BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Police investigating the slayings of eight people clubbed to death inside a mobile home brushed off tips about alternate suspects and lost track of a bloody martial arts weapon found near the scene days after the crime, the defense attorney for the man on trial for the killings said Thursday.
Guy Heinze Jr., 26, faces the death penalty if he's convicted of killing his father and seven extended family members in their cramped home just outside Brunswick on Aug. 29, 2009. On the third day of his trial Thursday, the judge granted Heinze's lead attorney a new opening statement to jurors based on new information lawyers on both sides learned only since the trial began.
Defense attorney Newell Hamilton Jr. said the manager of the mobile home park where the slayings occurred told lawyers at the courthouse this week that she found a bloody pair of nunchucks — short clubs connected by a chain — in an old tire outside the victims' trailer less than two weeks after the slayings. The phone call she made to police to report the weapon was recorded, Hamilton said, but police never logged it into evidence or disclosed its existence to prosecutors in the case.
"That's how Glynn County law enforcement respects the rights of this man," Hamilton said, pointing to Heinze sitting in the courtroom. "Their treatment of the victims, the members and loved ones of Mr. Heinze's family, is they don't pick up evidence that can be extremely relevant."
Heinze's lawyers have made allegations of shoddy police work and a rush to focus on Heinze as the lone suspect as key aspects of their defense. Earlier Thursday, Hamilton pressed a Glynn County investigator on why he followed up on a tip that others had threatened the slain family more than four years after police got the initial call.
Investigator Roderic Nohilly told the jury that on Oct. 1, a supervisor asked him to interview a man named Calvin Hudson. He said Hudson told him one of the slaying victims, 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr., had been threatened by two men who told him: "What goes around comes around. We'll kill your whole family."
The tipster identified only one of the men by his full name, Andy Anderson, who had an address listed at the same mobile park where the killings occurred. Nohilly said he soon found out that Anderson had been jailed in neighboring Wayne County at the time of the slayings. He said his inquiry stopped there. Police never interviewed Anderson or tried to find the second man, identified by the tipster only as Dwayne.
Hamilton said neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys knew anything about a martial arts weapon being found until Gail Montgomery, who managed the New Hope Plantation trailer park, asked prosecutors and police at the courthouse earlier this week: "Whatever happened to the bloody nunchucks?"
Heinze's lawyers were notified and a search of police phone records turned up a recording of a call Montgomery made in September 2009 in which she spoke to police investigator Mike Owens. Hamilton said the jury will get to hear the phone call in which Owens tells Montgomery, "That sounds like something we'll be interested in."
Owens, who has since left the police department, told attorneys in the case he can't remember whether he sent an officer to collect the nunchucks or what became of them, Hamilton said. Police have found no record of the weapon, he said.
Prosecutors gave no rebuttal to Hamilton's account, and jurors may not hear more about it until the defense opens its case next week or later. Prosectors have already told jurors police never found the suspected murder weapon. Heinze told police there were two shotguns kept inside the mobile home. Police found one of them in the trunk of the car Heinze drove, and only the broken headstock of another inside the trailer next to one of the victims. Prosecutors said police suspect the barrel of the missing shotgun was used to beat the victims.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner who performed autopsies in the case, testified Wednesday parallel marks on several victims seem to indicate they were struck with a long, thin object such as a gun barrel or a pipe.
Heinze's father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr., was among the dead. Toler was killed 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 had such severe head injuries that prosecutors said he was unable to assist with the case.