The Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga. —
A coastal Georgia man charged with clubbing his father and seven family members to death in the cramped mobile home they shared had the victims’ blood on his clothing and left his fingerprints on bloody items at the scene, a prosecutor told jurors as the trial began Tuesday.
Guy Heinze Jr., 26, faces the death penalty if he’s convicted of malice murder in the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings just outside Brunswick. Heinze told police he found the bodies after coming home from a late night out with his younger brother. He cried to a 911 operator: “My whole family is dead!”
Evidence collected at the scene pointed to Heinze alone as the killer, prosecutor John B. Johnson said in his opening statement Tuesday afternoon. Lab tests identified blood from several of the victims on Heinze’s cargo shorts, the gym shorts he was wearing underneath and on his sandals, he said. A bloody cellphone belonging to one victim was found in his car, and a shotgun with Heinze’s bloody palm print was in the trunk. A piece of paper found in a bedroom of the home also had a bloody palm print and fingerprint later matched to Heinze.
“He is the only person whose fingerprints and palm prints were found in blood” at the scene, Johnson said. “He’s the only person who took a phone covered with blood, took a gun out and it’s covered in blood.”
Heinze’s lead defense attorney, Newell Hamilton Jr., told jurors there’s no reason Heinze would have slain several people who had been among those closest to him. While Heinze wasn’t related biologically to most of the victims, he said, they had long lived together and regarded each other as kin.
“We don’t anticipate there’s going to be evidence of a motive that would be reasonable enough for Mr. Heinze to brutally murder every member of his family,” Hamilton said. “And that’s leaving aside the allegation that one person could commit this crime.”
Hamilton said an expert witness for the defense will testify that one person bludgeoning eight others to death has “never been done before. There’s no record of a crime like this being committed.”
Four police officers who first arrived at the New Hope Plantation mobile home park found a gruesome scene. Guy Heinze Sr., the suspect’s father, lay dead on a mattress inside the home’s front door. The body of Rusty Toler, 44, was inside the master bedroom along with his 19-year-old son, Michael Toler, who clung to life but died at a hospital.
Toler’s other son, Russell D. Toler Jr., 20, lay dead under the kitchen table after being beaten and stabbed. In another bedroom was the elder Toler’s sister, Brenda Falagan, 49.
The remaining four victims were found in a third bedroom. Toler’s two daughters, 22-year-old Chrissy Toler and 15-year-old Michelle Toler, were slain along with the older daughter’s boyfriend, Joseph L. West, 30. Only Chrissy Toler’s 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., survived. Prosecutors said the child suffered severe brain damage and couldn’t be called as a witness.
Each victim had been smashed in the head with what investigators believe was a shotgun barrel, Johnson said. A broken gun stock was found next to Rusty Toler Sr.’s body, but the rest of the gun was never recovered. Heinze told police two shotguns were kept in the closet of the master bedroom, one of which they found in the trunk of Heinze’s car.
All of the victims suffered wounds so grievous that police at first didn’t think they had been beaten.
“It appeared that everyone had been shot,” said Glynn County police Lt. Keith Stalvey, the first officer to enter the home. “That was my first take on it.”
Prosecutors pointed out to the jury that Heinze appeared to know something the police didn’t. He told a 911 operator: “It looks like they’ve been beaten to death.”
Heinze told police he had smoked crack cocaine the night of the slayings and told them he bought drugs from West, one of the victims. Johnson said prosecutors will present evidence showing Heinze was angry with his father and some of the other victims, but he didn’t state a clear motive.
Heinze’s attorney, Hamilton, argued police rushed to build a case against Heinze and were ill-equipped to thoroughly collect and process evidence in the home strewn with trash and spattered with blood.
The victims all shared a single-wide trailer Rusty Toler Sr. rented for $405 a month. Park managers said Toler had taken in the Heinzes and family members who had fallen on hard times.
The 16-member jury panel, including four alternates, is being sequestered at a hotel without landline phones and TVs in their rooms. Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett also ordered jurors would have no access to cellphones or computers.
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