Originally created 02/09/00

Hill found guilty in shootings



AIKEN -- Robbed of emotions by a self-inflicted bullet wound three years ago, David Mark Hill sat silent Tuesday as a York County jury convicted him of an emotional crime -- a deadly workplace rampage through a North Augusta Department of Social Services office in 1996.

The verdicts, which came at 8:30 p.m., mean the jurors return to court Thursday for the sentencing phase. State law requires a 24-hour break between a guilty verdict and the next phase of the trial, which determines whether Mr. Hill lives or dies for his crimes.

Mr. Hill sat impassively throughout his trial. Psychiatrists previously testified that Mr. Hill's self-inflicted wound to the head destroyed parts of his frontal lobe, which control his ability to feel emotions. The defense is expected to capitalize on that testimony during the sentencing phase, when ordinarily a prosecutor would stress the defendant's apparent lack of remorse.

Second Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan called the verdict a conscientious one made by a jury that clearly wrestled with complicated issues of law. But she warned that the trial process was far from over.

"We're half-way there, and we haven't finished yet," she said.

Jurors were given the case with no argument from defense attorneys that their client was innocent in the slayings of three DSS caseworkers.

Instead, defense attorneys Robert Harte and Regina Poteat promised to give the panel a good reason in the penalty phase to spare Mr. Hill from a death sentence. Mr. Harte previously asked the jurors to consider "what went on through this man's life that led up to him doing this awful, terrible thing."

Defense counsel had argued that Mr. Hill was not guilty of burglary and the attempted murder charge of DSS caseworker Annette Michael, two charges Mr. Harte said the prosecution did not prove.

But the jury -- picked in York County because of pretrial publicity -- disagreed, convicting on all 11 counts:

Three counts of murder in the deaths of Michael Gregory, 30, of Belvedere, Josie Curry, 33, and Jimmy Riddle, 52, both of North Augusta.

Three counts of possession of a firearm during a commission of a violent crime.

Attempted murder, for trying to kill caseworker Annette Michael.

Kidnapping, for abducting victim Josie Curry and leading her through the DSS office at gunpoint and against her will.

Second-degree burglary, for going into the DSS office without consent.

Two related weapons charges: carrying a pistol and possession of a weapon.

The jury deliberated for nearly two hours, asking at one point to rehear testimony from Ms. Michael. The verdicts drew tears from some of the victims' family members.

Ms. Morgan wrapped up her case at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday after two days of testimony from 21 witnesses. The defense chose to present no witnesses during the first phase of the trial.

Ms. Morgan built a solid case against Mr. Hill for the killing spree that devastated the DSS office Sept. 16, 1996. She used eyewitnesses to place the defendant in the office and called investigators to outline a hospital-room confession.

Prosecutors say Mr. Hill went to the DSS office with murder on his mind, upset after caseworkers took custody of his quadriplegic daughter and twin sons.

Terry Byrd, a maintenance supervisor for the DSS building, testified that a co-worker came running to him on the afternoon of the slayings, screaming about a man with a gun.

"Jerry was scared to death. You could see it in his eyes, and when I saw the man, I could see why. He had a pistol at his side," Mr. Byrd said.

George Goodson, a DSS employee who knew Mr. Hill because he once handled the family's case, said he heard gunfire in the office and stood up in his cubicle. A moment later, Mr. Hill walked by and said, "See what can happen." Mr. Goodson nodded his head.

Three law enforcement officers spoke of Mr. Hill's confession in an exam room at Medical College of Georgia Hospital while he was being prepared for surgery. The day after the killings, while police searched for the suspect, Mr. Hill shot himself in the face in a suicide attempt.

After agreeing to speak to investigators, Mr. Hill admitted to the killings and explained why: Mr. Gregory saw him with a gun and could identify him; Mr. Riddle was the caseworker responsible for putting his children into foster care; and Ms. Curry was black.

"He said that in a very matter-of-fact manner -- `Because she was black,"' Sgt. John Michael Hunter with the MCG police told the court.

Ms. Morgan reminded the jury that Mr. Hill entered the DSS office with a .40-caliber Taurus pistol at his side. "He had a purpose," she said. "It was in his mind. His hate was there."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.