Originally created 11/27/01

Cases rest on who to believe



It began with deceit, both sides told the jury Monday. They differed in telling the jury who lied and when.

Assistant District Attorney Willie Saunders told the Richmond County Superior Court jury that the six accused men who have been sitting in the courtroom for the past two months are evil, murderous and greedy.

For money they conspired to cheat, steal, rob and even kill, Mr. Saunders said.

"You never know what evil is in your midst," he said.

The prosecutor pointed at and named each defendant - Carlston Coleman, 31; Ronald Coleman Jr., 29; Kendric Dudley, 30; Ronnie B. Overton Jr., 22; Jarman L. Harold, 24; and Charles D. Winters, 28. He asked the jury to find each guilty of violating the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.

Mr. Saunders also asked the jury to find the two Mr. Colemans, who are not related, guilty of the June 21, 1998, abduction and robbery of Sam's Club Manager David Holt. The 45-year-old father of two died in the trunk of his burning car on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. The slaying led to a massive publicity campaign by his employer and a reward that grew to $400,000 for information in the case that remained unsolved for some time.

That's the problem with the prosecution's case, five of the six defense attorneys argued Monday. Prosecutors were too ready to believe David J. Easterling when he said the two Mr. Colemans were responsible, the defense told the jury. And when prosecutors realized how weak the evidence was, they wrapped up Mr. Holt's case with a series of other allegations they labeled as racketeering, defense attorneys argued.

"The only reason we heard about them all together is because (the prosecutors) have a lack of credible evidence in the Sam's Club case," Carlston Coleman's attorney, Michael D. Mann, told the jury.

Mr. Easterling came up with mirror images of different homicides because he was facing a possible death sentence, Mr. Mann argued. His client was in North Carolina when Mr. Holt was abducted, Mr. Mann said.

"Don't be fooled by David Easterling."

Other defense attorneys Monday also asked the jury to see another major prosecution witness, Antonio Tillery, as a liar. Mr. Tillery testified that he heard all six men plotting the July 24, 1997, killings of Ryan J. Singh, 21, and Manuel B. Arroyo, 19. Mr. Singh and Mr. Arroyo were found dead in the trunk of a burned car in Warren County.

The six men are accused in the RICO count of conspiring at Carlston Coleman's Augusta apartment in the late hours of July 23 and into the early morning of July 24.

"You can't count the numbers of 'I don't know. I can't remember,' in Mr. Tillery's testimony. And you know why - because he was lying," said Mr. Winters' attorney, David Weber.

Mr. Winters was at his Atlanta apartment the night of July 23, Mr. Weber argued. If he wasn't, the attorney asked, then why was there a nine-minute telephone call from Carlston Coleman's apartment to Mr. Winters' Atlanta apartment at 11:24 that night?

"We are here for one reason and one reason only ... Antonio Tillery," said Mr. Overton's attorney, Martin Puetz. The sentiment was echoed by Mr. Dudley's attorney, George Bush. The only evidence that Mr. Overton and Mr. Dudley were involved in the double homicide came from Mr. Tillery, whose story changed with each telling, the attorneys argued.

"(Mr. Dudley) is innocent of these charges, not 'not guilty,' he is innocent," Mr. Bush said.

The defense attorneys also reminded the jury that Mr. Tillery was granted immunity in Georgia, and in Virginia, where he was convicted of two bank robberies. He received a four-year prison sentence instead of the multiple life sentences possible.

"It started with a lie," Mr. Harold's attorney, Sam Sibley, told the jury. "Lies and self-interest got us to this point. If you don't stop it here, the David Holt case and the killings in Warren County will never be solved. If you convict (Mr. Harold) ... we'll never learn the truth."

But the prosecutor argued Monday that the truth was hidden for too long by confusion, frustration, intimidation and complicity. It was the defendants who lied, who left a trail of victims, Mr. Saunders argued.

"Little did David Holt know the night he walked out of that Sam's Club ... that he was about to became the unsuspecting prey for a bunch of predators," Mr. Saunders told the jury.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.