Originally created 12/01/99

Witnesses name defendant in killing

SAVANNAH -- One after another, they stood up and identified him.

Witnesses accused Bernard Jerome Green of appearing suddenly in the darkness outside The President's Quarters in Savannah on Sept. 12, asking for money, then shooting Gail Vasilkioti in the back, a wound that resulted in her death six weeks later.

They said he bragged about the crime, saying he had to do it because Ms. Vasilkioti had turned to run, and he couldn't have that.

Mr. Green, 22, stood through it all next to his court-appointed lawyer, Stephen R. Yekel, as half a dozen witnesses got up in Chatham County Recorder's Court this week and accused him of a slaying that has thrown a spotlight on Savannah's crime problem.

At the end of the three-hour hearing, Judge LeRoy Burke sent Mr. Green's case up to Superior Court, where a grand jury will consider whether to indict him on charges of murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Ms. Vasilkioti, a tourist from Larchmont, N.Y., and her longtime companion, Russell Hergesheimer, had been to dinner at the Pink House restaurant and were strolling back to their hotel.

Mr. Green appeared outside the Presidents' Quarters on East President Street, Mr. Hergesheimer told the judge during Monday's hearing.

It all lasted five, maybe six seconds, he said. Mr. Hergesheimer said he knows because he's gone back to the scene and re-enacted the events four times since it happened that night.

"Let's make this easy on you. Give me your wallets," Mr. Hergesheimer said he heard Mr. Green say. He saw what looked like a billy club, then thought it might be a cattle prod.

Choosing his words precisely, Mr. Hergesheimer recalled how he tried to stand in front of Ms. Vasilkioti, reached into his pocket for his billfold, lost his footing on the curb, stumbled back and landed on his elbow.

That's when he heard Ms. Vasilkioti scream, saw the flash, realized Mr. Green had a gun and heard the bang.

"She says, `I've been shot,"' Mr. Hergesheimer recalled. "I start screaming. I try to push the gate (of Presidents' Quarters) open, but it's padlocked. The next few moments, all I can do is scream."

Mr. Hergesheimer, a retired high school teacher with a ruddy complexion and a receding shock of white hair, grew silent as he recalled the moments before help arrived.

Ms. Vasilkioti, 56, battled for six weeks, losing a leg to infection before dying Oct. 25 of complications from the shooting.


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