Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification, which appears Saturday: An article that appeared on the front page Thursday correctly stated that Antonio Lamont Murray, 39, of Pembroke, was convicted of seven counts in the abductions of two Bryan County businessmen, but it incorrectly listed the counts. The counts are as follows: one conspiracy to commit kidnapping and obstruction (one count each), kidnapping (two counts) and three firearms violations.
When Carolyn Downs came home from church, she thought she was going to die.
“I told Billy I loved him and our hearts were right with God,” she said, describing the moment when she joined her husband under the barrels of a gun in their Pembroke home the night of Jan. 12.
The suspects wanted Billy Downs to get the cash while they held his wife hostage, but he talked them into letting her go get the money while they held him, Carolyn Downs said. “He saved my life and put his life in my hands.”
She had to scramble to four different banks to get the $250,000 they demanded, which she dropped off to the suspects in a ditch off Stubbs Farm Road in Bryan County.
Downs testified during the trial of Antonio Lamont Murray, 39, of Pembroke, which began Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia courtroom before Senior U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield.
Gary Lenion McDonald, 36, of Statesboro, and Cecil Dewitt Nelson, 32, of Pembroke, both pleaded guilty recently to conspiring with others to commit kidnappings. Both face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Murray sat in court Monday, smiling and waving at observers in the courtroom before being admonished by a security officer. He faces seven charges, according to an indictment: conspiracy to commit kidnapping, two counts of kidnapping, three counts of using a firearm during acts of violence and obstruction of justice.
Murray is accused of kidnapping two Bryan County businessmen, Timothy Marshlett and Billy Downs. Marshlett was forced from his home on Dec. 1 and Downs was kidnapped Jan. 12.
The victims each told chilling tales of home invasions by three men dressed in black, with masks and guns. In each case, ransom was demanded.
Marshlett told the court how he was awakened when two men used his own axe to break into his bedroom. They threatened him and demanded to know the location of his safe, and when they learned he had no safe at home, put him in his own truck and drove him to his business in Pooler.
Marshlett convinced them he could not open his safe there without alarms alerting police, and when the suspects still demanded money, he called his business partner Shannon Rahn and arranged for two checks for $9,500 each to be cashed.
Rahn testified as well, describing how he got the cash and went on a wild ride, following directions from the suspects who were riding behind him, to drop the cash off in a ditch.
The court heard recorded cellphone calls, which were monitored by FBI agents, as Rahn spoke with one of the suspects who answered to the nickname “Bob.”
After the kidnappers picked up the money Rahn tossed into a ditch near Twin Forks Road in Bulloch County, the suspects released Marshlett in some woods near Georgia Highway 119 close to the Bulloch/Bryan county line. He was bloody and battered from being beaten when he tried escaping from the suspects. Curtis Starling spotted Marshlett walking and stopped, then called authorities.
As he recalled the ordeal, Marshlett said: “I was told if I made any sudden moves, I’d be splattered.”
Downs was coming home Jan. 12 when three men accosted him in his garage. They took him upstairs, demanding $250,000 after ransacking the house and finding his wife’s bank statement.
Then Carolyn Downs came home.
Again, all the men wore all black, had masks and held guns, she said.
After an hours-long wait, Billy Downs was released by a man in a white truck who left him at a sporting goods store in Pembroke, he told the court.
Both Billy Downs and Marshlett spoke of being held blindfolded and under guard in a dank, smelly, freezing cold structure, where they were forced to urinate in a bucket.
Carolyn Downs said at one point during the ordeal, she told the suspects “this would ruin their lives. They just shrugged and snickered.”
One suspect kept caressing his gun and exposing half his face as he spoke to the victims, she said.
During each kidnapping, the suspects also stole household items, firearms and jewelry.
The trial continues today and is expected to last possibly through Wednesday, said Bobby Phillips, an attorney who represents Murray.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.