon was incarcerated. Riley admitted forming a relationship via cellphone and text messages with Momon, often in three-way conversations between them and Ledford. However, she said she never met him in person.
Riley said she often talked to Momon and shared her marital problems with him. He was sympathetic, she said, and she admitted sending Momon a photograph of Michael Riley via phone, along with a text reading, “This fool needs to be dealt with.”
However, Antoinette Riley stated she meant her husband should be beaten, not shot. She said she shared plans for Michael Riley’s beating with Ledford.
Text messages that have been mentioned several times during earlier testimony showed “conversations” between Antoinette Riley and Momon appearing to discuss the planned hit.
Shortly before Michael Riley was killed around 6:47 a.m. June 30, 2013, a cellphone user signing texts as “The Gifted” — and stored in Antoinette Riley’s contacts as “King,” whom prosecutors allege is Momon — texted her: “They in yet?”
She replied “I think so. I hear movement on the stairs.”
According to testimony by Statesboro police Detective Kevin Wadley, Antoinette Riley gave different stories during three separate police interviews. During testimony Wednesday, she said she checked her husband’s body for a pulse, but in none of the recorded interviews did she mention that, Wadley said.
During the interviews, which were shown in court, she told police she was scared because she knew the texts they found would incriminate her, yet she denied knowledge of plans for Michael Riley being killed. Both she and Ledford, who testified Tuesday and Wednesday, stated they pleaded guilty to murder because of advice from prosecutors and attorneys. Both stated they had no knowledge of plans to kill Riley, although they each admitted to texts indicating otherwise.
Antoinette Riley told jurors she heard a gunshot and pulled covers over her head, then hid underneath the bed. She said she heard what she believed to be tires squealing, and then went to Riley’s room and saw blood welling from his left eye.
Jurors also heard the 911 call Riley made, during which she appeared calm as she reported her husband had been shot. She did not ask for an ambulance, but for police.
Detectives found a single text message in her phone allegedly from Momon, instructing her to wait 30 minutes before calling police and to “nut up.” Police stated they believe she never received that message because she was on the phone when it was sent. Riley admitted Wednesday having deleted all other texts between herself and Momon at his direction, but police were able to retrieve the messages from her cellphone service provider.
She told the jury no money exchanged hands regarding the shooting.
During her testimony, Riley said police had been called to her home at least twice in the past regarding domestic disputes. She admitted having an affair with another man and said she believed her husband had been having an affair with a man as well.
During cross examination, Momon’s attorney Gabe Cliett accused Antoinette Riley of shooting her husband herself.
“You killed your husband,” Cliett said. “Gunshot residue (found on Antoinette Riley’s hand and clothing) proves that.”
Antoinette Riley denied shooting Michael Riley.
“This doesn’t add up,” Cliett said. “You need to tell the jury you killed your husband.”
She replied, “I did not.”
There was a trace amount of gunshot residue found on her hands and clothing, but GBI crime lab technician Kristen Webb testified that the tests could not prove Antoinette Riley fired a gun. The residue could have been transferred from the victim or an item that had gunshot residue on it, Webb said.
In spite of denying killing the victim, Riley said, “I do feel responsible. I didn’t know he would be killed,” just assaulted.
Wadley testified that Riley was arrested after the second interview, which took place in her attorney’s office. After leaving that second interview, Wadley returned to the police department to find the phone records had arrived, Once he read the text messages, he knew Riley was involved in the shooting, and returned to attorney Lorenzo Merritt’s office to arrest her, he said.
Riley never cried or became emotional until the interview after her arrest, Wadley said.
The reason for that was “she knew we were onto her and collecting evidence,” he said. “I get the sense she did not want to go to prison … that she didn’t want her daughter to get in trouble .. (and) she is deathly afraid of Tarell Momon.”
According to earlier testimony, Momon was validated as a member of the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based gang. He is listed on the Georgia Department of Corrections website as being in prison for multiple charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, armed robbery, aggravated sodomy, terroristic threats and acts, cruelty to children and firearms possession by a convicted felon related to incidents occurring in Newton County.
He has been incarcerated since 1996.
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Totten said the prosecution plans to call one more witness today. The defense is expected to call a number of witnesses today as well. The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.