The possibility of a mistrial hung over the trial of Guy Heinze Jr. when the sequestered jurors retired to their hotel rooms after dinner Thursday. Heinze, 26, could face a death sentence if convicted of clubbing the eight victims to death. The jury of eight women and four men heard a full week of testimony before beginning deliberations Wednesday afternoon. While sequestered they’ve had no access to TVs, computers or cellphones since Oct. 15.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett recessed court Thursday evening after telling attorneys the jury would return Friday at 9 a.m. So far, the jury has deliberated more than 17 hours over two days.
The outcome could depend on how long the judge is willing to push the jury to keep working. The jury foreman Thursday afternoon told Scarlett that members were deadlocked 9-to-3 on the murder charges, though the judge told him not to say whether the majority favored conviction or acquittal. After being ordered to keep trying for a unanimous verdict, jurors remained split before dinner. No updated vote tally was given.
Heinze was charged with the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings just outside the port city of Brunswick six days after he reported finding the bodies to police. In a frantic 911 call he cried: “My whole family is dead!”
The foreman said jurors had agreed only on two drug possession charges against Heinze, who tested positive for marijuana, cocaine and a prescription painkiller in his system after the killings. He said jurors were divided on all eight murder counts plus one count of aggravated assault related to the beating of a child who survived the attack.
After reporting the deadlock, the jury returned to the courtroom Thursday to view for a second time police video of the crime scene, a walkthrough of the mobile home that included the bodies as they were found.
The jurors’ names have not been given in open court since the trial began.
The judge has occasionally referred to individual jurors in court by first name or number.
Prosecutors said Heinze had been smoking crack cocaine when he attacked his father and the others in the dead of night as they slept. Police found the victims scattered between five rooms of the cramped mobile home. Autopsies showed they suffered more than 220 wounds combined and each died from skull and brain injuries. No murder weapon was found, but police suspect they were beaten with a shotgun barrel.
Heinze’s defense team argued that one person couldn’t have slain so many people without anyone escaping. Attorneys worked to convince the jury that police ignored alternate suspects and evidence as they rushed to build a case against Heinze based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Heinze’s lawyers also said there was no compelling motive for him to kill his father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr., and the others. Rusty Toler Jr., 44, was slain along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also killed was the elder Toler’s sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph L. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., ended up the sole survivor but suffered severe head injuries.