TRENTON, Ga. — Grabbing hands in the middle of the courthouse, the family of the man stabbed to death on Sand Mountain thanked God that the 19-year-old charged with his murder was found guilty.
"God is in control," shouted Antwane Hyatte's mother, Mattie Billings.
After a week of testimony in the first murder trial Dade County has had in years and 61/2 hours of deliberation on Friday, the jury in the trial of Johnathan Ellison returned a guilty verdict on malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault charges.
The charges stem from the stabbing death of Hyatte, 35, who was killed in March.
Ellison was acquitted on one count of felony murder and one count of armed robbery.
While Hyatte's family cried tears of joy, Ellison's family wept in the parking lot shocked that the jury had found him guilty.
"My babies will grow up without their daddy," Ellison's wife, Brittany, cried.
Ellison has two small children, while Hyatte had a 16-year-old son.
Prosecutors testified that Ellison and 27-year-old James Oglesby stabbed Hyatte 16 times after a planned robbery at Ellison's home. Hyatte had come to Ellison's house to sell him 2 ounces of marijuana and Ecstasy.
Oglesby, who faces the same charges as Ellison, will be tried next year.
But defense attorneys argued the prosecution's case had too many holes and they couldn't answer many questions.
"It was a tough, tough case," juror Pete Sanger said after the trial ended.
Sanger said the jury took a long time to come to an agreement and several jurors had different opinions until the end.
"We don't agree with the jury," said defense attorney Steve Miller. "We thought there were enough holes to create reasonable doubt."
Ellison's father, Nickey, said he didn't believe his son was guilty because he was never a violent child.
During closing statements, Miller told the jury that Ellison was a liar but that didn't mean he killed Hyatte.
But Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Len Gregor told the jury the evidence was clear that Ellison was a part of the fight and the killing.
"We don't have a perfect case," Gregor said. "At some point, you can figure out what the picture is without every piece [of the puzzle]."
Throughout the trial, witnesses testified that Ellison changed his story multiple times. First he said Hyatte had pulled a gun and Ellison had stabbed him several times in the stomach.
But a few days later when Ellison was questioned again, he told investigators he had watched as Oglesby stabbed Hyatte first with Ellison's knife and then with his own.
During the trial, defense attorneys pointed out several unanswered questions in the case like investigators never found the rest of a third knife. The tip of another knife was found in Hyatte's back during his autopsy.
Ellison will be sentenced next week, but a specific day wasn't set.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...