BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday began their second week of questioning potential jurors for the capital trial of a coastal Georgia man charged with beating his father and seven other people to death inside their Brunswick mobile home four years ago.
Hundreds of people summoned for jury duty are being questioned one-at-a-time about their views on the death penalty and what they already know about the case of Guy Heinze Jr., who is charged with single-handedly committing eight killings Aug. 29, 2009. Hours later, Heinze called 911 and cried to an operator, “My whole family is dead!”
Defense attorneys for Heinze, 25, want to keep the trial in Glynn County despite years of news coverage. Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett had 1,500 summonses mailed out for the case and set aside a month to narrow down the jury pool.
The judge and attorneys on both sides seemed confident Tuesday that they will find a qualified panel of 60 from which the final 12 jurors will be chosen. In the first week they chose 33 potential jurors to return for final selection when the trial starts Oct. 15. About 200 more potential jurors reported to the courthouse Tuesday to be broken down into smaller panels and report back for questioning by attorneys.
Scarlett said from the bench Tuesday he’s dismissing at least 350 potential jurors summoned to report Oct. 1.
If it still proves impossible to seat a jury in Glynn County, the judge has a backup plan in place. More than 300 jury summonses were sent to residents of Jeff Davis County, 85 miles northwest of Brunswick, to report within the next two weeks in case Heinze’s trial needs to be moved there, said Myra Murphy, Superior Court Clerk in Jeff Davis County.
Heinze was charged with murder six days after his father, Guy Heinze Sr., and the other seven victims were found inside the mobile home they all shared. Autopsies showed each victim had been beaten to death with some type of blunt weapon.
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.
Prosecutors and police have released few details of the slayings. But a court brief filed by Heinze’s lawyers says the defense expects witnesses might testify that there was “extensive drug use among members of the household,” and jurors are likely to hear that Heinze “consumed crack cocaine and other drugs” the night of the killings.
Defense attorneys wrote they suspect prosecutors might argue that “Mr. Heinze was in a drug-fueled rage and once started on the killings of his family could not be stopped until all were violently beaten to death.”