After less than two hours of deliberation on Friday, the jury declared two of the three defendants charged with the shooting death of Rufus Tony Richardson guilty of murder, wrapping up the bizarre, week-long trial.
Christopher "Big Boy" Rozier, 20, and Xavier "Pretty Boy" Dyer, 20, were found guilty of all counts against them, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, sale of cocaine and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.
Willie "Scooter" Dyer, 19, cousin to Xavier Dyer, was found not guilty of all counts of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault, and was to be released from jail on Friday evening to return home.
"I think justice was done," said Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey, whose closing argument left many wet eyes in the courtroom. "The family of the victim is very happy with the verdict."
"I was elated. I was ecstatic," said Sherry Richardson-Land, sister of the victim. "I mean, there are no words in the King James English language for the gratitude I felt for the justice being done."
Richardson's body was found Jan. 31, 2007 in the woods off Stewart Road by passing all-terrain vehicle riders. Richardson, 55, known as a homeless local, had been shot five times - twice in the face, allegedly on Jan. 29.
The prosecution proposed that the defendants suspected Richardson was a "snitch" and attempted to kill him by putting rat poison in his crack cocaine, and when that didn't work, took him out to the woods and shot him.
After hearing closing statements Friday morning, the 14-member jury, composed of four men and 10 women, with two black members and the rest white, returned with a verdict in just an hour and 40 minutes.
The air in the room was tense when the jury filed in, said Richardson-Land. "You could hear a pin drop," she said. The outnumbered family members of the victim took up an offer to have court employees sit between them and the defendant's supporters.
As the verdicts were read, muffled cries and quiet tears erupted in the courtroom. Willie Dyer and his family cried at the reading of the verdict, said McCrorey.
The mandatory minimum sentence for murder is life in prison, and at least 30 years of a life sentence must be served before parole can be granted. McCrorey said Rozier and Xavier Dyer face an additional 55 years in addition to the life sentence.
The pair will go before Judge Horace Johnson, Jr. on Feb. 28 for sentencing.
"We extend our condolences to the defendants' family," said Richardson-Land. "There are no winners in this situation. We all lost."
In closing statements on Friday morning prior to the jury's deliberation, Public Defender Teri Smith, representing Willie Dyer, said at most, witness testimony placed her client in the room during the conversation of the rat poison and pulling out of the driveway behind the car that allegedly held Tony Richardson the night of his murder.
"That statement doesn't even tarnish Willie Dyer's presumption of innocence," she said. "You've got nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Attorney Andre Sailers, representing Chris Rozier, said the state's case against his client was "full of holes" and painted a picture of physical evidence planted either by law enforcement investigators or Liberty Harris, another defendant charged with the murder who received immunity to testify in this trial.
He said the presence of gun powder residue on the victim's hands would have placed the murder time after the alleged Jan. 29 date, citing an expert's testimony that the residue usually deteriorates after about six hours.
"They're making this stuff up, ladies and gentlemen," he said "Don't let them get away with this."
Xavier Dyer's attorney, Lee Sexton, pointed out to the jury that the key witnesses testifying against his client had been impeached by giving conflicting statements on the stand.
"If you disregard their testimony, you end up with a hat," he said, referring to the red and black "Peach State Auto Auction" cap found in the trash can of Xavier Dyer's home. Harris and witness Kendrick Eubanks had identified the hat as Richardson's. Xavier Dyer's father claimed it as his. The hat was not tested for DNA evidence, although the test had been requested by the Newton County Sheriff's Office.
"Your duty is to acquit if there is one reasonable doubt," Sexton reminded the jury.
In her closing statement for the prosecution, McCrorey acknowledged most of the witnesses were not "angels."
"That's not who these gentlemen hung out with. They hung out with crack heads. So that's what you've got," she said.
She asked the jury to look at the consistent parts of the testimonies that were backed up by physical evidence. She also denounced the conspiracy theory accusing law enforcement investigators of planting evidence as illogical and offensive, asking why wasn't a murder weapon planted as well if the evidence was planted.
"They are going to throw away 122 years of (combined) law enforcement training and experience for this?" she exclaimed. "Come on! It's offensive!"
But ultimately, she said, "This case is not about planting evidence. This case is not about crack heads. This case is about Tony Richardson. He was alive and he was human being."
She ended with a speculation of the last moments of Richardson's life.
"They gave this man rat poison and he didn't die. Well, now it's started, it's got to be finished. They take him on that dirt road. They point their gun at him. They say 'Get out.' They treat him like target practice. They shoot him in the buttocks. They shoot him in both arms. He's got mud on his hands. He's on his knees. They showed him no mercy. Because he's nothing more than a crack head who crossed them.
They shoot him in the neck. In his jaw. In his brain. They leave him in the bushes. That's what they thought of Tony Richardson. That's the good guys they are."
By the time she finished, only quiet sniffles broke the silence of the courtroom.
Rufus Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson grew up in Ellenwood as the youngest boy in family of 12 boys and three girls, raised by a single mother.
His sister, Sherry Richarson-Land, described him as a good brother with a bright future. She said he used to cut grass to earn money to bring home to their mother when he was 11. To help feed the family, he would follow the grocery store truck and retrieve expired pastries disposed in the dump and would bring food from his restaurant and hotel jobs.
In high school, he was captain of the ROTC with medals so shiny, his sisters would use them as mirrors to check their hair.
One night, during a ROTC march at a stadium, there was a shooting and pellets hit his right hand as he ran, permanently injuring the ligaments.
"He was destroyed when that happened," she said. "All his dreams of being in the military was gone. He had his eye set on serving our country."
She said their family held no malice against Rozier, Xavier Dyer and Willie Dyer.
"I think they could have done something a lot better with their lives," she said. "You can tell they haven't been neglected, therefore, you can't blame the parents. It was their decision. One minute of making the wrong decision has changed the rest of their life."
Of the "not guilty" verdict for Willie Dyer, she said she felt it was fair.
"I just hope he takes this opportunity to turn his life around," she said, "and the young people he come in contact with, try to share his life experience so they can go down a different path."