BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A judge said Tuesday he wants a September trial for a coastal Georgia man charged with killing his father and seven others who were brutally beaten inside a mobile home nearly four years ago.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Guy Heinze Jr., who was charged with murder six days after he called 911 to report the slayings and sobbed as he told a dispatcher: “My whole family is dead.”
Haggling between attorneys over DNA tests and sharing of evidence have dragged out the case for years. Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett told both sides before hearing pretrial motions Tuesday that he intends to schedule jury selection for late August with Heinze’s trial opening sometime in September.
“We’re going to get through these motions and we’re going to get this case ready for trial,” said Scarlett, who did not set exact dates.
Years after the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings at a mobile home park just north of Brunswick, authorities have revealed few details about the case and have never given a motive. Police have said Heinze’s father, Guy Heinze Sr., and the other victims were beaten bloody with a blunt weapon inside the mobile home they all shared.
Also killed were 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr. and his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. The other victims were Rusty Toler’s sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Chrissy Toler’s boyfriend, Joseph L. West, 30.
At the hearing Tuesday, Heinze’s defense attorney was still pressing prosecutors to share evidence in the case. Attorney Newell Hamilton Jr. said police had lost an audio recording of an interview with a witness who claimed he had information pointing to a suspect other than Heinze, as well as a videotape from a security camera recording cars coming and going from the mobile home park the night of the killings.
Hamilton said he had just received other evidence Monday related to fingerprints from the crime scene and DNA testing. He told the judge he didn’t think he would be ready to try the case in September.
“We have been stalled for six months,” Hamilton told the judge. “We have been unable to proceed with investigation of a certain theory because we needed to know” the DNA test results.
Prosecutor John B. Johnson told the judge Heinze’s attorneys were making last-minute requests for evidence, such as the audio and videotapes, that they had long known was either missing or had never been collected by investigators. He said the only purpose for making those requests now was to delay the trial.
Johnson also downplayed the significance of the lost tapes. He said police had given Heinze’s lawyers contact information for the man who claimed to have information about an alternate suspect. They also pointed out the videotape from the surveillance camera had been damaged when it was given to police and might not have recorded cars entering and leaving the mobile home park.
“I’m surprised they didn’t ask for the dirt underneath the trailer,” said Johnson, who said prosecutors had previously turned over more than 4,000 pages of evidentiary documents to Heinze’s attorneys.
The judge was scheduled to hear more pretrial motions in the case Wednesday.