A Columbia County Superior Court jury deliberated nearly six hours Thursday before convicting former inmates at the Augusta State Medical Prison of murder and aggravated assault for attacks on other prisoners.
Frederick Dewberry, 23; Michael L. Ward, 41; and Frankie J. Henry III, 29, were convicted of murder in the slaying of 30-year-old Antonio Wiley. Dewberry and Ward were also convicted of aggravated assault in a near-fatal attack on Ydreicus Denison, who spent a month in the medical ward after he was stabbed with homemade knives the morning of Aug. 28, 2011.
Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Dewberry and Ward to life in prison without the possibility of parole, consecutive to 20 years in prison. Annis sentenced Henry to life in prison, and he will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Denison nearly died from his injuries, but he recanted his statement not long after he was attacked, and this week he initially refused to say anything on the witness stand. Finally, he testified that
none of the men on trial stabbed him.
It wasn’t until he reached a breaking point that Denison turned to the defense tables and said: “Your clients know exactly what they did to me.”
It all came down to survival, Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine told the jury in her closing statement. Denison was trying to save himself, as were the two other inmates who testified for the defense and said the wrong men had been charged with murder, Paine said.
The prison system is a dangerous place, where gangs rule, she said. The Augusta State Medical Prison was so understaffed that on a Sunday afternoon, Wiley, who had only one arm, was stabbed 65 times in a prison yard full of more than 100 inmates and only one guard.
“Antonio Wiley did not have a chance,” Paine said.
A member of the Gangsters Disciples in Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga., put a hit on Wiley because he welshed on a deal to pay for a cellphone battery before he was transferred to Augusta. The gang leaders in the Augusta prison learned of the hit through
cell calls and texts between prisons.
On Aug. 28, 2011, Wiley was attacked by eight to 11 inmates armed with shanks, the jury was told by Dante Morris, the only eyewitness willing to come forward.
Morris, a high-ranking member of a Muslim brotherhood in prison who is now free, testified that Dewberry, Ward and Henry were among the men who stabbed Wiley to death.
Defense attorneys Peter Johnson, Richard Goolsby and Pittman Morris attacked the lack of evidence in the case. If you wouldn’t trust the word of an inmate, then that is reasonable doubt, they argued.
Though Dante Morris named Dewberry, Ward and Henry, he also named three other inmates who were never indicted, Goolsby said.
After the jurors begun deliberations, they sent the judge a note asking to hear Morris’ testimony again. Not long after hearing a tape, the jurors reached the unanimous verdicts.