COVINGTON, Ga. – Barring a successful appeal, a Covington man will spend the rest of his life in a Georgia prison following his conviction on murder charges by a Newton County Superior Court jury Thursday.
Deante Marquette Hall, 38, had been accused of killing his longtime friend, 29-year-old Tony Butler by shooting him in the back through a car seat as Butler, Hall and another man, Jeffery Domino, rode in a Gross Point Parkway neighborhood in a pickup driven by Butler’s brother, Levar Andrews, July 6, 2016.
After shooting Butler, Hall attempted to shoot Andrews, another longtime friend. Hall pointed the weapon at Andrews’ head and pulled the trigger multiple times as the weapon misfired.
Butler was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
Hall was taken into custody three weeks after the killing by Newton County Sheriff’s Office investigators assisted by U.S. Marshals and Rockdale County sheriff’s deputies after being found hiding at a house in Conyers.
After jury selection, Monday, Senior Assistant District Attorney Amber Bennett and Assistant District Attorney Binford Griffin Bramblett spent Tuesday and Wednesday offering testimony and evidence in the trial.
Prior to the incident, Hall accused his wife of being romantically involved with the brothers. Testimony presented during the trial indicated that no such relationships existed.
Hall’s wife, Latoya Francis, testified that Hall had come to her home on the day of the murder, wandering around as if he was looking for someone.
“He felt like I was cheating,” she said.
Francis said Hall told her to prepare for funerals.
“You better buy black dresses for funerals,” he told her.
Andrews said he and Hall hung out two or three times a month, but he did not socialize with Francis.
Andrews testified he didn’t see the gun until Hall tried to shoot him with it. He said he was about to drop Hall off when the shot rang out.
“I heard a gunshot and jumped the curb trying to see where the shot came from,” he said. “My brother said he got shot.”
He said Hall continued to try to shoot him as he exited the truck after Butler was shot before finally pistol whipping him with the Hi-Point 9mm pistol and fleeing the scene.
“He was trying his best to shoot me. He ran around the truck and tried to shoot me again. He hit me with the gun.”
Andrews said Hall fled the scene, getting into a car he had seen following them. Domino, who had jumped out of the truck when the shooting started, got back in and Andrews, suffering from a severe head laceration that required staples to close, a broken nose and broken ribs attempted to drive his brother to the hospital before being bogged down in traffic on Salem Road.
Andrews said once the truck stopped he performed CPR on his brother. He testified an off-duty nurse stopped to help until first responders arrived.
Domino testified 30 seconds passed between the time he heard the gunshot and saw the gun.
“I saw a black handgun in Deante’s hand. It looked like a Hi-Point,” he said. “I saw Deante reach toward the front seat. I hopped out of the truck.”
Domino said he saw Andrews and Hall fighting outside of the truck.
“Deante hitting ‘Var’ (Andrews) with the gun,” he said, “A car pulled up and Deante got in.”
He said he didn’t see Hall point the gun at Butler
Jurors saw crime scene photos from the black 2016 four-door Ram pickup that included the bloody passenger seat where Butler was shot. They also saw pictures of unfired bullets in the floorboard of the truck as well as unfired bullets from a crime scene on Lake View Trail. Also in the floorboard of the truck was a green Crown Royal bag with the bottom blown out.
NCSO crime scene investigator Mickey Kitchens said damage to the bag was consistent with a gun being fired through it. He said firing the gun through the bag could cause it to misfire.
Kitchens said investigators also collected a projectile from the passenger side dash on the truck, identified as the bullet that killed Butler.
Jurors saw a photo of a dowel rod through the passenger seat of the truck indicating the bullet’s trajectory. Kitchen testified the bullet traveled left to right within a slightly downward angle. He said the direction of travel was consistent with a left-handed shooter.
Prosecutors also called an array of Hall’s acquaintances to the stand to testify about their interactions with him after the shooting. Three people including Hall’s sister and an aunt were reportedly arrested for not being truthful with investigators about what they knew about Hall’s whereabouts during his three weeks on the run.
Though Hall did not testify during his trial, jurors had the opportunity to hear his 3.5-hour interview with NCSO investigator Cpl. Jocelyn Detweiler on the day of his arrest.
During the interview, Hall said he never got into the truck the day of the shooting, only leaning on the passenger side back door to talk with its occupants. He said Butler was shot as soon as the truck pulled away from him.
“Two country boys pulled up in a car,” he said, declining to identify the men. “I don’t want to say their name.”
Throughout the lengthy interview, Hall contradicted much of the testimony jurors had already heard from witnesses. He told investigators his travels over the three weeks he was on the run included spending time at the Five Points MARTA station and public library in downtown Atlanta, spending the night at a closed Indian Creek MARTA station after the trains stopped running, a bicycle purchase, taxi and Uber rides and a stay at a Conyers hotel.
One witness, Christopher Hayes, testified Hall had been staying at his Hunting Creek home for two weeks prior to the arrest. Hall said he had only gotten to the house the day before deputies showed up.
He said relatives he was in contact with repeatedly told him to turn himself in.
“Everybody kept tellin’ me to turn myself in,” he said. “I ain’t did nothing.”
The prosecution’s last witness was Dr. Lora Darrisaw of the GBI Crime Lab who performed the autopsy on Butler.
Darrisaw told jurors Butler died of a single gunshot wound and showed photos of the entry and exit wounds. She said the bullet had a back to front trajectory with a slightly rightward path.
When jurors returned to court Thursday morning, the prosecution rested its case. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
During her closing argument Hall’s attorney, Jennifer Arndt of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office, told jurors that Hall started the trial with the presumption of innocence. She said it’s the prosecution’s job to tip the scales.
Arndt cited contradiction in some of the testimony presented and questioned the credibility of witnesses.
She said the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, pointing out Hall repeatedly denied killing Butler during his long interview with investigators.
”Mr. Hall consistently said ‘I didn’t do it,’” she said.
Arndt closed by saying, “The state hasn’t proven their case. I know it’s not a lot of fun to spend a week here and not find him guilty, but that’s what I’m asking you to do.”
In her closing argument, Bennett called Hall a “cold-blooded murderer.”
“He tricked them into meeting him,” she said. “He told Levar to drive down the street where he shot Tony and tried to shoot Levar.
“Levar is alive today because the gun jammed.”
She told jurors it was their responsibility to judge the credibility of witnesses, calling Hall “the only proven liar.”
“If you write ‘not guilty’ on the verdict form you’re calling Levar Andrews, whose brother died in his arms, a liar. That’s not right and that’s not justice.”
Bennett told jurors the evidence had proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This is where you live. This is where you raise your families,” she said. “You don’t have to tolerate this violence. I’m asking you not to tolerate it.”
It took the jury less than 50 minutes to return with a verdict on all of the charges.
Hall showed no emotion as the jury foreman announced guilty verdicts on charges of felony murder, malice murder, multiple counts of aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit a felony and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Members of Butler’s family wept quietly as the verdicts were read.
After the verdicts, the jury deliberated one more charge and convicted Hall, who according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website had served time in state custody, of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
During the hearing before Hall was sentenced, members of Butler’s family were allowed to address the court about the impact of his murder on the family.
Andrews’ wife, Raquel, told the court her son was having a difficult time processing everything that’s happened.
“He can’t process how uncle ‘D’ killed uncle ‘T,’” she said. “I don’t want my child to have to worry that this man is ever going to touch him again.”
Larissa Wright, a detention officer at the Newton County Jail, testified Hall has been disciplined multiple times for violations during his time there, including breaking and jamming locks so they will not work.
Prior to pronouncing sentence, Senior Judge J. David Roper of Georgia’s 10th Administrative Circuit asked court deputies to handcuff Hall behind his back and told Hall to remain standing.
“All killings are senseless,” he said. “Some are more egregious than others. It was cowardly. It has devastated your friends. You shot a man in the back for no reason.
“You have a serious, previous sentence. You have demonstrated that you can’t live in organized society.”
Roper sentenced Hall to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Hall received an additional 10 years for possessing a firearm during his crimes.
After hearing his sentence, Hall was led through the back of the courtroom by deputies.
In a statement to The Covington News, Bennett said, “The violence perpetrated by Hall against his lifelong best friends was tragic, senseless, and cowardly. Tony Butler was a father, a brother, a son, and a friend and he will be greatly missed by many. Thankfully, this verdict provides some sense of closure and justice to the friends and families of Bulter and Andrews.”