The Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga. —
A prosecutor asked jurors on Wednesday to convict a 26-year-old murder suspect based on evidence including a bloodstained shotgun and clothing, a clue given in a 911 call and signs that eight family members were killed in a cramped mobile home with only two being roused from bed.
The lead defense attorney for Guy Heinze Jr., meanwhile, used his closing argument to identify flaws in the investigation as he tried to persuade jurors that authorities intentionally overlooked alternate suspects and evidence that more than one attacker must have committed the killings.
Heinze could be sentenced to death if he’s convicted of malice murder in the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings just outside the port city of Brunswick. His father and seven extended family members were all killed inside the cramped mobile home they shared with the suspect. Heinze was charged six days after he cried out in a frantic 911 call: “My whole family is dead!”
Prosecutor John B. Johnson told jurors Wednesday that the slayings stemmed from a fight between Heinze, who told police he had been using crack cocaine, and 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr. over a bottle of prescription painkillers in the bedroom Toler shared with one of his sons.
“The defendant whether he was being angry, being mad, being upset that he couldn’t get the drugs he wanted or because of the drugs (he had already taken), it doesn’t matter, gets into an argument with Russell Sr. and he kills him,” Johnson said. Afraid of being caught, Heinze then “goes through the house — angry, mad or whatever — and kills them all.”
The jury of eight women and four men began deliberating Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson said only Heinze knew where each of the victims slept and would have been capable of slipping from room-to-room in the dark when the victims were killed between midnight and 5:30 a.m. He said Heinze was also the only person at first who knew the victims had been clubbed to death. Their wounds were so grievous, police at first thought they had all been shot.
Police found blood from four of the victims on Heinze’s shorts, undershorts and shoes, but none on his shirt or body. He left a bloody palm print inside a drawer in the home and on the stock of a bloody shotgun found in the trunk of his car. Also in the car were a bloody cellphone that belonged to one victim and as well as the bottle of prescription painkillers. Lab tests found Heinze had cocaine, marijuana and the painkiller in his system.
Heinze’s lead defense attorney, Newell Hamilton Jr., told the jury it was hard to believe Heinze would kill eight people he loved over a bottle of “weak painkillers.”
“If the object of the murders was to get the pill bottle and the idea was you couldn’t hear people room-to-room and you could sleep through the beatings of people next door, then why didn’t Guy Heinze simply leave?” Hamilton said.
He asked jurors to go back and listen to how distraught Heinze sounded on the 911 call. And he reminded the jury that two defense experts testified there must have been more than one killer in the house. A former police detective estimated three to five attackers committed the killings. He also noted the blood found on Heinze’s clothing was smeared, not spattered, indicating it rubbed off on Heinze when he found the bodies rather than as the slayings occurred.
Hamilton accused police of failing to follow up on a tip that others had made threats against the Toler family and from taking into evidence pair of a homemade martial-arts style nunchucks found in a tire near the mobile home about two weeks after the slayings.
The victims included the suspect’s father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr. The elder Toler was slain along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also killed 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.
Autopsies showed each victim died from being bashed in the skull with a blunt weapon. They suffered a combined total of more than 220 external injuries.
Police never found the murder weapon, but suspect the victims were beaten the barrel of a shotgun. A broken gun stock was found beside Rusty Toller Sr.’s head.
Heinze told police there were two shotguns in the elder Toler’s closet. The one found in his trunk was ruled out as the murder weapon. Heinze told police he removed it from the house before police arrived because it had been stolen. Police checked the serial number and found the gun was legally registered to one of the victims.
For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition.