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October 23, 2013

Experts: Ga. slayings indicate more than 1 killer

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The beating deaths of eight people inside a Georgia mobile home must have been committed by more than one attacker based on the number of victims and the fact that none escaped despite signs that several put up a struggle, two experts testified Tuesday in defense of the only person standing trial in the killings.

Guy Heinze Jr., 26, could be sentenced to death if he’s convicted of malice murder in the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings of his father and seven extended family members at the home they all shared just outside the port city of Brunswick.

Prosecutors told the jury when the trial opened last week that they don’t have to decide whether Heinze acted alone or had help committing the slayings to find him guilty. No one else has been charged and Heinze’s lawyers noted that police have said for years they’re confident Heinze was the only attacker.

“It’s inconsistent with anything I’ve ever seen where one person could control and kill so many people,” said Dr. Jonathan Arden, a Virginia-based forensic pathologist hired as a consultant by Heinze’s defense team. “This is indicative of more than one assailant.”

It was Heinze who alerted police to the killings four years ago during a frantic 911 call in which he cried: “My whole family is dead.”

Several days later police charged him with killing his father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr., and the other victims. Rusty Toler Sr., 44, was slain along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also slain was the elder Toler’s sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph L. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., ended up the sole survivor but suffered severe head injuries.

Arden said typically victims would have to be tied up or perhaps held at gunpoint for a lone attacker to kill so many in one enclosed space. Toxicology tests on the victims showed one may have taken sleeping pills, but otherwise there was nothing to indicate they were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

Some of the victims were found in bed and authorities suspect they were attacked in the hours after midnight when family members were asleep.

Michael Knox, a former Florida police detective who now works as a consultant, testified there were signs several victims struggled and were killed while they tried to flee. Copious blood spatter high on walls and ceilings near some victims, while virtually nonexistent around others, seems to indicate victims were beaten with both long and short weapons, he said.

“This can’t be done by one person carrying all this out,” Knox told the jury. “You’re going to start waking people up and having signs of resistance that require more than one attacker.”

He noted photographs of the bedroom where Rusty Toler Sr. and his son Michael where killed had blood spatter that came from opposite directions, indicating the victims were attacked from both sides of the bed they shared. He also concluded West and Chrissy and Michelle Toler, who were killed in the same bedroom, were attacked simultaneously rather and one at a time.

Knox said he would estimate at least three attackers, and perhaps as many as five, killed the victims.

Prosecutor John B. Johnson on cross examination dismissed Knox’s conclusion as merely “a guess.” Johnson also asked Arden about a statement in his written report on the slayings that said if one person had killed all of the victims it would have likely taken 10 to 20 minutes.

“That would be rushing from victim to victim and moving very quickly,” Arden replied.

Johnson then asked if it’s possible a lone attacker could have slain all eight people.

“Is it possible within all possibilities in the universe that one person did it? Sure,” Arden said.

Arden agreed with the autopsy findings that each victim was beaten to death and died from skull and brain injuries.

Glynn County police Lt. William Daras testified he believes Heinze, who had been smoking crack cocaine in the hours before the slayings, killed the victims to take their money and a bottle of painkillers prescribed to one of them. No murder weapon was ever recovered, but authorities suspect the victims were beaten with a shotgun barrel.

Defense attorneys say police ignored evidence and alternate suspects as they rushed to build a case against Heinze, who was pleaded not guilty.

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