Valdosta Daily Times

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September 25, 2013

Jury selection enters 2nd week in Ga. murder case

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Tuesday began their second week of questioning potential jurors for the capital trial of a coastal Georgia man charged with beating his father and seven other people to death inside their Brunswick mobile home four years ago.

Hundreds of people summoned for jury duty are being questioned one-at-a-time about their views on the death penalty and what they already know about the case of Guy Heinze Jr., who is charged with single-handedly committing all eight killings on Aug. 29, 2009. Hours later, Heinze called 911 and cried to an operator, “My whole family is dead!”

Defense attorneys for Heinze, 25, want to keep the trial in Glynn County despite years of unceasing news coverage. Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett had 1,500 summonses mailed out for the case and set aside an entire month to narrow down the jury pool.

The judge and attorneys on both sides seemed confident Tuesday that they will find a qualified panel of 60 from which the final 12 jurors will be chosen. In the first week they chose 33 potential jurors to return for final selection when the trial starts Oct. 15. A fresh batch of about 200 reported to the courthouse Tuesday to be broken down into smaller panels and report back in the coming days for questioning by attorneys.

Scarlett said from the bench Tuesday he’s dismissing at least 350 potential jurors summoned to report Oct. 1. The judge also agreed, with no objection from prosecutors and defense attorneys, to excuse 15 people asking to be relieved from jury service — including a woman who simply said she had a vacation planned for the week the trial starts.

If it still proves impossible to seat a jury in Glynn County, the judge has a backup plan in place. More than 300 jury summonses were sent to residents of Jeff Davis County, 85 miles northwest of Brunswick, to report within the next two weeks in case Heinze’s trial needs to be moved there, said Myra Murphy, Superior Court Clerk in Jeff Davis County.

Heinze was charged with murder six days after his father, Guy Heinze Sr., and the other seven victims were found inside the mobile home they all shared. Autopsies showed each victim had been beaten to death with some type of blunt weapon. Authorities say they believe Heinze acted alone.

Also killed were 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr. and his four children — Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. The other victims were Rusty Toler’s sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Chrissy Toler’s boyfriend, Joseph L. West, 30.

Prosecutors and police have released few details of the slayings and have never given a motive. But a court brief filed by Heinze’s lawyers says the defense expects witnesses may testify that there was “extensive drug use among members of the household,” and jurors are likely to hear that Heinze “consumed crack cocaine and other drugs” the night of the killings.

“Evidence will likely be offered that on the night of the murders, Guy Heinze bought drugs from Joe West,” the court document says. Defense attorneys wrote they suspect prosecutors may argue that “Mr. Heinze was in a drug-fueled rage and once started on the killings of his family could not be stopped until all were violently beaten to death.”

 

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